Every day, several lives are lost to smoking or tobacco use in general. Unfortunately, the tobacco crisis barely earns the attention it deserves, especially in the face of more acute problems such as the COVID-19 pandemic. It is for this reason the World Health Organization (WHO) set aside the 31st day of May every year to mark World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). On this day, we endeavor to refresh the fight against smoking and emphasize the outstandingly distressing effects of tobacco use on health and well-being globally.
The primary aim of WNTD is two-pronged: to provide the necessary support to help smokers quit while preventing non-smokers, especially the youth, from acquiring the habit. Significant strides have been made over the years towards achieving these goals. A majority of the initiatives that have since been implemented have largely been successful. However, somewhere along the journey, strategies to curb the smoking problem have ostensibly veered off one of their core aims – to support smokers in their attempts to quit.
Stakeholders have explored multiple avenues to try and bring the smoking epidemic under control. Public health approaches such as raising awareness have been implemented with much success. These have been complemented by policy changes and the institution of tougher legislation. Resultantly, there has been a progressive increase in taxes for tobacco products and the restriction of advertisements for such commodities. While these efforts have saved many lives, the increased attention on policy issues has, to a certain extent, led to the neglect of smokers’ needs.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the needs of smokers. Having witnessed the devastating effects of the novel disease, millions of tobacco users are resorting to quit. This change of heart is apparent in this year’s WNTD’s theme: “Commit to Quit.” The importance of this goal cannot be overemphasized. Supporting tobacco users to quit the habit promises to bring tremendous health gains to fruition. Moreover, in trying to prevent future generations from picking smoking as a habit, we should not neglect today’s smokers.
About 20% of the world’s population uses tobacco. Celebrating WNTD presents a unique opportunity to empower tobacco users with the much-needed motivation and information to assist their transition to a healthier lifestyle. Experts recommend a combination of concerted efforts to discourage tobacco use and the empathetic engagement of smokers to enhance the effectiveness of tobacco control approaches. Also, as we continue to fight COVID-19, WNTD is a reminder that smoking is also a pandemic. Accordingly, there is a need to create interventions for the points at which the two pandemics intersect.
As many smokers admit, quitting is not a walk in the pack. It is a journey characterized by many hurdles. In most instances, some of the approaches tried will not yield the desired outcomes. However, if we work closely with smokers to tailor solutions that match their unique needs, a global reduction in cigarette consumption can be achieved. Using nicotine products such as patches and gum can be effective, especially when combined with behavioral support through digital platforms and health professionals. WNTD reminds us of the need to assure smokers that quitting is possible and that innovative solutions that factor in their needs would help bring the tobacco crisis under control.
Written by Davies Omondi – Clinical Innovation