Tobacco kills up to half of its users, claiming more than 8 million lives each year. Over 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke, according to WHO.
Smoking is also a known risk factor for many respiratory illnesses, and smokers are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes – making them particularly vulnerable to severe COVID-19.
“If users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive”, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
‘Quit and win’ initiatives
WHO’s “Commit to Quit” campaign will advocate for stronger national policies, increasing access to cessation services, raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics, and empowering tobacco users to make successful attempts through “quit and win” initiatives, WHO said.
For instance, Florence, an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven 24/7 digital health worker, will tirelessly provide accurate information, help people make a quitting plan, and recommending help-lines and support apps.
In one of its first campaign initiatives, the UN health agency rolled out the “WHO Quit Challenge” on the messaging service WhatsApp, and a list of “more than 100 reasons to quit tobacco”.
The campaign will focus on twenty-two high-burden countries, where the majority of the world’s tobacco users live.
Millions ‘want to quit’
According to WHO, around 780 million people globally say they want to kick tobacco to the curb, but many lack the tools needed to do so. Their efforts are further complicated by the social and economic stresses that have come as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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”, said Ruediger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion.
The agency also called on governments to ensure their populations have access to advice, toll-free quit lines, mobile and digital cessation services, nicotine replacement therapies, and other tools that are proven to help people stop using tobacco.