Quit tobacco to be a winner

Quit tobacco to be a winner

The saying goes that “quitters never win,” but in the case of tobacco, quitters are the real winners.

When the news came out that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, it triggered millions of smokers to want to quit tobacco. But without adequate support, quitting can be incredibly challenging. 

The nicotine found in tobacco is highly addictive and creates dependence. The behavioural and emotional ties to tobacco use – like having a cigarette with your coffee,  craving tobacco, feelings of sadness or stress  – make it hard to kick the habit. 

With professional support and cessation services, tobacco users double their chances of quitting successfully.

Currently, over 70% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide lack access to the tools they need to quit successfully. This gap in access to cessation services is only further exacerbated in the last year as the health workforce has been mobilized to handle the pandemic.

That’s why WHO launched a year-long campaign for World No Tobacco Day’s   – “Commit to Quit” theme. The campaign aims to empower 100 million tobacco users to make a quit attempt by creating networks of support and increasing access to services proven to help tobacco users quit successfully.

This will be achieved by scaling-up existing services such as brief advice from health professionals and national toll free quit lines, as well as launching innovative services like Florence, WHO’s first digital health worker, and chatbot support programmes on WhatsApp and Viber. 

To truly help tobacco users quit, they need to be supported with tried and tested policies and interventions to drive down the demand for tobacco. 

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) provides a strong, concerted response to the global tobacco epidemic and its enormous health, social, environmental and economic costs. To help countries implement the WHO FCTC, WHO introduced the MPOWER technical package to support implementation of key strategies, such as raising tobacco taxes, creating smoke-free environments and offering help to quit. 

E-cigarettes are not proven cessation aids

The tobacco industry has continuously attempted to subvert these life-saving public health measures. Over the last decade, the tobacco industry has promoted e-cigarettes as cessation aids under the guises of contributing to global tobacco control. Meanwhile, they have employed strategic marketing tactics to hook children on this same portfolio of products, making them available in over 15,000 attractive flavours.

The scientific evidence on e-cigarettes as cessation aids is inconclusive and there is a lack of clarity as to whether these products have any role to play in smoking cessation. Switching from conventional tobacco products to e-cigarettes is not quitting.

“We must be guided by science and evidence, not the marketing campaigns of the tobacco industry – the same industry that has engaged in decades of lies and deceit to sell products that have killed hundreds of millions of people”, said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “E-cigarettes generate toxic chemicals, which have been linked to harmful health effects such as cardiovascular disease & lung disorders.”

Why does the UN prohibit partnerships with the tobacco industry and their front groups?

The tobacco industry is the single greatest barrier to reducing deaths caused by tobacco use. Their interests are irreconcilably opposed to promoting public health, and point to a critical need to keep them out of global tobacco control efforts.

WHO FCTC Article 5.3 aims to do just that. WHO established a firewall in 2007 to protect policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. The United Nations Global Compact followed suit, banning the tobacco industry from participation in 2017, flagging the problematic and irreconcilable conflicts between the goals of the UN and an industry that is responsible for more than 8 million deaths per year. In line with Article 5.3, industry has been entirely excluded from the UN system and its agencies have been urged to devise strategies to prevent industry interference.

The UN Secretary-General’s Interagency Task Force on NCDs, which has both the WHO and the FCTC Convention Secretariat as leading participants, has crafted a strong policy to prevent industry tactics operating in the UN and then ensured its implementation at the intergovernmental level.

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution for Smoke-free United Nations Premises, and in 2012, the United Nations Economic and Social Council called for “system-wide coherence on tobacco control”. The creation of smoke-free campuses puts into practice the United Nations smoke-free workplace policy, which aims to protect approximately 100,000 UN staff members from second-hand tobacco smoke.

WHO and the FCTC Secretariat have stated that no partnerships should be forged with tobacco industry front groups such as the Foundation for a Smoke Free World. PMI has committed to spending one billion USD over 12 years funding a new captive organization, the Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) – Philip Morris International (PMI) is its sole funder – to reproduce and launder its harm-reduction messages.

The importance of tobacco duties and taxes and smoke-free workplaces

Despite these challenges brought on by the tobacco industry, the world has seen significant progress in tobacco control.

Since the MPOWER technical package was introduced more than a decade ago, 5 billion people have now been covered by at least one of these best-practice tobacco control measures, has more than quadrupled since 2007.Over the last two decades, global tobacco use has fallen by 60 million people. But the decrease varies by region and we are now seeing the tobacco industry vigorously target low-and middle-income countries with traditional cigarettes, while pushing its new and emerging products in higher income countries.

WHO urges governments to help tobacco users quit by providing the support, services, policies and tobacco taxes that enable people to quit.

Smoke-free policies have the potential to protect non-smokers, including over 65,000 children and adolescents who die every year from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco costs economies over US$ 1.4 trillion in health expenditures and lost productivity, which is equivalent to 1.8% of annual global GDP. Increasing tobacco taxes helps make these lethal products less affordable and helps cover health-care costs for the diseases they create.  

There has never been a better time to quit tobacco, and commitment to helping tobacco users quit is critical to improving health and saving lives.

Source: WHO

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