India is in the midst of a virulent second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recent World Health Organization (WHO) and the Government of India guidance states that tobacco use puts people with chronic conditions including lung disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at a higher risk for developing severe illness or death when affected by Covid-19. Tobacco use is the leading preventable killer in the world, and in India, it is responsible for around 1 million (10 lakh) deaths annually. Also, 5.3% of total public and private health expenditure incurred for treating tobacco-related diseases alone.
During the critical moment in public health and to mark World No Tobacco Day on 31 May 2021, global health organization Vital Strategies and WHO today launched a national mass media campaign to encourage tobacco users to quit. The campaign, ‘When You Quit’ explains how smoking cigarettes or bidi can cause heart attack and may also increase the risk of severe Covid-19. The public service announcement (PSA) also depicts the health benefits tobacco users experience when they quit. The PSA aligns with this year’s World No Tobacco Day theme ‘Commit to Quit’ and urges people to quit tobacco using the National Tobacco Quitline (1800-11-2356) for resources and help.
WHO is supporting the ‘When You Quit’ campaign developed in multiple Indian languages and to be aired across 15 states covering 169 districts with a high burden of tobacco use through All India Radio, MY FM & Radio City. Additionally, Vital Strategies will augment the amplification of the message through major online streaming platforms of Facebook, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, SonyLiv and MX Player.
“Given the correlation between the severity of Covid-19 and tobacco, the need to create awareness about ending tobacco use have never been more critical. World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is an opportunity to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form,” Dr Roderico H Ofrin, WHO Representative to India said. “This year’s theme for WNTD ‘Commit to Quit’ aims to support 100 million (10 crore) people worldwide in their attempts to give up tobacco through various initiatives. We all must help create healthier environments that are conducive to quitting tobacco use.”
Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, Vital Strategies said, “We are proud to collaborate with the WHO in scaling up the fight against the tobacco epidemic with the Government of India through the launch of this campaign. ‘When You Quit’ comes at a pivotal moment of the pandemic in India as cases continue to surge across the country and people with underlying health conditions remain at an increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19. Public education campaigns like ‘When You Quit’ are a critical tactic to highlight the health harms of tobacco use, support cessation efforts and address the tobacco epidemic.”