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World No Tobacco Day will be observed on Sunday, May 31 under the theme ‘COVID is no Joke, it gets Worse with Smoke’.

Speaking at a JIS ‘Think Tank’ on Wednesday, May 27, Chairman of the Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control (JCTC), Dr. Aggrey Irons, explained the rationale for the focus of the 2020 observation.

“We are discouraging the use of tobacco in the present climate, which consists of a viral pandemic for which there is evidence that it attacks smokers and is one of the risk factors that give a bad prognosis when you have COVID-19,” he said.

“Smoking is a very expensive habit, not just personally but in terms of the treatment that is required for those respiratory disorders and cardiovascular disorders that go along with the habit,” he noted.

Dr. Irons pointed out that there is a new thrust by the tobacco companies to encourage new smokers and that the coalition is taking a no-tolerance approach to this, especially in light of the new disease.

“There is a very active attempt to recruit new smokers, especially in developing countries, and this year, the global thrust speaks to the need to prevent young people from joining the gang of smokers, so we are reducing it from the bottom and not just from the top where we get people to stop smoking,” he said.

He argued that at the local level, the bottom-up approach is expected to feed into the fight against COVID-19, where the message is reaching all persons that are at risk of smoking.

“We are focusing here because of the pandemic and… we are trying to get the young people to identify with the fact that COVID-19 is no joke and it gets worse with smoke,” Dr. Irons said.

“The JCTC is getting as much information to the young people as possible, using their language, their attitudes, their music and their pastimes to let them realise that smoking is not hip anymore and it kills,” he added.

He also informed that the young people have been engaged to help in the preparation of outreach programmes for their peers, to ensure that the information that is generally shared on social media platforms is relatable.

“This year, in particular, World No Tobacco Day is focused on undoing the attractiveness that has been created, and I personally would like to recommend that despite the cultural realities of our Jamaican brethren and sistren, we just don’t want to see our lives go up in smoke,” Dr. Irons said.

For World No Tobacco Day 2020, the JCTC, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the National Council on Drug Abuse, the Jamaica Cancer Society and the Pan American Health Organization are collaborating to increase public engagement and awareness on the impact of tobacco use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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