From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The World Health Organization (WHO) has disclosed that COVID-19 which wrecked havoc across the world last year has forced millions of tobacco consumers to quit smoking.
WHO said that smokers suddenly realised that tobacco smoking impairs lung function, making it harder for the body to fight off COVID-19 virus and other diseases.
The organisation noted that, of the 1.3 billion tobacco users globally, 60 per cent have expressed desire to quit, but only 30 per cent have accessed the tools to successfully quit smoking.
It, however, announced that WHO had introduced “Florence” a digital health worker that gives brief advice on how to quit and links people with the tools and solutions that can help them quit tobacco consumption.
WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti, in a statement to commemorate 2021 World No Tobacco Day, reminded tobacco consumers that smoking killed half of its users, while around 1.2 million non-smokers die from exposure to tobacco smoke annually.
‘Tobacco use harms nearly every organ in the human body. Even smoking a cigarette a day can seriously harm a person’s health. Tobacco use leads to lung, mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, bowel and other cancers. It increases the risk of chest and lung infections, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other conditions. Evidently, there is no safe form of tobacco,’ Moeti said.
She said the theme of this year’s event, ‘commit to quit’was clearly chosen because the choice to stop tobacco use is in the smoker’s hands, disclosing that more than 75 million people in the African region use some form of tobacco.
She added: ‘This burden is likely to increase as consumer purchasing power improves, coupled with intensive efforts by the tobacco industry to expand the African market. Public health advocates should therefore actively pursue counter-marketing campaigns that highlight the many risks of tobacco use.’
She said that WHO is supporting countries to scale-up programmes to help people quit tobacco, especially at the Primary Health Care (PHC) and community levels.
‘So far, support to quit is available in PHC facilities in 11 countries, and in Angola, Botswana and Zambia these services are offered at no cost to consumers. National toll-free lines where tobacco users can call and get advice are available in six countries.
‘Nicotine replacement therapy is also sold in pharmacies in 19 countries with governments fully covering the costs in Eswatini, Mauritius and Seychelles. Nicotine replacement therapy is included in the essential medicines list in Algeria, Ethiopia and South Africa.’
She renewed the commitment of WHO to supporting member states to meet their obligations under the WHO framework convention on tobacco control.
She called on governments to improve access to Nicotine replacement therapy, using a combination of approaches, such as toll-free quit lines, gum, patches, sprays and other products, and digital solutions to empower people to quit.