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WHO Targets 100 Million Smokers in Yearlong Global Campaign

FILE - A man has his lunch behind a poster demarcating a No-Smoking zone in Singapore
FILE - A man has his lunch behind a poster demarcating a No-Smoking zone in Singapore

The World Health Organization is calling on governments around the world to ensure their citizens have resources and tools to help them give up tobacco smoking as it launches a year-long campaign aimed at helping 100 million people quit.

The campaign, Commit to Quit, is focusing on 22 countries including the United States, and it officially got underway Tuesday ahead of World No Tobacco Day 2021, in May.

A WHO statement said the Commit to Quit campaign is aimed at creating “healthier environments that are conducive” for people who want to give up smoking.

The WHO hopes to capitalize on users who have decided to quit since the novel coronavirus pandemic began by creating communities of peer quitters, according to the statement.

Earlier this year, the WHO warned that tobacco users are at high risk of dying from COVID-19.

About 780 million tobacco users say they want to quit, but just 30% have access to resources that can help them do so.

Director of Health Promotion Dr. Ruediger Krech said global health authorities must take full advantage of the millions of people who want to quit. He urged governments to “invest in services to help them be successful,” and “divest from the tobacco industry and their interests.”

The WHO is employing digital tools such as the Quit Challenge on Whatsapp to provide social support. Also, the WHO’s 24/7 digital health worker to help people quit tobacco is available in English and soon will add five other languages.

The campaign is encouraging initiatives such as “strong tobacco cessation policies; increasing access to cessation services and raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics.”

Tobacco is a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes. Moreover, people living with these conditions are more vulnerable to severe COVID-19.

“Smoking kills 8 million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted.