News / Opinion
Dr Kgosi Letlape
I have recently been honoured to collaborate with international healthcare colleagues in an important position paper on the fight against smoking.
The paper makes several recommendations on how we can reignite the fight against smoking, based on lessons and insights contained in the document.
The pandemic teaches that global crises demand global solutions. These answers entail collaboration not just among countries, but across sectors.
The successful and speedy development of vaccines against Covid was a direct result of partnerships at an unprecedented scale.
The pharmaceutical industry, in some cases with research support from government agencies and universities, provided the necessary scientific and technological innovation while governments offered critical financial and infrastructure support.
This process, though imperfect, demonstrated the power of multi-sectoral engagement. Efforts toward tobacco cessation and tobacco harm reduction could also benefit from partnerships of this kind – involving industry, science, communities and government.
Like the virus itself, misinformation about Covid has spread rapidly, often foiling the efforts of responsible health communicators.
The pandemic teaches that it’s not enough to have the facts on your side. Important messages must be accompanied by a sound strategy for their dissemination.
Too often, health communicators subscribe to a “knowledge deficit” model – a strategy that assumes individuals merely lack access to accurate information.
This model neglects a slew of emotional and cultural factors that might render individuals unreceptive to particular facts.
Communication challenges are particularly profound in the case of tobacco and nicotine discourse, where emotions run high and information can be lacking.
Poor messaging yields widespread misperceptions that affect individual and public health. The Covid pandemic hastaught us that, to overcome misinformation, health communicators must address concerns specific to communities, ages, and political groups.
For months, the world held its breath, hoping for an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.
In an amazing feat of science, this call was answered in record time. Then came scepticism.
Despite rigorous clinical trials and endorsements from health officials, there was considerable anxiety about unintended and adverse effects of the vaccines. Sure, they seem to work, but how do we know the vaccines aren’t slowly killing us?
Shouldn’t we wait and see before taking new medicines?
This attitude, based on what is known as the precautionary principle, holds that, without exhaustive long-term data, adopting a new intervention is too risky and thus ill-advised.
Although erring on the side of caution is often a practical approach, such a stance fails to account for instances in which the consequences of inaction are grave.
In the case of the Covid vaccine, for example, waiting for decades of clinical data before making the vaccine available would have been more reckless than cautious.
In the field of tobacco control, the choice seems the same.
We need to heed these lessons and redouble our fight against smoking, a fight that has sadly stalled. By stepping up our efforts we can prevent youth from becoming smokers and we can help those adults who want to stop in finding safe ways to do so.
When the pandemic arrived, the world largely understood the urgency and proceeded accordingly.
– Letlape is an ophthalmologist, former president of the Health Professions Council and a member of the International Commission to Reignite the Fight against Smoking and contributed to the report which is online www.fightagainstsmoking.org
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