Philippe Boucher's Rendez Vous: Pekka Puska

Rendez-vous with . . . Pekka Puska

Director of the International Quit and Win (
Helsinki, Finland

By Philippe Boucher

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Pekk Puska M.D., M.Pol.Sc, PhD., has spent most of his career with the National Public Health Institute of Finland. He has been Director of the International Quit and Win since 1994. As of February 1st 2001 he is Director of the Department for non communicable disease prevention, health promotion and surveillance, with the World Health Organization, in Geneva.

PB: Thank you Pekka for accepting our rendez-vous.

Q1. What is the origin of the quit and win concept and can you explain it? did it change along the years?

P. P: Quit and Win is a smoking cessation campaign for adults. Quit and Win competition has proved to be a cost-effective way to help a wide group of people to stop smoking. Quit and Win contests were developed during the 1980s in US community-based cardiovascular programs to stimulate smoking cessation at population level.

In Finland, the North Karelia Project started to apply the Quit and Win in 1985 as a new method in its overall community-based anti-smoking work. Within the WHO Countrywide Integrated Noncommunicable Disease Intervention (CINDI) framework, in 1994 13 countries implemented the first international Quit and Win contest, applying jointly agreed rules. The second international campaign was organized in 1996 with 25 participating countries. In 1998 in 48 countries participated recruiting about 200,000 participants. The fourth international Quit and Win competition was held in May 2000. More than 420,000 people from 71 countries the world tried to abstain from smoking or using tobacco products for a four-week period, from 2 to 29 May.

The international campaigns have been coordinated by the National Public Health Institute (KTL), Finland.

Q2. There are now quit and win contests in many countries (how many?). Where are they the most popular? are some countries less attracted? The US for instance don't seem -yet- to have been very involved?

P. P: At the moment we have about 250-300 contact names in 127 countries showing interest in the Quit & Win campaigns. Below is the statistics of the participants divided into WHO Regions (African, Eastern Mediterranean, European, Pan-American, South Eastern Pacific Region and Western Pacific Region). As you can see the EURO (39%) and PAHO (27 %) are the regions with the most participants.




AFRO (Africa)



EMRO (Eastern Mediterranean)



EURO (Europe)



PAHO (Americas)



SEARO (South-East Asia)



WPRO (Western Pacific)






In the Quit & Win 2000 the countries with the best participation rate (number of participants in the QW / smoker >15 years in the country / region) were, Kyrgystan (10,033), Kiribati (1,023), Cuba (33,808 participants). Other countries with a very high number of participants are for ex: Russia (28,744), China in 6 regions (32 157), India (37,667), Iran (19,654), Germany (24 925), Kenya 25 000, Denmark (14 600), Canada, 3 states (33, 816).

In the future we are expecting more and more participants from the developing countries. For example India participated in 2000 for the first time and they are planning to get some 100,000 participants next time.

Less attracted ?? There are countries that are less attracted because of lack of financial aid and/or support, time, right people etc. The countries that have carried out Quit & Win before are very keen about the campaign. They often report that they have learnt so many things from the earlier campaigns that next time they will do better. On the other hand, the new countries also seem very interested in the contest. This is likely to be due to Quit & Win's unique, positive approach to a problem that is receiving increasing attention world-wide as a major health threat.

Q3. Providing incentives for smokers to help them quit is now going beyond the contest process. Financial rewards have been offered to pregnant women who quit smoking and this does seem to help them to stay quit. What do you think about such more systematic incentives to help smokers quit?

P. P: In this kind of campaign it is not easy to organize systematic incentives for great masses of participants. In our media messages we emphasize that the media incentives are better health and greatly reduced disease risk.

But in national health policies incentives should be thought of. The most important practical issue is lower threshold to dependence treatment, i.e. cheap nicotine replacement therapy etc. Also employers should consider support and encouragement to smoking employees who want to quit, etc.

Q4. How big a role do the media play to promote quit and win operations? Is it possible to get a significant support for free?

P. P: Media plays naturally a big role in spreading the word of the Quit & Win campaigns. Nearly all the organizing countries report that media is very interested in writing about the Quit & Win contest and naturally at the same time they write or talk about the global epidemic of tobacco. Depending on the country and regions there were tens of articles and radio/TV programs about Quit & Win and tobacco. Media also likes the winners!

Q5. What type of organizations or corporations have chosen to partner with quit and win events? do you foresee an evolution in this type of partnerships with eventually new types of partners? in projects involving pregnant women, partnerships were made with banks and grocery chains...

P. P: In the latest international Quit & Win 2000 in addition to the WHO we had two pharmaceutical companies (Pharmacia Corporation and GlaxoWellcome ) as commercial partners co-operating with Quit & Win both on the international and national level. Both of these companies offer pharmacological aids for smokers to quit. However, the Quit & Win organizing countries are responsible for their own campaigns; including recruiting of smokers, information activities, obtaining prizes etc. The coordinating centre (National Public Health Institute (KTL), Finland) provides information, general international campaign materials and a Quit & Win handbook with the jointly agreed rules and other important information. KTL also arranges training meetings and international super prizes ($10,000 and 6 x $2,500)

Q6. The website ( is mostly filled with info about the 2000 quit and win contest... any update about the future plans and what is happening now?

P. P: The website is under construction at the moment. We will keep the 'old' information there until we have the new pages ready - we have, however, added a new cover page with the following information: 'The next International Quit & Win will be held in May 2002. The web pages of Quit & Win 2002 are currently under construction. For more informationŠ...'

PB: Thank you Pekka for taking the time to be with us today.

Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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