Traditionally every 3rd November Thursday is officially the International Non-Smoking Day in Europe, and this year it comes on November 15th. Activities raising the awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and urging smokers to quit are taking place throughout the Czech Republic as part of a program organised by the State Health Institute. Jan Velinger has more on a day when smokers should at least try and make a small effort to give up the addictive habit.
This year's International Non-Smoking Day comes today, on November 15th, and in and around the Czech Republic it is possible to see flyers in shops, and public areas urging smokers to quit. It is all part of a program organised by the State Health Institute, which yearly holds a competition among Czech schools, asking them to take part and organise events that outline the dangers of smoking. This year 15 medical high schools in the Czech Republic signed up. In the past classes came up with many different ideas for getting smokers to quit, and also concentrated on education and prevention, presenting plays on the dangers of smoking for younger children in elementary schools. Dr. Hana Sovinova, the head co-ordinator of the Non-Smoking Campaign at the State Health Institute, says that young people are among the most in danger of taking up the habit:
"When it comes to smoking young people are part of the age-group that is the most threatened, since it is proven that most smokers begin before the age of eighteen. That is why we try and involve as many young people as possible in activities organised for the International Non-Smoking Day. In the past students came up with ideas such as getting smokers on the street to trade in their cigarettes for apples, at the same time handing out literature with tips on how to quit."
The idea of making smokers think twice about their habit through student initiatives is not a light matter, in spite of its youthful appearance. Dr. Sovinova stressed that it takes most serious smokers repeated efforts to quit, and cumulative events organised by the State Health Institute, such as the International Non-Smoking Day, or the biannual Quit and Win competition, are precisely the types of initiators that can evoke a pang of conscience in smokers, and can tip the scales in favour of giving up the habit. Yearly 22 000 individuals die from smoking-related diseases in the Czech Republic, and though the dangers of smoking are well documented in everything from lung cancer to pregnancy defects, smokers face great problems in resolution. Dr. Sovinova says that smokers need to be repeatedly helped along the way.
"We know that such impulses have positive results on smokers, that there is always a certain percentage of smokers who have come to the conclusion that they would like to quit. For that reason it is important for events like the Non-Smoking Day to be repeated."
Events such as the International Non-Smoking Day do have an impact; hard facts are available from a study by the State Health Institute from the biannual Quit and Win Competition, where the institute kept tabs on 2000 adult participants a year after they took part. And the statistics are encouraging:
"The latest study from the Stop and Win contest in the year 2000 shows that among adults who took part around 20 percent had managed not to smoke for the full year."
Clearly then the non-smoking initiative is having a positive effect, although organisers would say that there is still lots of room for improvement. The global fight against smoking is an even more difficult endeavor, involving the participation of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The organisation is extremely critical of the tobacco industry, and is calling for law-makers around the world to take action against the tobacco companies they say threaten the health of the young and old alike. Next week the third round of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control negotiations will take place in Geneva, addressing issues such as aggressive tobacco advertising and promotion.