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WHO launches campaign to help smokers quit habit

Tobacco kills up to half its users, killing more than 8 million a year, according to the World Health Organization. Photo by underworld/Shutterstock
Tobacco kills up to half its users, killing more than 8 million a year, according to the World Health Organization. Photo by underworld/Shutterstock

Dec. 8 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization launched Tuesday a yearlong global campaign to help smokers quit the habit.

WHO's "Commit to Quit" campaign includes advocating for stronger national policies, increasing access to cessation services, raising awareness of tobacco industry tactics, and empowering tobacco users to make successful plans to quit through initiatives.

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One initiative is an artificial intelligence-driven 24/7 health worker, Florence.

In a short promotional video, Florence cites the importance of quitting during the pandemic considering higher risk of smokers developing a severe case if they become ill with the coronavirus.

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Along with providing accurate information, Florence also helps smokers make a plan to quit smoking and recommends help lines and support apps.

Millions of smokers have cited the threat of COVID-19 as a new incentive to kick the habit, the WHO said.

Some other campaign initiatives include the "Who Quit Challenge" on the messaging service WhatsApp, and a list of "more than 100 reasons to quit tobacco."

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Smokers are at higher risk for respiratory disease, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease, according to WHO.

Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year, WHO said, which is up to half of its users. Over 7 million of those people die directly from tobacco use and around 1 million die from second-hand smoke.

Around 780 million people globally say they want to quit smoking, but lack the resources to, WHO added.

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The campaign will focus on 22 countries WHO has noted as high-burden, since the majority of the world's tobacco users live there, including United States, Iran, and South Africa.

The U.N. health agency called on governments to ensure their populations have access to resources, including toll-free quit lines, mobile and digital cessation services, and nicotine replacement therapies.

"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," WHO Director of Health Promotion Ruediger Krech said in a statement.

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