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Friday, October 22, 2021

Pandemic sees surge in smokers seeking help to quit


Despite the stresses and worries brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, more people in Qatar have been signing up to quit smoking with Hamad Medical Corporation’s help.

With job and salary loss, travel restrictions and sickness, the past few months have been a stressful time. Alongside this, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has seen a “noticeable increase” in the number of people requesting help to quit smoking.

Doha News speaks to two residents who quit with help from HMC’s Tobacco Control Centre, which provides consultations and support sessions free-of-charge to Qatar citizens and residents.

“I would smoke when I’m angry”

When 37-year-old Bachir Ayoub, a Qatar resident from Lebanon, tried to quit smoking last year, his nicotine-addiction medicine caused side effects like nightmares, weight gain and aggression. He soon lost his willpower and, with the added stress of losing his sales job, resumed his unhealthy habit. After chain-smoking for 20 years, kicking the habit was extremely difficult for him.

“I would smoke when I’m angry because it was a habit,” Bachir says. “Coronavirus makes me smoke more.”

In May, Bachir got a call from Hamad Medical Corporation’s Tobacco Control Center asking if he’d be willing to try quitting again. He said yes and, just a month later, he finally gave up cigarettes.

“I say ‘yes, why not?’ I’m sitting at home with nothing to do,” he explains.

Because of the pandemic, Bachir’s consultations have been over the phone. Three days after initial phone consultations, the centre delivered his prescription medicine — which contains a strong dose of the drug varenicline — at his doorstep.

“They called me around six or seven times and from different doctors — one psychologist, a doctor who followed up with me, two times from a nurse. After a month they called me again to check if I stopped smoking, and to see the side effects [of the medicine].”

This time, he experienced none of the side effects that he suffered last year, but he says everyone reacts differently to the medicine. Bachir also says he appreciated the subsidised rate for his medicine from HMC.

“Normally, if you want to stop smoking you go to the pharmacy and it costs you around minimum 1,000 riyals for the medicine but in Hamad they deliver it to my doorstep at 150. Also, pharmacists do not follow up. It’s good for people who don’t have enough budget.”

Image source: HMC

A lifeline from Hamad

Noor El Nakib is Quality Management Coordinator at HMC’s Tobacco Control Center. She says:

“With the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the centre witnessed a noticeable increase in the number of those requesting an appointment to quit smoking.”

HMC’s smoking cessation specialists help tobacco-dependent patients in a step-by-step process. First, the patient receives counselling to assess their willingness to quit and their overall health. The specialists then work with the patient on a quitting plan. Cessation treatment medication is offered, which can range from nicotine replacement therapy (patches or lozenges) or tablets, depending on their medical history and level of nicotine dependency. Throughout, the patient receives psychological support for behaviour modification.

The centre also provides smoking cessation treatment by laser therapy, but this service has been suspended since March 2020 as a precautionary measure to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Noor El Nakib says the centre welcomes smokers from all age groups and nationalities, but that the majority of the people who seek advice and treatment at the centre are men.

“Doctors play a vital role”

Another resident, who successfully quit smoking with HMC’s help, says a smoking cessation programme is more effective than relying on medicine.

Aqib Khan is a 35-year-old Pakistani national and Doha resident. He chain-smoked for 10 years but decided to quit after the birth of his second child. He says:

“Don’t try to buy the medicine yourself because it would not work. Doctors play a vital role in such things. Getting rid of such habits need more motivation than the medicines.”

Before the pandemic, Aqib had in-person appointments with Hamad.

“I’ve totally consulted three times in a period of two months and left the habit of smoking,” he says.

The main reason smokers attend the clinic is for a higher quality of life, says Noor El Nakib.

“They either have health problems such as heart problems, pulmonary problems and/or gastrointestinal problems or they are concerned about their health in the future as well as their families.”

Bachir says he feels “strange” to have stopped a habit that lasted two decades, but he feels better than ever since he quit smoking over a month ago.

“When you smoke, you lose your ability to taste and you don’t smell anything. But now I can taste food. I can also smell better. I even smell perfume now and I feel fresh and clean.”

Are you someone who has tried or has successfully stopped smoking this year? Share with us your experience.

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