Dubai: A Dubai-based smoker, 46, who quit smoking after averaging 25 cigarettes a day for 25 years, has described his journey as an expedition that required “guides, helpers and sustenance”, beyond mere resolve.
A software engineer, the Western expat, who did not want to be named, told Gulf News on the eve of World No Tobacco Day on May 31: “Over the span of a year, I travelled a road from suffocating addiction to life-giving liberation. It was not an expedition I could make alone - I needed guides, helpers and sustenance."
He said, "The doctors were my compass, guiding me in the right direction. The medication, my provisions, offered strength when I felt weak. The journey to quit smoking was undeniably arduous, but with unwavering support and assistance, the impossible became possible. I’m now breathing easier, tasting life in its purest form. And I’m grateful - not for the journey - but for those who journeyed with me.”
The expat, who was referred to the Cessation Clinic at the Canadian Specialty Hospital last March, had already developed early stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by then, besides being diagnosed with hypertension two years earlier.
He knew he had to quit smoking, but had no idea how.
Dr Deep Bhattacharya, General Practitioner at the hospital, said a thorough assessment of the patient was done, during which he admitted that he had tried quitting several times in the past but had relapsed due to withdrawal symptoms, particularly stress and agitation.
The patient said he felt helpless and his attempts to quit were always “doomed to fail”.
A thorough evaluation followed, covering a complete physical examination, lung function tests and blood work.
“The results showed the typical health damages of long-term smoking, including decreased lung function and early signs of heart disease,” said Dr Bhattacharya, adding that an interdisciplinary approach was decided upon for his smoking cessation.
So what exactly did this entail?
According to Dr Bhattacharya, the smoking cessation programmed tailored covered the following:
Pharmacotherapy: The patient was prescribed Varenicline, a medication used to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A psychologist specialising in CBT was roped in to help him recognise and deal with triggers and establish healthier coping mechanisms.
Exercise and diet: A dietitian and physiotherapist were engaged to improve overall health and endurance, which could also aid in stress management.
Support group: The patient was encouraged to join a local smoking cessation support group to share his experiences and gain motivation.
Regular follow-ups: Regular follow-ups were scheduled to monitor his progress, manage withdrawal symptoms, and adjust the cessation plan as required.
Dr Bhattacharya said within three months, the patient reported decreased cravings and withdrawal symptoms and demonstrated substantial progress in his lung function and overall health markers.
“His progress was not linear; he had days when he struggled more than others. However, the support and tools provided to him during this period helped him rebound and stay on track,” he explained.
Significantly, the expat showed remarkable progress at the six-month mark, when he was described as smoke-free. His blood pressure had improved, and his lung function tests indicated much improvement.
“However, he was reminded that the path to recovery is a long one, with the possibility of setbacks. Continued support from his healthcare team, along with his determination and resilience, was crucial in maintaining his smoke-free status,” said the doctor.
As the multi-pronged approach to his treatment continued, the patient also demonstrated a sustained resolve to abstain from smoking. Today, he does not feel the need to have even a single cigarette.
The relieved expat said, “Breaking free from the grip of smoking was not a solo journey. It was a path paved by unwavering support and innovative solutions of a team at the hospital. I realise now that it’s not about perfection, but progress. I am a living testament to a commitment to health and human resilience.”
Dr Bhattacharya said quitting smoking is an important step towards better health. “It requires a multidimensional and individualised approach. The 46-year-old expat’s case shows that, despite the significant challenge that quitting smoking represents, success is achievable with the right support and tools (see box).”
He said it is important to remember that everyone’s journey is unique and might require different strategies and time frames. Persistence and continual support are key for long-term success.
“It’s often most effective to use a combination of these tools rather than relying on just one. Moreover, everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work as well for another. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the best approach for you. They can provide guidance based on your medical history, current health status, and your individual needs and preferences,” he added.
Multiple means to smoking cessation
Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs): These reduce withdrawal symptoms by giving the body a controlled amount of nicotine, which can be gradually decreased over time. There are various forms of NRTs such as nicotine gums, patches, inhalers, nasal sprays and lozenges. They should be used only under medical supervision.
Prescription medications: Some drugs can help you quit smoking by reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These include Bupropion (Zyban) and Varenicline (Chantix).
Counselling and support groups: Behavioral therapy can be highly effective when combined with medication. A counsellor can help you understand why you smoke and teach you techniques to deal with cravings and prevent relapses. Support groups can also provide encouragement and practical tips from people who are going through the same struggle.
Smartphone apps and online resources: There are many smartphone apps designed to help people quit smoking, such as Smoke Free, QuitNow!, and QuitSTART. These apps can track your progress, offer tips to handle cravings, and provide a community of support. There are also numerous online resources and websites providing guidance and tips to quit smoking. But due medical supervision is also necessary.
Hypnotherapy and acupuncture: Some people have found success with alternative therapies like hypnosis or acupuncture, although the scientific evidence supporting these methods is mixed.
Exercise and healthy lifestyle changes: Regular exercise can help distract you from cravings, reduce stress and improve your mood. Maintaining a healthy diet and adequate sleep are also beneficial for managing withdrawal symptoms and promoting overall health.
Mindfulness and meditation: These practices can help manage stress and enhance awareness, potentially helping you to resist cravings and maintain your commitment to quitting.