It is encouraging that the 100% excise tax introduced on tobacco products from January 1 this year in Qatar has resulted in a marked increase in the number of people quitting smoking, as revealed by a top official of Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) last week.
As Dr Ahmad al-Mulla, head of the HMC Tobacco Control Center, pointed out, the new tax has made many people rethink about smoking. Though there is no specific data yet, the number of calls received through the hotline for quitting, has increased significantly. While talking to doctors, people have revealed it is because of the hike in the prices, especially those who smoke more than one packet a day, young people and low income workers, explained Dr al-Mulla.
The Tobacco Control Center recorded 4,000 visits in 2018 and the number of people seeking to quit are increasing after awareness campaigns. Among them, 30 to 35% quit smoking. One person makes at least three to five visits as part of the quitting programme. If they stop smoking for six months, it is considered as quitting the habit. Usually those who smoke 20 to 30 cigarettes a day are considered heavy smokers. Given that cigarette prices doubled, many heavy smokers have been compelled to cut down on the number they smoke daily. Some have gone from a pack of 20 to three or four, eventually hoping to kick the habit completely.
According to Dr al-Mulla, patients attending the clinic receive one-on-one counselling and appropriate nicotine replacement or pharmaceutical support. Patients also undergo a full assessment, including a complete medical history and related evaluations, such as lung function tests. Medications are prescribed for majority of people and psychological interventions are done to modify the lifestyle. As pointed out by Dr Jamal Basuhai, a smoking cessation specialist at HMC, while most people who come to the clinic smoke cigarette, some others smoke sheesha, and others chew several tobacco substances. Some also smoke electronic cigarettes and sheesha.
It is a scientifically proven fact that non-smokers are also affected by tobacco smoke. “Second-hand smoking can harm children and others. It is really dangerous. In our awareness activities, we highlight about it,” pointed out Dr Basuhai. There is also third-hand smoke which is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing while at these areas. What is worse is residual nicotine and other chemicals can stay on surfaces for a very long time, spreading the ill effects. Even if there is only one person who smokes in an office or home, that individual can adversely affect the health of the non-smoking colleagues or family members. A smoker who talks to a non-smoker can pass on many toxic substances from the air he or she exhales.
On the National Sport Day tomorrow (Tuesday), the Tobacco Control Center will hold awareness activities at Katara about its services and how to access the services. Also experts will measure carbon monoxide and lung volume of smokers and advise or refer them to the Tobacco Control Center if needed. But more needs to be done, especially since it is understood that a section of smokers have opted for the lowest priced cigarettes. The only option, as a non-smoker suggested, is to increase the minimum price of tobacco products and make them unaffordable to a vast majority of smokers.
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