Tobacco, COVID health risk campaign launched

In response to the increasing need to encourage smoking cessation, a media campaign “United against Tobacco and COVID” was launched at Birzeit University on June 15, 2022, jointly with the university’s Institute of Community and Public Health, the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network and the Global Health Development.

Under the support of the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the campaign’s goal is to spread messages via T.V., radio and social media that highlight the harms of tobacco and the health benefits of tobacco cessation. The campaign was also launched in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and Turkey.

During the launching ceremony at Birzeit, Abdullatif Husseini, Director of the Institute of Community and Public Health, said that this initiative is in line with the institute’s mission to lead community engagement activities that advocate and educate for critical causes, such as smoking.

Efforts to support the prevention and reduction of tobacco use are highly important, as the negative effects target both the smokers and their surroundings, noted Husseini.

Mutasem Muheisen, head of the Ramallah and Al-Bireh health directorate, highlighted the relationship between COVID-19 and smoking. Smokers are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and pulmonary disease, making them vulnerable to severe COVID-19 symptoms, he explained.

Muheisen reaffirmed the role of the Ministry of Health in increasing access to cessation services, raising awareness of tobacco risks and providing medical and behavioral health for smokers who decide to quit.

Niveen Abu Rmeileh, professor at the Institute of Community and Public Health and expert in statistical epidemiology, said that one third of the total Palestinian population are smokers. That is why the “United against Tobacco and COVID” initiative is vital: to urge divestment from the tobacco of any kind.

Mohammad Hawash, director of Counselling and Special Education in the Ministry of Education, said that more than 28 percent of governmental school students between the ages of 11 and 16 are smokers. These numbers, according to Hawash, are alarming, and require direct intervention through community-based campaigns.

Nibal Al-Thawabteh, Monitoring and Evaluating Coordinator at the Media Development Center, gave a brief overview of the initiative and its components. She pointed out that it will include radio spots, a poster campaign, info and video graphs, and interviews with messages to educate and cease tobacco use among Palestinian youth.

Al-Thawabteh added that the initiative will launch the #initiative_challenge hashtag, which is a competition between students and youth active on social media. The competition requires participants to create content for social media platforms, such as ads, vox pops and infographics about the hazards of smoking hookah.