In 2022, EMPHNET joined forces with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC and Vital Strategies, in a regional campaign Against Tobacco and COVID-19 to raise awareness of the harms of smoking, especially during the pandemic. Together, they worked with ministries of health, NGOs and academic institutes in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine by developing and disseminating country-tailored and culturally appropriate mass media risk messages to educate about the harms of tobacco and promote smoking cessation, especially to reduce morbidity and mortality from the virus. This health promotion campaign relies on data-driven risk messaging responds to the region’s need for organized tobacco control efforts.
Partner organizations from the region included The Cairo Association for Smoking Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases—Egypt, The Institute of Community and Public Health and The Media Development Center at Birzeit University, the Royal Health Awareness Society and The United Iraqi Medical Society for Relief and Development.
Based on quantitative and qualitative assessments, the outcome and impact of this wide-ranging campaign has been evaluated. The campaign proved a great success, reaching 50 million people across Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Palestine in the summer and fall of 2022. Key findings of this assessment found that the campaign reached an estimated 50 million smokers and nonsmokers across four countries through TV, digital media, radio and out-of-home advertising, such as billboards and posters. This estimate included approximately 29 million people in Egypt, 25 million in Iraq, 3 million in Jordan and more than 2.5 million in Palestine. Many across Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine asked for support with quitting smoking. For example, in Jordan visits to cessation clinics almost doubled during the campaign with 865 visits before) compared to 1,392 throughout the campaign. Country-specific findings revealed positive outcomes:
Approximately 36% of post-campaign evaluation survey respondents recalled the campaign three months after it ended; almost half of them were smokers.
Most of the campaign-aware respondents saw the campaign on TV (52%) and social/digital media (37%).
The campaign messages had the intended effect: 52% said the campaign provided them with new information and 72% agreed that it made them stop and think about the harms of smoking.
Beyond the primary intentions of the campaign, the survey in Jordan found that the campaign fostered public support for smoke-free policies. More than 90% of those surveyed in Jordan supported smoke-free policies for schools, churches, mosques and hospitals. This support was higher among those who were campaign-aware than among those who were unaware.
Participants expressed overwhelming support for smoke-free policies, with more than 84% of survey participants calling for smoke-free university buildings.
The Ministry of Health aligned the opening of its smoking cessation clinics with the launch of the campaign and used the campaign platform to begin publicizing the clinics.
The campaign also spurred Ramallah municipality to launch an effort to enforce a ban on tobacco sales to minors.
Many people, including policymakers, called for comprehensive and more stringent tobacco regulations, including smoke-free policies.
In September 2022, the Ministry of Health asked the United Against Tobacco and COVID partners to extend the campaign to the Arba’een religious pilgrimage for three more days. This extension enabled the United Iraqi Medical Society for Relief and Development to reach an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 pilgrims.
The campaign reached 20.1 million through social media and 8.5 million through TV and radio.
The Ministry of Health reported an increase in the number of calls to the ministry’s smoking cessation hotline during the campaign period.
The campaign was launched under the leadership of the Ministry of Health, which oversaw material development, supported dissemination and included their logo.
To expand the benefit of the resources used in this campaign, a website was launched providing free access to downloadable fact sheets, PowerPoint presentations, print material, radio material, social media, videos, and training documents. These are available at https://unitedagainsttobacco.org
In the context of the Eastern Mediterranean Region, the campaign responds to a pressing need. During the pandemic, many governments recognized the importance of protecting tobacco users from COVID-19 because of the increased risk of severe illness among smokers.