16 June, 2020

Even COVID-19 couldn’t stop us from building awareness this World No Tobacco Day

Prevalence of tobacco consumption*
Tobacco consumption Assam India
Smokeless 41.7% 21.4%
Smoked 13.3% 10.7%
*GATS -2 Survey

Every year, May 31 is observed as World No Tobacco Day with an objective of spreading awareness about the risks of tobacco use and how the world could be made tobacco-free. This year, the day arrived at a time when our country is going through the peak of one of the most challenging health and social crises, COVID-19.

As per recent publications, tobacco in any form is not only a threat that spreads the COVID-19 pandemic but also makes its consumers more vulnerable to it.

The ‘Awareness, Early Detection and Palliative Care’ team of the Cancer Care Programme took up the cause of ‘tobacco and COVID-19’ and planned a multitude of digital engagement initiatives pan India, in the states of Assam, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

Webinar to engage youth

The prevalence of smokeless to smoked tobacco in Assam is way higher than the national average. The team partnered with the State Tobacco Control Cell (STCC) and National Service Scheme (NSS) to conduct a webinar.

Topics ranging from effects of tobacco, laws prohibiting the use of tobacco, frequent spitting after chewing tobacco, and role of youth and social media were captured during the webinar titled ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on Tobacco Users’.

Close to 600 people participated in the webinar.

Radio and TV talk shows with influencers

Another cross-section of public was reached out through ‘influencers’ on radio and television talk shows. Prominent doctors from leading medical institutes like State Cancer Institute, Guwahati, and B Barooah Cancer Institute, Guwahati, and senior officials from police and STCC came forth to spread the anti-tobacco messaging.

Spitting Kills — an app-based campaign

The team joined hands with Sambandh Health Foundation, a not-for-profit specialising in tobacco control, in their app-based campaign titled ‘Spitting Kills.’ The campaign is focused on ‘discouraging the habit of chewing tobacco and spitting in public’, and was rolled out in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

When downloaded, the app (Spitting Kills) shows a brief video on spitting followed by a few questions. A certificate of participation is generated upon answering the questions correctly. The app has been rolled out through NSS volunteers.

So far, around 50,000 people have been sensitised and around 19,000 NSS volunteers have been engaged.

Videos messages from real-life heroes

The team collaborated with eminent oncologists, officials of National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP), personnel of NSS, police officers and district administrators to share video bytes informing people about the harmful effects of tobacco, how tobacco puts its users at risk of COVID-19 and motivating them to quit. The video messages were then packaged and promoted in the respective regions.

Virtual poster-making competition

In Jharkhand, the team got together with the state administrators of NTCP and NSS for conducting a fortnight-long poster-making competition on ‘Tobacco and COVID-19.’

The team has been able to engage close to 75,000 people through these initiatives and sensitise many more.

The team is planning to sustain these efforts virtually at present and, later on, on-ground, and is positive of making a considerable thrust in the tobacco cessation and initiation graph of the country.

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