DHA smoking cessation
. Image Credit: Getty

This year, World No Tobacco Day will focus on the ill effects of tobacco on health. Experts at Dubai Health Authority (DHA) spoke to Better Health to discuss the ramifications of tobacco and the need for smokers to visit a smoking cessation clinic to stub the habit.

According to 2018 WHO statistics, tobacco kills more than seven million people every year. More than six million of those deaths are the direct result of tobacco use while around 890,000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco consumption is directly linked to several health complications including heart attacks and lung diseases such as cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and tuberculosis. Moreover, young children exposed to second-hand smoke are at risk of the onset and exacerbation of asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis and frequent lower respiratory infections.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer, killing more than two thirds of the affected globally. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk of lung cancer: after 10 years of quitting smoking, risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker. Tobacco smoking is also the leading cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition where the build-up of pus-filled mucus in the lungs results in a painful cough and agonising breathing difficulties.

The risk of developing COPD is particularly high among individuals who start smoking at a young age, as tobacco smoke significantly slows lung development. Tobacco also exacerbates asthma, which restricts activity and contributes to disability.

Early smoking cessation is the most effective treatment for slowing the progression of COPD and improving asthma symptoms. However, people do not take preventive measures. Most of those who register with the cessation clinic are those who have already suffered the ill effects of tobacco.

Try quitting with the help of health professionals in a planned manner so that the success rate is higher.

- Dr Nada Al Mulla, Head of Nad Al Hammar PHC

“The majority of patients who visited DHA’s cessation clinics tried to stub the habit only after tobacco use took a toll on their health,” says Dr Nada Al Mulla, Family Physician and Head of Nad Al Hammar Primary Healthcare Centre (PHC). “Sadly, people only think of quitting after they have suffered the dire health consequences of tobacco use.

“Our message to smokers is to try quitting with the help of health professionals in a planned manner so that the success rate is higher. When smokers try to randomly quit tobacco without any support and fail a couple of times, they lose the confidence and start doubting whether smoking cessation is indeed possible.”

Those who suffer from health consequences of smoking are mainly young adults and this is one of the reasons DHA has further strengthened its smoking cessation services, says Dr Salah Thabit, Family Physician at DHA’s smoking cessation clinics. “The majority of patients we see are in the age group of 20-40 years.”

Approximately 350 smokers visited the Al Twar and Al Barsha smoking cessation clinics in 2018. The centre provides a holistic approach to help smokers stub the habit. “Tobacco dependence is a behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomenon, so we provide medical, psychological and social support,” Dr Thabit says.

“We help smokers cope with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which are among the main factors that prevent smokers from stubbing the habit.”

He adds that patients need most support when they experience withdrawal symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, headaches, insomnia and tiredness.

The centre offers a smoking cessation package that includes blood investigations, ECG, pulmonary function test and Smokerlyzer test to measure the levels of toxic carbon monoxide inhaled from tobacco smoke. The clinic also provides medical and psychological support to smokers and offers four consultations as part of the package, which can be repeated or extended according to the patient’s condition.

Dr Al Mulla said smokers who quit can experience the immediate health benefits of tobacco cessation.

“People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer but their risk is higher than the risk of people who never smoked. Yet, it is important to note that quitting tobacco at any age can lower the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.”

Dr Thabit added that e-cigarettes are not a solution as it is considered to be a tobacco product, according to WHO definition.

E-cigarettes need further research to measure its long-term health effects, so for the time being it’s not considered a quitting aid.

The Smoking Cessation Clinic at Al Barsha provides cessation programmes and counselling every Monday afternoon and the Al Towar Centre provides cessation programmes and counseling every Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

For more information, call the call center at 800DHA.