At least eight million people die from smoking-induced illnesses every year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, made this known in a statement made available to PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity for people to make the decision to quit smoking to reduce the number of fatalities recorded yearly.
“Smoking kills 8 million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive,” he said.
The international agency had in 2017 predicted that smoking-related deaths will rise by more than a third to around 8 million a year by 2030.
But barely 3 years after the projection, deaths from smoking have increased from six million to over eight million yearly.
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, WHO had warned that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe disease and death from the infection.
Tobacco is also a major risk factor for noncommunicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, respiratory disease and diabetes.
At least 1.9 million people die from tobacco-induced heart disease yearly, according to WHO.
Data also show that smokeless tobacco is responsible for around 200,000 deaths from coronary heart disease per year.
Mr Ghebreyesus said about 780 million people worldwide want to quit tobacco but only 30 per cent of them have access to the tools that can help them do so
“Quitting tobacco is challenging, especially with the added social and economic stresses that have come as a result of the pandemic,” he said.
He said this prompted the international agency to launch a year-long global campaign “Commit to Quit” ahead of the 2021 World No Tobacco Day.
He said the campaign aims to help 100 million people quit tobacco.
“The new WHO Quit Challenge on WhatsApp and publication “More than 100 reasons to quit tobacco” are being released today to mark the start of the campaign.
“The campaign will support at least 100 million people as they try to give up tobacco through communities of quitters,” he said.
The international agency noted that the campaign will help create healthier environments that are conducive to quitting tobacco by advocating for strong tobacco cessation policies; increasing access to cessation services; raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics, and empowering tobacco users to make successful quit attempts through “quit & win” initiatives.
It said it will work with partners to create and build-up digital communities where people can find the social support they need to quit tobacco.
“The focus will be on high burden countries* where the majority of the world’s tobacco users live.”
“Millions of people worldwide want to quit tobacco – we must seize this opportunity and invest in services to help them be successful, while we urge everyone to divest from the tobacco industry and their interests,” Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion said.
The agency called on governments to ensure their citizens have access to brief advice, toll-free quit lines, mobile and digital cessation services, nicotine replacement therapies and other tools that are proven to help people quit.