#ichooselife World No Tobacco Day 2015 Campaign in Maldives

Minister of Health Maldives Ms. Iruthisham Adam
Photo: WHO Maldives

“I choose life” is the slogan of the Global campaign and supported by WHO on 31 May 2015 to commemorate the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). The event organized by the Ministry of Health’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) in collaboration with Ministry of Youth and Sports was held in the National Art Gallery in the capital of Maldives, Male’. The youth volunteers from several non-profit organizations adopted a unique approach to educate about the health risks, social and economical impact of smoking using social media.

This innovative approach has been successful in promoting awareness and advocacy messages to the community on the dangers of smoking and to advocate policy makers on the effective tools of reducing tobacco consumption. The aim of the campaign is geared towards youth to create an aspiration of life without tobacco as ‘cool and fun’ while warning about the dangers of tobacco.

The WNTD event began with an online tweet status updates and Facebook opinion poll. The participants were encouraged to take photos and post it online with hashtag #Ichooselife to promote on the social media the risks and harms of smoking. At the start of the event Mr Hassan Mohamed, Deputy Director of HPA stated in his speech ‘we must work on ways to stop tobacco usage in our community”.

In her opening address, Dr. Akjemal Magtymova WHO Representative to Maldives emphasized that Tobacco kills nearly 6 million people each year globally, of which 1.3 million tobacco-related deaths were occurring in the South-East Asia. Mostly as in many other countries, Maldive's public health budget presently geared towards curative care and health prevention and promotion has a very limited budget. Recent WHO study in 2011 showed number of alternatives for sufficient and sustainable financing of health prevention and promotion, including increase in duty on cigarettes, chewing products and soft drinks would potentially bring significant health impacts.

WHO Representative to Maldives Dr. Magtymova addressing the WTND 2015 Event
Photo: WHO Maldives

Dr. Magtymova further added “In South-East Asia, despite stringent measures to control import and sale of tobacco products, there is still a thriving trade in smuggled tobacco products. Maldives is among the first countries which signed WHO FCTC in May 2004 and enforced in 2005, and the time since then has been a battle of joint efforts against tobacco use. I believe that these tireless efforts and public health advocates continue to make impact on people’s choices for their health and today is the day to recognize and celebrate some of the accomplishments in tobacco control in the country.”

Dr. Magtymova announced that the WHO WNTD 2015 award is given to the Maldives Customs Service in recognition for their efforts for stopping the illicit trade of tobacco goods. Chief Superintendent Mr. Abdulla Waheed accepted the award on Maldives Customs Behalf and reaffirmed government commitment and continued efforts to stop illicit trade of tobacco products to address the most vulnerable population such as youth and adolescents targeted by the tobacco industry.

WNTD 2015 winner: Maldives Customs Service
WNTD2015 award given to Maldives Customs Service
WHO: Maldives

In her address in the event, Minister of Health Ms. Iruthisham Adam stated in that a survey conducted in schools in 2011 shows that 35% of children smoked in their homes and 44% of their parents were smokers. The statistics further adds that 60% were passive smokers and 34% were children who had bought their own cigarettes from the shops. She further noticed that these statistics were alarming and is a need for immediate action to rectify this.

Tax policies are widely recognized as the most effective for reducing the demand for tobacco. Maldives passed its first regulation in Tobacco Control in 2010 and the smoking ban regulation of 2012 followed which prohibits smoking in public areas. Although there have been changes, there is a need to revisit these areas of concern such as many adolescents still below 18 years are able to buy cigarettes and are sold in single instead of packs. Although there has been progress, still despite this progress it has been recognized that more actions need to be taken through mulch-sectoral avenues.

This campaign has wide communication media coverage towards the local communities, youth, NGOs, counselor as well as island councils. Advocacy programs such as training of youth volunteers and counselors for Tobacco Cessation training is being provided for Dhamanveshi island, SHE and the Youth Center in Male’, Maldives. Training was given towards the atoll health workers and nurses on giving tobacco users help in quitting will be given a session at their hospitals and health centers. The World No Tobacco campaign 2015 will be undertaken for 12 weeks to sustain individual communities and promote advocacy nationally throughout Maldives.