The Holy Month of Ramadan is traditionally marked with spiritual enlightenment through abstention from food and drink during daylight hours and a steadfast commitment to prayer.

However, according to a recent study in Qatar Medical Journal, published by QScience.com, the open access platform of HBKU Press online, quitting smoking has a higher success rate when started during the Holy Month coupled with faith-based intervention and support.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (2013), 12.6% of the overall adult household population residing in Qatar (10.9% Qatari and 13.5% Non-Qatari) are using tobacco in any form (smoke or smokeless). Though it may be argued that the overall prevalence of smoking is low (and the prevalence of female smokers is extremely low) according to the survey, smoking will be a major issue in the next 10 years.

The study published in Qatar Medical Journal was a quasi-experimental study conducted during Ramadan 2015 where there was a planned intervention among smokers intended to increase the intention and the perceived behaviour control to stop smoking among Muslim smokers during Ramadan.

The outcomes of nicotine dependence were measured in the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence score and were based on saliva cotinine (the metabolite of nicotine) levels. Data were collected at baseline (5 days before Ramadan), during Ramadan (21st day of Ramadan) and post-Ramadan (21 days after Ramadan) of two test groups: an intervention group that received faith-based smoking cessation counseling and information, and a control group who did not.

During the Holy Month, smokers in the intervention group were given faith-based support, information and counseling as to why to quit smoking forever. Coupled with the unique environment that Ramadan provides, smoking can be overcome by default as almost no one smokes in public during the day throughout this month.

The results showed that while both groups cotinine levels decreased significantly during Ramadan, only the intervention group’s cotinine levels were sustainably low after Ramadan, indicating a lessened dependence on nicotine and the positive effect of using this type of intervention to encourage smoking cessation during Ramadan.

Complementing this study is Hamad Medical Corporation’s Smoking Cessation Clinic that encourages tobacco smokers to use Ramadan as the opportunity to quit the habit and focus on living a healthier lifestyle.

Dr Ahmad Al Mulla, Head of the Smoking Cessation Clinic, said that fasting in Ramadan provides an ideal opportunity for smokers to quit and that the number of people who visit them intent on quitting is higher than during other periods of the year.

We encourage people to stop smoking, not only with the facts about how detrimental smoking is to their health. We try to focus on the religious aspect of it, as smoking is haram. Ramadan is a time where Muslims reflect on their relationship with God and show their faithfulness by abstaining from sinful behaviour. So, if a person can stop smoking for maybe 12 or 13 hours, we encourage them to try to go the whole day without. We encourage people to spend the money they would have spent on cigarettes to donate to charity or to zakat.’

Ramadan activities, such as family visits and prayers, also help keep an individual occupied and assist him or her to quit smoking.

It makes sense that if someone has quit smoking during Ramadan, they are more able to abstain from smoking after as they are more spiritually connected and the religious reasons for quitting are more in line with their renewed faith, even after they Holy Month is over.

Quitting smoking has various health benefits, such as improved blood sugar levels and blood circulation, increased insulin reception (especially among diabetics), decreased cholesterol levels, and decreased health complications.

The study titled, The Effect of Faith-based Smoking Cessation Intervention during Ramadan among Malay Smokerscan be found online in the Qatar Medical Journal, one of many peer-reviewed, open access journals published by HBKU Press and hosted on QScience.com.