Parliament: Smokers to get subsidies for nicotine replacement therapy

About one in 10 people here smokes, and the habit is considered one of the biggest risk factors for poor health. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Eligible smokers enrolled in new smoking cessation pilot programmes will be entitled to full subsidies for nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help quit the harmful habit.

These pilots will be implemented in public healthcare institutions such as hospitals, polyclinics and national specialty centres after they resume normal operations, which will depend on how the Covid-19 situation develops.

Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health, gave details in Parliament during the MOH budget debate on Thursday (March 5).

The programme aims to reach out to about 10,000 smokers, and Singaporeans can benefit from intensive behavioural support, follow-up for up to a year and a three-month NRT.

About one in 10 people here smokes, and the habit is considered one of the biggest risk factors for poor health.

There are currently no subsidies for smoking cessation in the primary care setting. The success rate for smoking cessation programmes ranges from 10 to 20 per cent.

Efforts to deter smoking include raising the minimum legal age for smoking to 21 from next year, as well as the use of standardised packaging from July.

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Dr Daniel Fung, the chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health, said there are various methods to quit smoking. NRT is the most common method, but no one method is highly effective.

Smoking is an addiction that cannot be stopped by relying on will power alone, he said.

"The smoker must be prepared to make a mindset shift and be willing to engage in recommended interventions.

"We would need a combination of methods to improve the smoking cessation rate and this can include medications to counter the pleasures one derives from nicotine, as well as psychological engagement, such as counselling."

The use of financial disincentives such as heftier taxes can act as a deterrent too, said Dr Fung.

Dr See Kay Choong, the head and senior consultant at the division of respiratory and critical care medicine at National University Hospital, said "Intensive counselling remains the bedrock for effective smoking cessation."

The key challenge would be to attract smokers to participate in the programme and to ensure their motivations are sustained, added Dr See, who started an inpatient smoking cessation programme at NUH in 2008.

Smoking directly damages lung tissue and causes scarring of lungs that impair clearance of mucus and bacteria, among other harms, said Dr See.

As to whether Covid-19 affects smokers more, there is insufficient data, said Dr See. However, for all lung infections, smokers are likely to be more severely affected due to pre-existing lung damage, he said.

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