Devbrat Patnaik

Globally, an estimated 1.3 billion people use tobacco products, and 80% of those tobacco users live in low-middle income countries, where the burden of tobacco-related illness is the heaviest. In order to deal with the criticiality associated with tobacco dependence, recently, Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, launched the Tobacco Cessation Consortium at the World Health Summit in Berlin.

The Consortium proposes innovative, last mile interventions such as accessible digital tools, which will slow down the increase of deaths due to tobacco, against the backdrop of a growing population of youth and an increase in the burden of non-communicable diseases. 

Eminent public policy leader from Odisha, Charudutta Panigrahi, who was invited as a panelist to the Summit to join the high table of global health policy and initiatives, explained how tobacco cessation is a critical public health investment. 

WHO Tobacco Cessation Consortium Charudutta Panigrahi (extreme left) at the discussion making a point to Dr Tedros, DG, WHO and others.

In the context of the pandemic, evidence has revealed that smokers are at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes and death. It saves lives, protects health and ultimately, cuts government costs. 

Panigrahi reaffirmed his commitment to help people quit tobacco use, enhance the use of NRTs (Nicotine replacement therapy) which is vital to ending the tobacco epidemic. About 60% of tobacco users worldwide have expressed a desire to quit, but only 30% have access to comprehensive tobacco cessation services.

He said, "The tobacco industry has a far bigger impact on the planet than we realise. A WHO report has established that every year, tobacco costs the world 600 million trees, 20 lakh hectares of land, 22 billion tonnes of water, plus it releases 84 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. The CO2 emissions alone are equivalent to one-fifth of what is produced by the airline industry. Most tobacco is grown in low or middle-income countries where water and farmland are desperately needed to produce food. Instead, they are being used to grow these ‘deadly’ tobacco plants, while more and more forests are cleared."

Panigrahi is preparing a blueprint to help cities and towns in Odisha and other states tackle tobacco related climate damage. Tobacco products are the most littered item on the planet, containing over 7000 toxic chemicals, which impact our environment when left behind. In smart cities like Bhubaneswar, he said, cigarette butts should be stopped from being discarded (smoking stopped) because they are the second biggest source of plastic pollution worldwide, containing microplastics that persist in the environment. Other products like smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes also add to the plastic pollution problem.  

"Roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year, says the WHO report. Each filter that is callously thrown away can pollute up to 100 lts of water. The city management has to cough up tax payers’ money to clean up littered tobacco products. The tobacco industry which causes the problem doesn’t pay. India roughly spends about $700 million to pick up these items. Tobacco industry undoubtedly is one of the biggest polluters that we know of," he said. 

The Consortium has five pillars and will ramp up focus on solving challenges in collaboration with partners:

Pharmacotherapies and supply – to ensure steady delivery of products and medicines that help people quit tobacco.

Health systems strengthening – to ensure that people have the support they need to quit.

Advocacy and policy – to speak to people in power and advocate for increased investment in cessation.

Research and development – to identify new innovations and research ideas.

Digital and technology – to reach more people through digital channels and promote the tools developed by all partners.