New Delhi: Tobacco consumption has long been associated with lung disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. But, a recent guidance by the World Health Organization (WHO) states that smokers face a 40-50 per cent higher risk of developing severe disease and death from Covid-19. Health experts have urged smokers to quit as it is necessary now more than ever.
World No-Tobacco Day is observed on May 31 every year. This year's theme is 'Commit to Quit'.
"Given the correlation between the severity of Covid-19 and tobacco, the need to create awareness about ending tobacco use has 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," said Dr. Roderico H Ofrin, WHO Representative to India, in a statement.
"This year's theme for WNTD 'Commit to Quit' aims to support 100 million 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," Ofrin added.
According to WHO, the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth. Smokeless tobacco users may spread the disease through spitting.
"There is growing evidence that smokers have a higher mortality rate with respect to coronavirus infection compared to non-smokers. Especially the smokers who already have certain health conditions like COPD or other heart diseases are at a greater risk of succumbing to death if they get infected with the virus," Dr Vikas Maurya, Director and Head of Department, Pulmonology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh.
Aligning with the theme, the WHO has launched a national mass media campaign to encourage tobacco users to quit, along with global health organisation Vital Strategies.
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 WHO is supporting the "When You Quit" campaign developed in multiple Indian languages and to be aired across 15 states covering 169 districts with 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 - Facebook, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, SonyLiv and MX Player.
According to health experts, the Covid-19 pandemic has also led to a strengthening of resolve among tobacco users in their commitment to quit (tobacco).
This could also be because the majority of people were more at home due to Covid-induced lockdowns and they were worried about exposing their children to tobacco smoking, said Dr. Pratima Murthy, Professor of Psychiatry and Head of the Department at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS) Bengaluru.
"As many as three fourth of all who called to quit said they had given up and nearly about 40 per cent had quit in one month. This is the double of what we would see in the pre-Covid times," Murthy said.