eISSN: 2450-5722
ISSN: 2450-5927
Journal of Health Inequalities
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vol. 3
Special paper

Reflections from a friend of Polish anti-tobacco campaigns

Judith Watt

The first coordinator of the UK No Smoking Day campaign, UK
J Health Inequal 2017; 3 (2): 141-142
Online publish date: 2017/12/30
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My first encounter with Polish anti-tobacco campaigns took place not in Poland but in Moscow, in the last year of the Soviet Union. In March 1991, I was privileged to be invited by UICC to help deliver a training programme on tobacco control for 13 central and eastern European countries. The driving force behind the event was Prof. Witold Zatoński, with support from our host Prof. David Zaridze, Director of the Russian Institute of Carcinogenesis. At that time, I was still a relative newcomer to tobacco control, having organised three annual No Smoking Day campaigns in the UK. Professor Zatoński was planning the first Great Polish Smokeout for November 1991 and his ambition was to have as many other central and eastern European countries as possible join in with their own national campaigns at the same time. Of course, by 1991 Poland was already experienced in running public education campaigns on smoking as part of their comprehensive approach to tobacco control, underpinned by population research and systematic evaluation. The same was not true for the other countries in the region and the reaction to the training programme ranged from highly enthusiastic to highly sceptical. I recall one Russian participant proposing that since not all smokers died of lung cancer, our objective should be to determine what pre-disposes some smokers to disease, so they could be prevented from smoking while everyone else could carry on smoking without risk. Stimulated by the Moscow training and with ongoing encouragement from Poland, that year saw a big increase in anti-smoking campaigning across the region. The following year, many of the lead organisers from central and eastern Europe met with organisers from western Europe for the first time at a conference in London to exchange experiences and ideas for future improvements.
Thanks to the talented leadership in Poland, their campaigns were well-executed and well-evaluated. The 1992 Great Polish Smokeout was a particular success. A national newspaper, “Gazeta Wyborcza”, provided weeks of free media coverage on the hazards of smoking and advice on how to quit with a quit-and-win style competition that attracted over 300,000 smokers to enter. As the top 20 prizes were a week-long trip to Rome and a private audience with Pope John Paul II, it is hardly surprising so many people entered. I was thrilled to be invited to join the winners of the competition on the trip to Rome in May 1993 together with members of Prof....

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