By Pahuni Jain, Communication Assistant, India, Vital Strategies
I just smoke casually!”
“It’s just one cigarette, what harm can it do?”
“I need a cigarette, otherwise I can’t focus on my work.”
“I’ve been smoking for years and yet there is nothing wrong with my health.”
The list goes on!
We’ve all come across such excuses from our friends and family who smoke. Whenever there is a conversation about quitting, they come up with numerous justifications.
Although there is a reduction in the prevalence of tobacco use in India, the country still remains the second largest consumer of tobacco in the world.
Through our campaigns in India, Vital Strategies has been encouraging tobacco users to quit by highlighting the economic burden of tobacco consumption and how tobacco use leads to death and disease.
Our campaigns warn the public by showing the true picture of tobacco use: suffering and potentially an early death.
With this goal in mind, we started the series #WinnersQuitHere in 2017 as part of a social media campaign for a unified tax on all tobacco products, #OneTobaccoTax. The series was designed to inspire viewers to quit by showing emotionally compelling stories from former tobacco users and their families. It depicted the harms caused by tobacco use and urged people to seek inspiration from true heroes—former smokers—who can be found all around them.
There was further impetus for the campaign in March 2020, when the nation was grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, there were numerous reports both about smokers being more vulnerable to COVID-19 and of increased tobacco use during lockdowns. Vital India developed a #SmokeFree social media campaign to urge people to stop using tobacco and showed how lockdowns are an opportunity to quit the habit once and for all.
The other goals of #WinnersQuitHere were to create true and desirable images of non-tobacco users—especially among youth—and to counter the image of tobacco use as aspirational, a message frequently promoted by the tobacco industry’s advertising campaigns. The Vital team worked on the idea of capturing conversations and stories from people so that tobacco users would gravitate towards relatable people, places and situations to help them find inspiration to quit.
The Vital India team approached former smokers and asked that they share their stories, encourage quitting and offer tips for quitting that they found useful. Additionally, the campaign encouraged tobacco users to seek help from the national tobacco quitline number and the government’s cessation service. The video series received 51,000 views and a reach of 95,000 online users within the first month of a three-month smoke-free campaign. Vital also collaborated with our partner, The Union, to get stories from all across India.
Tobacco use doesn’t spare anyone. Through this series, Vital India inspired and encouraged people to quit this deadly habit and lead a tobacco-free life.
“I tried my best to convince my father to quit smoking. It’s not that he was not aware of the harms of tobacco but he used to tell me that he just couldn’t do it. It’s only when he realized that his smoking is putting all of us at an increased risk, he could gather up the courage to quit smoking.”
Saikat Majumder from Kolkata saw his friend suffer from a heart disease at an early age, and that’s when he decided to quit tobacco. He is now a tobacco control champion and an inspiration to friends and peers.
Zoeb Rajkotwala was a smoker for 25 years. He was only 14 years old when he started smoking, but it was only a few months back that his daughter made him realize how bad smoking is and how it is adversely affecting his health. When he smoked, he was not able to run, but now he can, and this makes him happy.
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