WHO issues inaugural guidelines for quitting tobacco

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has introduced its first comprehensive guideline on tobacco cessation, recommending a range of interventions including behavioral support from healthcare providers, digital cessation tools, and pharmacological treatments.

Released on Wednesday, the guideline aims to assist over 750 million tobacco users who wish to quit all forms of tobacco. These recommendations are relevant for adults using various tobacco products such as cigarettes, waterpipes, smokeless tobacco, cigars, roll-your-own tobacco, and Heated Tobacco Products.

“This guideline represents a significant step in our global fight against these harmful products,” stated WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus. “It equips countries with essential tools to effectively support individuals in quitting tobacco and reducing the global burden of tobacco-related diseases.”

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More than 60 percent of the world’s 1.25 billion tobacco users, equivalent to over 750 million people, want to quit. However, 70 percent lack access to effective cessation services due to health system challenges and resource limitations.

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“The struggle to quit smoking is immense and should not be underestimated. We must recognize the strength it takes and the suffering endured by individuals and their loved ones,” said Dr. Rüdiger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. “These guidelines are designed to help communities and governments provide the best possible support for those on this difficult journey.”

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WHO highlights that combining pharmacotherapy with behavioral interventions significantly increases success rates in quitting. Countries are urged to offer these treatments at low or no cost to enhance accessibility, particularly in low- and middle-income regions.

Effective treatments recommended by WHO include varenicline, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), bupropion, and cytisine. In 2023, WHO began a prequalification procedure for medications targeting disorders caused by tobacco use to improve global access. In April 2024, Kenvue’s nicotine gum and patch became the first WHO-prequalified NRT products.

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WHO recommends behavioral interventions such as brief health worker counseling (lasting 30 seconds to three minutes) routinely provided in healthcare settings, along with more intensive support (individual, group, or phone counseling) for those interested.

“Digital interventions like text messaging, smartphone apps, and internet programs can serve as adjuncts or self-management tools,” WHO noted. “We urge healthcare providers, policymakers, and stakeholders to adopt and implement this guideline to promote tobacco cessation and improve the health of millions worldwide.”

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