The World Health Organization has launched a year-long campaign to get 100 million people tobacco-free as it revealed millions of smokers now want to kick the habit amid health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
The WHO’s “Commit to Quit” campaign aims to help people stop smoking through creating “communities of quitters,” a statement from the organization said.
The WHO says smokers have a higher risk of coronavirus because they are constantly putting their hands to their lips. And then, if they get coronavirus, they run a greater risk of their case being severe because their lung function is damaged.
The health organization has launched a WhatsApp Quit Challenge and released the publication “More than a 100 reasons to quit tobacco” to mark the start of the campaign.
The WHO said the campaign will help create healthier environments that are conducive to quitting tobacco by advocating for strong tobacco cessation policies, increasing access to support services, raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics, and empowering tobacco users to quit successfully through ”quit & win” initiatives.
Together with partners, the WHO will create and build-up digital communities where people can find the social support they need to quit.
The Middle East has traditionally had a high prevalence of tobacco use. According to the latest WHO figures, about one in five of the UAE’s population smokes (18.5 per cent), while about 16.6 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population use tobacco. However both countries have introduced a number of measures to reduce prevalence, including taxation on tobacco, which has cut consumption.
The WHO said about 780 million people worldwide say they want to quit, but only 30 percent of them have access to the tools that can help them do so. Together with partners, WHO will provide people with the tools and resources they need to make a successful quit attempt.
“Smoking kills 8 million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Stub out the habit
WHO released a scientific brief earlier this year showing that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19. Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes. Moreover, people living with these conditions are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
Both global and regional cessation tools will be rolled out as part of the campaign. WHO’s 24/7 digital health worker is available to help people quit tobacco is available in English and will soon be released to support people in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.
In a statement, Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, said: “Millions of people worldwide want to quit tobacco – we must seize this opportunity and invest in services to help them be successful, while we urge everyone to divest from the tobacco industry and their interests.”
WHO has issued a call-to-action for all governments to ensure their citizens have access to brief advice, toll-free quit lines, mobile and digital cessation services, nicotine replacement therapies and other tools that are proven to help people quit. Strong cessation services improve health, save lives and save money, it says.
Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Dr Ragab Allam, a specialist in cardiovascular disease at Bareen International Hospital – MBZ City, in the UAE, welcomed the campaign, saying: “Smoking tobacco is a major risk factor for respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. “Over eight million people die per year due to active smoking; while over 1.2 million deaths yearly are due to passive smoking.”
The WHO says the benefits of quitting tobacco are almost immediate. After just 20 minutes of quitting smoking, your heart rate drops. Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Within 2-12 weeks, your circulation improves and lung function increases. Within 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Within 5-15 years, your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker. Within 10 years, your lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, your risk of heart disease is that of a non-smoker.