Stubbing out an unhealthy habit

From July 1 next year, smokers will no longer be able to light up in public spaces along Orchard Road except at designated smoking areas. Mr Zeng Ling Xiang quit smoking with the help of the HPB's I Quit programme.
From July 1 next year, smokers will no longer be able to light up in public spaces along Orchard Road except at designated smoking areas. Mr Zeng Ling Xiang quit smoking with the help of the HPB's I Quit programme.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
From July 1 next year, smokers will no longer be able to light up in public spaces along Orchard Road except at designated smoking areas. Mr Zeng Ling Xiang (above) quit smoking with the help of the HPB's I Quit programme.
From July 1 next year, smokers will no longer be able to light up in public spaces along Orchard Road except at designated smoking areas. Mr Zeng Ling Xiang (above) quit smoking with the help of the HPB's I Quit programme.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

There are programmes to help smokers quit, and educate non-smokers on tobacco hazards

Mr Zeng Ling Xiang lit his first cigarette at the age of 18 at the staircase near his home after buying a pack at a coffee shop - because it seemed like "a cool thing" to do.

Soon, the then polytechnic student was smoking 10 sticks every day to cope with stress.

"Smoking seemed like a cool thing and I wanted to try it out," said the search engine optimisation executive, now 30. "My father was also a smoker so I was influenced by his lifestyle habit."

Ten years and two failed attempts to quit later, he decided enough was enough. Not only did he have a minor health issue due to the habit, but he was also often short of breath when exercising.

He turned to the Health Promotion Board's (HPB's) I Quit programme for help last October. Started in 2011, the national programme provides smokers with support to help them quit, including a helpline and a Facebook group.

Daily automated SMSes from HPB with motivational messages enabled him to keep track of his progress. In addition, counsellors from HPB frequently called to check on him.

Since joining the programme, Mr Zeng has not picked up a cigarette.

  • Tips to kick the habit

  • It is never easy to break a habit, especially if you have had it for a long time. Student health adviser and nurse Rachael Phua, 31, shares tips for smokers intending to quit:

    Distract yourself by doing something else

    Prepare a "rescue kit" to distract yourself from cravings.

    Some items you can put in your kit include sugar-free sweets and handheld games to keep you distracted.

    You can also engage in activities that you like, such as playing your favourite sport, chatting with a friend on the phone, watching a YouTube video, listening to your favourite song, getting up and moving or even arranging your books.

    Delay lighting up

    Every time you feel the urge to light up, pop a sugar-free mint into your mouth or drink water to delay the urge. The craving to smoke lasts for only three minutes to five minutes - it will pass whether you smoke or not.

    Do deep breathing exercises to help you relax

    Concentrating on your body and your breathing is an effective way to get over cravings. Breathe in slowly and as deeply as you can, then breathe out slowly. Repeat this five times.

    Drink a glass of water or milk slowly

    Keeping your hands and mouth busy is often all you need to do to get over an urge to smoke.

Last year, more than 16,000 smokers signed up for the I Quit 28- Day Countdown, where they aim to stub out the habit within 28 days with help from a professional counsellor. One in five stayed smoke- free during that period - a 10 per cent increase from 2013.

The programme is one of many anti-smoking measures, and ties in with the recent tightening of rules by the authorities .

  • 16k

  • Number of smokers who signed up for the I Quit 28-Day Countdown last year, where they aimed to stub out the habit within 28 days.

From today, all shops are required to keep tobacco products out of sight of the public, under a point-of-sale display ban.

The National Environment Agency said last month that it would no longer accept applications for new smoking corners in food establishments, while smoking in public areas along Orchard Road - except at designated smoking areas - will be banned from July 1 next year.

HELP FOR STUDENTS TO STUB OUT

Besides I Quit, HPB also offers a programme aimed at helping students who smoke.

Under the Student Health Advisor programme, nurses are stationed full-time at schools to offer health-related advice, including help on quitting the habit.

Since 2010, the scheme has been rolled out to 40 secondary schools, all three ITE colleges and five polytechnics. HPB aims to add 10 more secondary schools to the list by next year.

About 4,400 students have had smoking-cessation counselling over the past two years. Some 40 per cent of them managed to cut down on smoking, while 16 per cent of the 4,400 quit after three months.

Youth smokers attend two smoking-cessation counselling sessions with the adviser at school within three months of signing up. But the frequency and number of sessions may vary from person to person.

Student health adviser Rachel Phua, 31, said she focuses on building rapport with students in order to gain their trust and get them to open up.

 

"My aim is to enable the students to find their own motivation, so that the decision to work on their smoking habit comes from them and not from me," said the nurse, who has been involved in the programme for more than five years.

She uses behavioural modification techniques such as goal-setting and problem-solving to help youth aged 17 to 21 to quit smoking.

For instance, if the student sees smoking as a stress reliever, she could help to identify other ways of coping with stress.

Hospitals and polyclinics run smoking-cessation programmes as well. SingHealth Polyclinics' programme saw an average of 90 participants a year from 2014 to 2016. It runs nine polyclinics.

The National Healthcare Group, which also has nine polyclinics, has had 825 participants in its smoking- cessation programme since 2014.

Over at Singapore General Hospital, a yearly average of 40 people joined its smoking-cessation programme in the last three years. Doctors and nurses use counselling and medication, such as nicotine replacement therapy and non-nicotine medicine, to help smokers with physical withdrawal symptoms.

"In addition to seeking counselling, smokers need to already have the intention to quit," said Ms Michelle Shi, programme coordinator for the hospital's clinic.

"They also need to have people who support them in quitting, like family members and friends."

But she said smokers may find it especially hard to quit when they face high levels of daily stress.

However, some anti-smoking advocates believe efforts should start even earlier - before people even pick up a cigarette.

The average age of new smokers in Singapore is 16, with 18 to 21 being the years when nearly half of smokers make it a regular habit.

Dr Koong Heng Nung, founder of non-profit organisation Tobacco Free Generation International, said it targets non-smokers aged 12 to 15 "as these are the most vulnerable ages and yet most easy to educate when they are given the right educational material".

The organisation has reached out to around 15,000 youth since 2012, through programmes which use social media, music and video competitions, he said.

Mr Zeng said the recent regulations may help discourage smoking among young people. One example is the raising of the minimum legal age for smoking from 18 to 21, announced in March in Parliament. The restriction will cover the sale, purchase, use and possession of tobacco products. The proposed laws will be tabled in Parliament in due course.

"If the minimum legal age had been raised earlier, it would have prevented me from picking up smoking at the age of 18 as I would not have wanted to run afoul of the law," said Mr Zeng.

"However, I believe that education and awareness are ultimately the way to encourage people to stay away from, and quit, smoking. People really need to know the harmful effects of smoking."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline 'Stubbing out an unhealthy habit'. Print Edition | Subscribe