By Isabella Njeri

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its first-ever clinical treatment guidelines for tobacco cessation in adults.

The new guidelines seek to support over 750 million people globally who wish to quit the use of tobacco.

According to WHO, while over 60% of the world’s 1.25 billion tobacco users want to quit, a staggering 70% lack access to effective cessation services largely due to resource limitations and challenges faced by health systems worldwide.

Tobacco kills over eight million people globally every year, including 1.3 million non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke. Furthermore, WHO reveal that tobacco kills up to half of its users who don’t quit.

The guidelines will help adults quit all forms of tobacco products, including cigarettes and water pipes to smokeless tobacco, cigars, and heated tobacco products (HTPs). It encompasses a range of interventions, including behavioural support from healthcare providers, digital cessation tools, and pharmacological treatments.

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus hailed the guideline as a crucial milestone in the global fight against tobacco use, adding that, “it empowers countries with the essential tools to effectively support individuals in quitting tobacco and alleviate the global burden of tobacco-related diseases.”

Dr. RĂ¼diger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO, emphasized the immense struggle individuals face when trying to quit smoking. “We need to deeply appreciate the strength it takes and the suffering endured by individuals and their loved ones to overcome this addiction. These guidelines are designed to help communities and governments provide the best possible support and assistance for those on this challenging journey.”

The WHO guidelines incorporate pharmacotherapy with behavioural interventions to increase quitting success rates. The guidelines encourage countries to provide these treatments at no or reduced cost to improve accessibility, particularly in low- and middle-income countries where resources may be limited.

Specific pharmacological treatments WHO recommends include varenicline, Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), bupropion, and cytisine.

On the behavioural front, the guideline recommends brief health worker counselling (lasting from 30 seconds to 3 minutes) to be offered routinely in health-care settings, for users interested in more intensive support, individual, group, or phone counselling is recommended.

WHO also recognizes the potential of digital interventions, such as text messaging, smartphone apps, and internet programs, which can be used as adjuncts or self-management tools.

Tobacco use remains one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide, with the guidelines in place, WHO aims to equip health-care providers, policy-makers, and stakeholders with the tools needed to address this global health crisis effectively.

According to the health organization, tobacco addiction is complex in nature and individuals seeking to quit tobacco use have diverse needs. Accordingly, by combining pharmacological treatments with behavioural support and leveraging digital technologies, WHO hopes to increase the success rates of quit attempts and ultimately reduce the global burden of tobacco-related diseases.

The health organization expressed optimism in the guidelines in having a significant impact on public health, adding that, “reduced tobacco use not only improves individual health outcomes but also lessens the economic burden on healthcare systems and societies at large.”

The guidelines represent a major step forward in the global fight against tobacco use. As these guidelines are implemented across the globe, experts observe that they have the potential to save countless lives and improve the health of populations for generations to come.