Today on May 31, WHO celebrates World No Tobacco Day. Under the tagline “Commit to Quit”, the aim of this year’s campaign is to support 100 million people worldwide in their attempt to give up tobacco through a range of initiatives and digital solutions.
This includes Florence – WHO’s digital health worker – who helps smokers build a plan to quit, combats misinformation about COVID-19 and tobacco, and refers tobacco users to other digital cessation services such as free quit-lines and apps. WHO has also developed a WhatsApp Quit Programme which provides support via text message over the course of 6 months to each user.
Although many smokers are keen to kick tobacco and nicotine addiction, many don’t have adequate means or support to do so. Without assistance, only 4–7% of those who attempt to quit succeed in doing so. Structured, well-funded and accessible cessation programmes are therefore an important component of World No Tobacco Day’s celebration of “Commit to Quit”.
One of the biggest threats to global health
The scale of the tobacco epidemic is colossal, posing one of the biggest threats to global health ever faced and killing over 8 million people every year. The dangers extend beyond the physical health of individuals – also impacting social and economic well-being with the annual cost of smoking estimated to be $1.4 trillion worldwide.
As an addictive substance, it can be a struggle to end reliance on nicotine. Certain groups may find quitting more challenging than others, particularly if smoking is compounded by other addictions or social vulnerabilities, such as unemployment. Nonetheless, there is hope: not only are tobacco users aiming to quit, but with the help of well-planned cessation services they can triumph over tobacco and nicotine addiction.
Besides the long-established harmful effects of tobacco use, quitting is particularly important this year due to the coronavirus pandemic: the global crisis has supercharged health complications for smokers. Coronavirus gives a strong motivation to quit tobacco use as smokers are at much greater risk. The underlying diseases caused by smoking are key risk factors for death from COVID-19 and smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized patients.
Furthermore, support for quitting – like many other services – was seriously impacted by lockdown. The pandemic dramatically reduced access to and the availability of face-to-face advice services that individuals may usually receive through health services. Reinvigorating support for those eager to give up tobacco is thus a WHO priority for 2021.
Cessation services can help double the chances of putting out tobacco products for good. Thanks to monumental public health efforts, one-third of the world’s population – 2.4 billion people, including 140 million in the WHO European Region – now have access to cessation services at the best practice level. These are essential services for all countries in the grip of the tobacco epidemic.