Recognizing patients, health professionals involved in TDT on World No Tobacco Day

The availability of tobacco dependence treatment (TDT) is a social justice issue that policymakers and health officials need to focus on, according to the nearly 200 healthcare professionals, tobacco cessation specialists and researchers in attendance at the inspiring 2016 Global Tobacco Dependence Treatment Summit. As smoke-free regulations are implemented around the world, effective treatment must be made available for people who want to quit and who would otherwise be vulnerable to discrimination, stigma and social exclusion. Increasingly, people who smoke represent populations that may need specific approaches to treatment, including the poor, children and those with mental health and substance use disorders.

World No Tobacco Day, May 31, presents an opportunity to highlight the patients and healthcare professionals involved in TDT – one of the least supported elements of tobacco control efforts, despite it being the most effective at saving lives in the short term. Healthcare professionals make powerful advocates for change, as they see firsthand the struggles patients endure as a result of tobacco use. They help generate the research that underpins policy and can speak this truth to power as tobacco companies promote deadly products to vulnerable people and to governments in low-resource environments.

In addition to their practice as researchers and providers, healthcare professionals can serve many roles in anti-tobacco advocacy:

  • Sensitize the general population to the real harms of smoking
  • Improve medical education by sharing knowledge and skills in tobacco policy in order to help other professionals call for change
  • Advocate to advance awareness of patient experiences and the public health perspective for policymakers in tobacco control and cessation

Healthcare professionals working in TDT are engaging in work that is political by nature. Unlike other health interventions, public health advocacy is at the core of TDT. Tobacco-related disease is the only fatal condition with corporate sponsorship; the tobacco industry is well resourced, powerful and has a long experience of lobbying government and influencing culture. Though there is still healthy discourse in a few areas, including harm reduction and e-cigarettes, advocates are united in their commitment and passion for TDT and its positive impact in saving lives.

Advocacy by healthcare professionals speaking with a unified voice against tobacco has already proven effective. In countries such as India, Bangladesh and Argentina, health professionals have led the way in advancing laws that support the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

Healthcare professionals can impact tobacco policy in many ways:

  • Conducting research that influences clinical practice and underpins tobacco use as a social justice issue
  • Developing interdisciplinary approaches to TDT that will better support specific patient populations
  • Working together as experts in clinical treatment and public health to advocate directly for policy change

It will take more than a generation to make the change that’s needed, but there is no change that does not start with a small group of committed individuals. The time to start is now.