It is intended to encourage a 24-hour period of abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption around the globe.
The day is further intended to draw attention to the widespread prevalence of tobacco use and to negative health effects, which currently lead to more than 7 million deaths each year worldwide, including 890,000 of which are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. The member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) created World No Tobacco Day in 1987. In the past twenty one years, the day has been met with both enthusiasm and resistance around the globe from governments, public health organizations, smokers, growers, and the tobacco industry.
Historically, in America the tobacco industry has funded state initiatives that provide resources to help smokers quit smoking as per the Master Settlement Agreement regulated by the U.S. government. For example, Phillip Morris USA operates a website that acts as a guide for those who choose to quit smoking.
World No Tobacco Days have not induced a positive vocal response from the tobacco industry. For example, a memo made publicly available through the Tobacco Archives website was sent out to executives of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in preparation for the third annual World No Tobacco Day, which had the theme of "Childhood and Youth Without Tobacco". The memo includes a warning about the upcoming day, a document that explains the arguments they anticipate the WHO making, and an explanation of how the company should respond to these claims. For example, in response to the anticipated argument that their advertisements target children, the company’s response includes arguments that claim their advertisements are targeted towards adults by using adult models, and that advertisements lack the power to influence what people will actually purchase. In Uganda, since the World No Tobacco Day is the one day that the media is obligated to publicize tobacco control issues, the British American Tobacco company uses the eve of the day to administer counter-publicity. In 2001, their strategy included events such as a visit with the President of the International Tobacco Growers Association.
Unlike the tobacco industry, some major pharmaceutical companies do publicly support WNTD. For example, Pfizer was a large sponsor for many WNTD events in the United Arab Emirates in 2008. At the time, Pfizer was preparing to release its drug Chantix (Varenicline) into the Middle Eastern market. The drug was “designed to activate the nicotinic receptor to reduce both the severity of the smoker's craving and the withdrawal symptoms from nicotine.”
Many tobacco growers feel that anti-tobacco efforts by organizations such as the WHO jeopardize their rights. For example, the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) argues that poor farmers in Africa may suffer the consequences if WHO anti-tobacco movements succeed. They also argue that these efforts may gang up on manufacturers of tobacco and be an attack on the industry, therefore hurting the growers.
As some traditions and ceremonies of a number of cultures and ethnicities of Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in North America have been based on tobacco since pre-Columbian times, some potential for unintended abrogation of such traditions may exist from authorities seeking to eliminate tobacco from worldwide use - traditions of non-combustive use of tobacco for some forms of indigenous American ceremonial purposes have begun to be used for cessation of cigarette use among indigenous tribal members, while members of the Oglala Lakota have had their struggles to retain important historic tribal artifacts used for tobacco's traditional role in their ethnicity's traditions, to prevent their illegal sale.
It is possible that a 2015 survey from Health Canada concerning future tobacco control legislation in Canada, having a section requesting advice from indigenous peoples within Canada, showed the potential of concern over such issues.