WHO launches global campaign to support 100 million people to quit tobacco

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  • According to the World Health Organization, tobacco use kills more than 8 million people a year
  • Tobacco use can result in over 15 types of cancer, including cancer of the lung, stomach and lower urinary tract
  • The “Commit To Quit” campaign aims to create environments conducive for quitting tobacco

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently launched a year-long “Commit to Quit” campaign in preparation for World No Tobacco Day 2021. This campaign aims to support 100 million people in their attempt to give up tobacco through various initiatives and digital communities.

The campaign will focus specifically on “high burden countries” which is where the majority of the world’s tobacco users live, according to a statement released by the WHO. Among these countries are South Africa, the Philippines, Brazil and the United States of America. 

The WHO set up the Access Initiative to Quit Tobacco to make access to counselling and nicotine replacement therapies more accessible to help people quit, said Jaimie Guerra, Communications Officer at the WHO. 


“A digital counsellor was also launched to help people make a plan to quit and guide them to mobile apps approved by WHO and toll-free quit lines in their county,” said Guerra. 

The Quit Challenge will also be released on WhatsApp, according to Guerra. 

“Tobacco users can sign up and receive free messages on how to quit directly to their mobile phones starting in January. For South Africa, WHO will be publishing all campaign content in local languages including Zulu and Xhosa,” added Guerra. 

There is a need for education around the benefits of smoking and quitting, according to Dr Richard van Zyl-Smit, the head of the Lung Clinical Research Unit (LCRU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). 

“There hasn’t been a targeted global, anti-smoking campaign recently. A global campaign will have some effect in getting people enthusiastic,” said Dr van Zyl-Smit. 

WHO has also partnered with several private sector companies who have pledged their support towards the campaign.  

“WHO has partnered with tech companies like Facebook, WhatsApp and Soul Machines to raise awareness and support tobacco users to quit through chatbots and digital health workers,” said Guerra. 

Tips for successful quitting 

Planning to quit, having adequate information and an understanding of the challenges one faces in quitting increases the odds of success, said Lorraine Govender, the National Advocacy Co-ordinator of the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). 

“You need to have the willpower, know your smoking patterns and triggers. Very importantly, create a plan to cope in those instances,” said Govender. 

It is often more difficult to quit if the whole family is smoking, according to Dr van Zyl-Smit. 

“You need to get your friends and family on board with your new habit. So get rid of all the cigarettes and ashtrays in the house and encourage the smokers to smoke outside,” he said. 

The addictive nature of nicotine is a key factor that makes quitting challenging, said Govender.

“People go through different physical withdrawal symptoms such as mood changes, restlessness and disturbed sleep. These are only temporary and are a sign of your body healing,” stated Govender.

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