India is battling a virulent second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent WHO and Government of India guidance states tobacco use puts people with conditions of chronic lung disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer at a higher risk for developing severe illness when affected by COVID-19. To reduce the burden of tobacco and demonstrate its health harms, the state health department of Maharashtra today launched a 30 second pretested public service announcement (PSA) –
‘When You Quit’ as part of a state-wide tobacco control mass media campaign.
This campaign has been launched with technical support from Tata Memorial Hospital and Vital startegies, a global health organization. The hard-hitting PSA is designed to highlight the association between smoking cigarettes or bidis and cardiovascular diseases, including the risk of severe COVID-19. It further encourages tobacco users to quit tobacco and call the National Tobacco Quitline (1800-11-2356) for help. The campaign will be broadcast in Marathi on TV channels and radio stations in Maharashtra for a period of three (3) weeks. It will also air on major digital online streaming platforms such as Facebook, Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, SonyLiv and MX Player.
“When You Quit” was developed and rigorously pretested by Vital Strategies. Respondents found the PSA easy to understand, reported that they were more likely to try to quit smoking after viewing it and more clearly understood how quitting smoking will gradually benefit their health. The PSA depicts how tobacco users experience the benefits of quitting smoking, aligning seamlessly with WHO’s theme for World No Tobacco Day this year – ‘commit to quit’.
Dr. Pradeep Vyas, Additional Chief Secretary, Public Health Department, Government of Maharashtra, said, “We are committed to reducing the menace of tobacco in the state of Maharashtra and progress is being made. The government has recently taken the important step of banning the sale of loose cigarettes, thereby controlling its access to the youth. We will continue our efforts to support tobacco cessation and control in the state. The mass media campaign is a critical step forward in conveying the harms of tobacco use and urging people to quit tobacco.”
Dr. N. Ramaswami, Commissioner and Mission Director, Health Services and NHM, said, “This initiative’s objectives are to reach out with people by virtual means and sensitize about health hazards of tobacco and Importance of tobacco quitting. So, on this occasion of World No Tobacco Day, let’s take a pledge to Quit Tobacco.”
Dr. Sadhna Tayade, Director, Health Services, said, “Tobacco related cancers are one of those which can be prevented easily. As Per Global Adult Tobacco survey 2 (GATS) Maharashtra, the prevalence of any tobacco use has significantly decreased by 4.8 percentage points from 31.4% in GATS 1 to 26.6 in GATS 2. We need to reduce it further with the aim of Tobacco free Maharashtra. We are worried about youngsters; they the future of this country and we need to educate them about harmful effects of tobacco consumption and regarding that we are working on making schools tobacco free. In Maharashtra we provide Tobacco cessation counselling services at around 230 plus Govt. hospitals.”
Prof. Pankaj Chaturvedi, Head Neck Surgeon and Deputy Director, Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Centre, Mumbai said, “While we are doing everything in our power to combat the pandemic, we must not allow the tobacco related disease burden in this country to surge in an uncontrollable manner. This is a silent epidemic which can set India back many years in its healthcare journey if left unchecked. We need to ensure constant messaging around the health hazards and dangers associated with tobacco use so that public education can result in positive and long-term behaviour change. The ‘When You Quit’ campaign will be an effective tool to further the message of World No Tobacco Day – a movement that can help tobacco users overcome this unhealthy habit. We need to take urgent steps to prevent our youth from falling prey to tobacco use. My appeal is to prominent citizens/celebrities to stop endorsing tobacco brands – these are disguised promotions. Also, online streaming platforms depicting tobacco consumption without any warning of its health hazards amounts to promotion. We must back the government’s move to frame guidelines for this.”
Vaishakhi Mallik, Associate Director, Vital Strategies said, “We extend our thanks to the government of Maharashtra on the launch of the mass media campaign. “When You Quit” comes at a pivotal moment of the pandemic in India as cases continue to surge across the country and people with underlying health conditions remain at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Public education campaigns like “When You Quit” are a critical tactic to highlight the health harms of tobacco use, support cessation efforts and address the tobacco epidemic.”