The COVID-19 pandemic motivates millions of tobacco users to quit, but they need support

31 May 2021

“Quitters are the real winners in the case of tobacco”, says the World Health Organization as part of a campaign to help smokers that have decided to quit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but lack the support to do so. A new chatbot and even an AI assistant are ready to aid them in their quitting journey.
 

According to the UN health agency, the finding that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, triggered millions of people to want to quit tobacco. But without adequate support, quitting can be incredibly challenging.

On World No Tobacco Day 2021, the agency reminded that the nicotine found in tobacco is highly addictive and creates dependence, and the behavioral and emotional ties to tobacco use – like having a cigarette with coffee, craving tobacco, and feelings of sadness or stress – make it hard to kick the habit.

However, with professional support and cessation services, tobacco users double their chances of quitting successfully. Currently, over 70% of the 1.3 billion tobacco users worldwide lack access to the tools they need, and the gap in access to cessation services was further exacerbated in the last year as the health workforce was mobilized to handle the pandemic.

“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,” reminded in a statement 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”, he added.

The “Quit Challenge” is on

Tedros announced that WHO is taking advantage of digital tools to help tobacco users and has released the Quit Challenge chatbot and the Artificial Intelligence digital health worker Florence.

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.

The agency also released a “quitting toolkit” which includes these innovations, but also existing services such as brief advice from health professionals and national toll-free quitlines.

Globally, roughly 39% of men and 9% of women use tobacco. The highest tobacco use rates among men are currently found in the Western Pacific region at 49%, and among women in Europe at 19%.

As part of the “Commit to Quit” initiative, WHO calls for the adoption of bold policies that promote tobacco cessation; increasing access to smoking cessation services; raising awareness of the tobacco industry's tactics; and support for consumers trying to stay away from tobacco.

Currently, 29 countries are working with the agency to support tobacco cessation through national awareness campaigns, new digital tools, policy review, training of health workers, opening of specialized clinics, support for nicotine replacement therapies, and courses to quit smoking.

Some WHO facts to help you quit

  • Every year 8 million people die from tobacco use
  • Smokers face a 40–50% higher risk of developing severe disease and death from COVID-19
  • Tobacco causes teeth to yellow, excess dental plaque and bad breath
  • Using tobacco negatively affects social interactions
  • Cigarette butts are among the most commonly discarded pieces of plastic waste globally
  • Smoking prematurely ages the skin by wearing away proteins that give the skin elasticity
  • Smokers burn through an average of $1.4 million in personal costs, including cigarettes & medical costs
  • Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are at a higher risk of developing oral and lung cancer

 

 

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