WHO releases first-ever clinical treatment guideline for tobacco cessation in adults

Over 60% of the world's 1.25 billion tobacco users – more than 750 million people – wish to quit, yet 70% lack access to effective cessation services. This gap exists due to challenges faced by health systems, including resource limitations.
Representational image of cigarettes.
Representational image of cigarettes. (File Photo | Reuters)

NEW DELHI: To help the more than 750 million tobacco users who want to quit all forms of tobacco, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Tuesday recommended a comprehensive set of tobacco cessation interventions, including behavioural support delivered by healthcare providers, digital cessation interventions and pharmacological treatments.

In its first guideline on tobacco cessation, the WHO said the recommendations are relevant for all adults seeking to quit various tobacco products, including cigarettes, waterpipes, smokeless tobacco products, cigars, roll-your-own tobacco, and heated tobacco products (HTPs).

“This guideline marks a crucial milestone in our global battle against these dangerous products," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

"It empowers countries with the essential tools to effectively support individuals in quitting tobacco and alleviate the global burden of tobacco-related diseases.”

Over 60% of the world's 1.25 billion tobacco users – more than 750 million people – wish to quit, yet 70% lack access to effective cessation services. This gap exists due to challenges faced by health systems, including resource limitations.

“The immense struggle that people face when trying to quit smoking cannot be overstated. We need to deeply appreciate the strength it takes and the suffering endured by individuals and their loved ones to overcome this addiction,” said Dr Rüdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

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“These guidelines are designed to help communities and governments provide the best possible support and assistance for those on this challenging journey.”

Combining pharmacotherapy with behavioural interventions significantly increases quitting success rates.

Countries are encouraged to provide these treatments at no or reduced cost to improve accessibility, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO recommends varenicline, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), bupropion, and cytisine as effective treatments for tobacco cessation.

In 2023, WHO initiated a prequalification procedure for medicinal products against disorders caused by tobacco use to improve global access to recommended tobacco cessation medications.

In April 2024, Kenvue’s nicotine gum and patch became the first WHO-prequalified NRT products.

WHO recommends behavioural interventions, including brief health worker counselling (30 seconds to 3 minutes) offered routinely in health-care settings, alongside more intensive behavioural support (individual, group, or phone counselling) for interested users. Additionally, digital interventions such as text messaging, smartphone apps, and internet programmes can be adjuncts or self-management tools.

WHO encourages healthcare providers, policy-makers, and stakeholders to adopt and implement this guideline to promote tobacco cessation and improve the health of millions of people in need worldwide.

According to the world health body, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year, including an estimated 1.3 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Around 80% of the world's 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.

In 2020, 22.3% of the world’s population used tobacco: 36.7% of men and 7.8% of women.

WHO Member States adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to address the tobacco epidemic in 2003. Currently, 182 countries are parties to this treaty.

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