WHO: Three Nordic champions of the tobacco-free future

World No Tobacco Day 31 May.
World No Tobacco Day 31 May. Photo by Amritanshu Sikdar on Unsplash

Three Nordic individuals and organizations are among the recipents of the 2024 World No Tobacco Day Awards. 31 May marks World No Tobacco Day (WNTD), a global campaign spearheaded by WHO to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use. This year’s theme – Protecting children from tobacco industry interference – highlights a critical battleground.

The 2024 WNTD awards celebrate 6 exceptional people and organizations from the WHO European Region who are leading the fight back. From exposing deceptive marketing campaigns used to target youth (including through engaging social media influencers) to advocating for stricter regulations on e-cigarettes and nicotine products, these champions are making a significant difference. Among the six champions are two Nordic individuals and an NGO.

Photo by Reza Mehrad on Unsplash

Denmark: Professor Charlotta Pisinger, University of Southern Denmark

Professor Charlotta Pisinger, a respected clinician and academic, is a force to be reckoned with in the global fight against tobacco. Her meticulous research focuses on improving smoking and nicotine cessation services for young people, cancer patients and people with mental health illnesses, while also examining and exposing the tactics of the tobacco industry. Professor Pisinger’s research has directly influenced tobacco control strategies in Denmark and beyond. Her commitment extends beyond academia – Professor Pisinger is a passionate advocate for strong tobacco control policies, working tirelessly to educate the public and policy-makers about the devastating health and social consequences of tobacco use. Her contribution has been recognized with numerous awards, including the prestigious Danish Public Health Award.

Photo by Mathew MacQuarrie on Unsplash

Finland: Mervi Hara, Executive Director, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Finland

For over 3 decades, Mervi Hara, the Executive Director of ASH Finland, has been at the forefront of Finland’s tobacco control movement, playing a pivotal role in advancing the vision of a tobacco- and nicotine-free future. Her leadership has been instrumental in shaping national tobacco control policies, from raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco to implementing smoke-free playgrounds. Mrs Hara’s innovative approach involves not only shaping national tobacco control strategies, but also countering the manipulative tactics employed by the tobacco industry. Her unwavering commitment and strategic thinking have made her a central figure in the fight for a tobacco- and nicotine-free Finland, and her influence extends far beyond national borders.

Sweden: Nongovernmental organization (NGO) “A Non Smoking Generation” and its Secretary General, Helen Stjerna

The Swedish NGO “A Non Smoking Generation”, under the passionate guidance of Secretary General Helen Stjerna, has made a significant impact through its educational programme “Tobacco Children”. This innovative project educates young people about the far-reaching consequences of tobacco use, not just for their health, but also for the environment and global issues like child labour, poverty and inequality. Recognizing the growing popularity of new nicotine products, Mrs Stjerna has become a vocal proponent of regulating these products to prevent them from becoming a gateway to nicotine addiction for young people. Her advocacy efforts transcend national borders, shedding light on how tobacco and related industries promote new nicotine products among the youth by circumventing tobacco control legislation.

The remaining three champions are:

  • Dr Francisco Rodríguez Lozano has dedicated over 2 decades of his professional life to advancing tobacco use prevention efforts, with a particular focus on protecting young people from the dangers of industry manipulation.
  • The Ukrainian Ministry of Health and Lviv Oblast Center for Disease Control and Prevention In the face of significant challenges, the MoH of Ukraine and the Lviv Oblast CDC have shown remarkable resilience and dedication to advancing tobacco control efforts.
  • Dr Raouf Alebshehy , Managing Editor of Tobacco Tactics, UK, has become a leading voice in the fight against tobacco through his research and advocacy, focusing particularly on the manipulative tactics and interference of the tobacco industry.

The winners of the 2024 WNTD awards represent just a few of the many dedicated people and organizations working tirelessly to create a tobacco-free future. Their relentless pursuit of a healthier world and their innovative approaches to tackling tobacco use serve as an inspiration to us all. The fight against tobacco is far from over, but with continued dedication and collaboration, we can create a world where future generations can live free from the devastating effects of tobacco and nicotine use.

Despite significant progress, millions of young people remain vulnerable, with a staggering 37 million aged 13–15 years using some form of tobacco globally.