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Tobacco use is a heart breaker – but strong policies can protect health

(New York,  USA): On World No Tobacco Day, Vital Strategies calls on governments to implement policies to reduce the physical and economic harm of tobacco use – and to ensure that the tobacco industry and its proxies do not interfere with health policy formation or implementation.

Tobacco use, including second-hand smoke exposure, is the leading preventable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disease. Tobacco contributed to more than a tenth of the global burden of death from CVDs – an estimated 1.7 million deaths every year. As outlined by the Strategic Development Goals and World Health Organization targets for reductions in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), tobacco use must be addressed at the population level through cost-effective policies proven to encourage current tobacco users to quit, to protect all people against second-hand smoke, and to prevent youth from initiating tobacco use.

“So much disease and death could be prevented by reducing tobacco use,” said José Luis Castro, President and CEO of Vital Strategies. “In a tobacco-free world, we may be able to prevent 10 percent of deaths from cardiovascular disease, and 20 percent of cancer deaths. As an organisation that is committed to reducing non-communicable diseases, Vital Strategies is proud to play our part in working hand-in-hand with governments and civil society around the world on policy formulation and implementation, and campaigns that support policy and behaviour change. We in turn call on governments to implement the MPOWER framework in full to support health, reduce NCDs and make progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”

A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that a smoker who smokes a single cigarette a day still has half the increased level of risk of coronary heart disease and stroke of a pack-a-day smoker. Multi-country studies have also linked smokeless tobacco to poor heart health. In contrast, quitting delivers immediate and long-term benefits and strong smokefree laws are proven to protect heart health.

“Tobacco not only causes cancer, lung disease, and many other health problems but also greatly increases the risk of disability and death from heart attack and stroke,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, President and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies. “When it comes to heart health, there is no safe level of tobacco use or of exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The recently-published sixth edition of The Tobacco Atlas highlights this need for action, revealing that over 7 million people die from tobacco related disease every year. This includes nearly a million non-smokers exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke. World Health Organization has estimated that CVD causes more than 60 percent of premature deaths attributable to second-hand smoke. New fact sheets on Latin American and Asia will be added to The Tobacco Atlas website for World No Tobacco Day. The Latin America Fact Sheet vividly illustrates that tobacco use has been reduced in several Latin American countries through the implementation of strong tobacco control policies.

Assisting mass and social media campaigns in multiple countries

To date, more than 2 billion people are estimated to have viewed campaigns designed and implemented with support from Vital Strategies. The organization has supported events and mass media campaigns currently running or being launched to coincide with World No Tobacco Day in cities and countries around the world, including China, India and Jakarta, Indonesia:

– In Bangladesh, the “Clinical” campaign, launched on May 16 and will be broadcast for six (6) weeks. The PSA warns viewers about the deadly harms of secondhand smoke, especially stroke and heart attack, helping to amplify the theme of World No Tobacco Day this year.

– In China, a victim of tobacco-related heart disease, Li Xiang, features in a Public Service Announcement that is being included in China CDC’s toolkit, and will be broadcast across a number of Chinese cities on World No Tobacco Day.

– Shanghai, Lanzhou and Shenzhen aired smokefree campaigns and Vital Strategies supported World No Tobacco Day campaigns in Haikou city and Jiangxi province, and a smokefree advocacy campaign launched today in Hangzhou.

– In India, a new interactive billboard has been launched in DLF Cyber Hub in Gurgaon, India, to promote smoking cessation. It detects smokers and launches a video to show the real-time effects of tobacco smoke on the heart and lungs of the smoker and people nearby, who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

– On June 1, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare commences the broadcast of two national mass media campaigns. “What Damage Will This Cigarette/Bidi Do,” prompts smokers to think about each cigarette as the path to one of many potential harmful events: heart attacks, cancer, lung disease, and more. The campaign amplifies the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day, which is “Tobacco Breaks Hearts.” “Nemai” is a testimonial campaign on emphysema that explains how smoking can damage the air sacs in the lungs, causing them to be hyper inflated and making every breath a challenge.

– In Indonesia, a national TV campaign, “Kesempatan Kedua Richard” (Richard’s Second Chance) shows Richard, a 35-year old father of two, recounting his near-fatal tobacco-related health crisis. The PSA encourages smokers to consider quitting and usel the national quitline if necessary. The campaign is being amplified through the #SuaraTanpaRokok social media campaign and microsite at

– In Jakarta, Vital Strategies supported the #TheyLieWeDie Campus Roadshow, which included a ‘Drop Dead’ action and an art exhibition featuring works from students from Pelita Harapan University, Jakarta State University, Bina Nusantara University, and Multimedia Nusantara University, highlighting the dangers of tobacco and the health-harming actions of the tobacco industry. The event was shared on social media with the hashtag #KombiKeliling (Combi Goes Around) and #TheyLieWeDie.

– In Bandung, a World No Tobacco Day event on May 27 drew over 200 participants including the acting city mayor, city officials, youth groups, media and the smoke free task force. Among other activities, the event enabled attendees to participate in creating a heart-shaped mural to represent the theme of World No Tobacco Day and was promoted on social media using #HTTSKotaBandung2018.

– In Pakistan, Vital Strategies has provided a library of five (5) adapted tobacco warning ads to be aired on Pakistani media and displayed in cinemas.

– Vital Strategies also supported the development and distribution of posters to 50,000 kiosks across five major cities of Pakistan. The posters alert consumers to new legislation banning the sale of single cigarettes, the introduction of new larger graphic health warnings on tobacco packs from June 1, 2018, and a ban on tobacco sales to minors ( under 18 years of age).

– In the Philippines, Vital Strategies is supporting a World No Tobacco Day event to ensure that public utility vehicles are conforming to the smoking ban, and displaying no smoking signs.

– In Turkey, we supported the Ministry of Health of Turkey and the Turkish Green Crescent Society’s current national media campaign, “Smoke,” which reminds viewers of the harms of SHS, encourages non-smokers to ask smokers to respect the country’s smoke-free laws and promotes two channels people can use to report violations of the law: a Ministry of Health hotline number, 184, and a mobile app, Yeşil Dedektör.

– In Vietnam, Vital Strategies is supporting a multi-phase communications campaign that currently features a PSA showing a tobacco victim relating her story, and a PSA entitled “Smokefree Home,” that support the Viet Nam Women’s Union’s Smokefree Home initiative.

– In Ukraine, a national mass and social media campaign entitled “The Tobacco Industry Targets Our Kids” aims to build support for a law banning tobacco advertising at the point of sale, and also calls for a ban on flavored cigarettes that encourage youth smoking.

– Through the Prevent20 initiative, Vital Strategies supports cancer organizations working to raise tobacco taxes – the single most effective way of reducing tobacco use.

– Vital Strategies is supporting a global campaign, Quit Big Tobacco, to encourage organziations with health in their mission to sign a pledge not to work with advertising agencies that also work for the tobacco industry. A panel discussion in New York City today, featuring representatives from agencies including Edelman, GMMB and HUMAN, will discuss the advertising industry’s support for tobacco industry and the impact that has on global health.

Vital Strategies-supported campaign PSAs and stills and transcripts from the PSAs are available upon request.

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. Our team combines evidence-based strategies with innovation to help develop and implement sound public health policies, manage programs efficiently, strengthen data systems, conduct research, and design strategic communication campaigns for policy and behavior change. To find out more, please visit or Twitter @VitalStrat.

For further information or to arrange an interview with a Vital Strategies public health and tobacco control expert, please contact