Africa: WHO Supports People Quitting Tobacco to Reduce Their Risk of Severe Covid-19

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press release
  • WHO Director-General Special Awards for World No Tobacco Day announced: Minister of Health India and University of Bath for exceptional achievement in tobacco control.
  • Smokers face a 40 - 50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19.
  • WHO partners with Viber, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, WeChat and AI company Soul Machines to reach billions with free digital quitting tobacco aids.

The World Health Organization's 'Commit to Quit' tobacco campaign has made resources from its Quitting Toolkit freely available to more than a billion tobacco users, less than 5 months into the year-long campaign.

WHO launched the campaign to support those millions of tobacco users who are actively taking steps to save their lives, but still need help to succeed.

The campaign is currently working directly with 29 focus countries. Each country agreed with WHO on selected activities, including, running national awareness campaigns, releasing new digital tools, revising policies, engaging youth, training health workers, opening new cessation clinics, supporting nicotine replacement therapies through WHO partners, establishing national toll-free quit lines, making quitting courses available, and more.

"Smokers have up to a 50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19, so quitting is best thing smokers can do to lower their risk from this coronavirus, as well as the risk of developing cancers, heart disease and respiratory illnesses," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. "We urge all countries to play their part by joining the WHO campaign and creating tobacco-free environments that give people the information, support and tools they need to quit, and quit for good."

"To help tobacco users to commit to be quitters and winners, we are using digital aids to release the WHO Quit Challenge chatbot and Artificial Intelligence digital health worker Florence, and making advocacy material available in 30 languages," added Dr Rüdiger Krech, Director Health Promotion, WHO.

The Quit Challenge gives daily notifications of tips and encouragement for up to 6 months to help people remain tobacco free. It is available for free on WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger and WeChat.

Globally, roughly 39% of men and 9% of women use tobacco. The highest smoking rates are currently found in Europe at 26%, with projections only showing a 2% decrease by 2025 if urgent government action is not taken.

Director-General's Tobacco Control Awards

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has given special recognition awards for tobacco control to the Minister of Health and Family Welfare of India, Dr Harsh Vardhan and to the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, UK.

Dr Harsha Vardhan was instrumental in the 2019 national legislation that bans E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs) in India. The Tobacco Control Research Group in UK has worked relentlessly to expose tobacco industry attempts and tactics to weaken, block or delay tobacco control, thereby helping secure policy change nationally and globally.

Note to editors:

*The campaign focus countries are:

Arab Republic of Egypt

Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Federal Republic of Germany

Federal Republic of Nigeria

Federative Republic of Brazil

Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Islamic Republic of Iran

Islamic Republic of Pakistan

Kyrgyz Republic

People's Republic of Bangladesh

People's Republic of China,

Republic of India

Republic of Indonesia

Republic of Kazakhstan

Republic of Kenya

Republic of the Philippines,

Republic of Poland

Republic of Senegal

Republic of South Africa

Republic of Suriname

Republic of Turkey

Republic of Uzbekistan

Republic of the Sudan

Russian Federation

Socialist Republic of Viet Nam

United Mexican States

United States of America

Ukraine

WHO would like to thank our partners that supported the campaign:

Allen Carr's EasyWay, Amazon Web Services, Cipla, Facebook and WhatsApp, Google, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, Praekelt.org, Soul Machines Limited, and Viber.

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