At least 1,000 people try to quit smoking in Qatar every year by attending Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Smoking Cessation Clinic.

Dr Ahmad Al Mulla, Consultant Physician and Head of HMC’s Smoking Cessation Clinic, advised that the clinic receives both men and women. Up to 5% of people trying to stop are women. Most people seeking support and treatment at the clinic are between the ages of 25 and 40. However the clinic has patients of all ages – people as old as 70, and the youngest person so far to try and quit smoking was a 12‑year‑old!

Research has proven that regular tobacco use commonly leads to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer).

The Smoking Cessation Clinic in Qatar was established in 1999 as an integral part of the national health-care system. The clinic helps smokers to quit with a combined programme including pharmacotherapy with advice and behavioural support.

Health education features alongside medical treatment and counseling; patients can visit a health educator and learn about adverse health impacts of smoking. After this they can visit a doctor who will help them stop smoking through medication.

Smokers who receive assistance at the clinic undergo a three-month programme, with many able to quit before the treatment ends. Smokers trying to kick the habit face numerous challenges – peer pressure, nicotine dependence, resistance to lifestyle change, stress and the possibility of weight gain.

The Smoking Cessation Clinic provides only clinical and behavioural support. Qatar does not permit the use of electronic cigarettes – which simulates tobacco by producing an aerosol that resembles smoke – as they have not been approved as safe by the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. 

Meanwhile, the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) is extending its smoking cessation service to more health centres to help those wanting to quit the habit.

The service has been extended to Al Daayen, Mesaimeer and Omar Ibn Al Khattab health centres, and Abu Bakr Siddiq Health Centre will open a smoking cessation clinic soon.

The clinic at Al Gharaffa Health Centre has been in operation since 2013 and is led by Dr Hamad Rashid Almudahka, Consultant, Community Medicine, and Manager, Health Promotion, PHCC. He says: ‘Delivering the service at
Al Gharaffa Health Centre, I have been able to help transform many patients’ lives by helping them quit smoking.’

The service is available to patients of all nationalities and is offered by trained physicians and nurses who provide a tailored approach to behavioural change, including counselling and prescribing medications.

Khamis Amer Al Khaldi, Director, Western Region, PHCC, and Operational Lead, Health Promotion, says: ‘I am pleased to be leading the expansion of the service for PHCC. It’s important that we support and encourage patients to lead healthier lifestyles and be proactive about quitting smoking which will benefit them and their families.’

People seeking an appointment for the service or details can call the PHCC Customer Service Helpline. 107,

Other entities in Qatar are also getting involved in helping the public quit. In December 2014, cessation of smoking was the theme of an inter‑professional education (IPE) event organised by Qatar University’s College of Pharmacy (CPH). 

Led by Alla El Awaisi, Assistant Dean, Student Affairs, CPH, and Chair of IPE, 60 students from CPH, the College of Arts and Sciences Department of Health Sciences at Weill Cornell Medical College Qatar (WCMC‑Q), and the College of North Atlantic Qatar (CNA‑Q) participated in sessions under the theme ‘Smoking Cessation’.

Dr Awaisi explained the relevance of smoking cessation and the need for healthcare professionals to join forces for a healthier society. He stressed the role for collaborative care at tobacco cessation clinics as part of strategies to control tobacco use in Qatar. 

Employing strategies learned during the session, students formed teams to help a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patient quit heavy smoking. They also developed strategies for establishing a smoking cessation clinic and discussed its role.

What the public say about smoking:

The Supreme Council of Health and the Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics have collaborated on the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) for the World Health Organization. In 2013 it was found that:

12.1% of adults (51,000) aged 15 years and above smoked tobacco – 10.5% Qatari and 12.9% non‑Qatari. Additionally 3.4% of adults (14,000) smoked shisha. 

41.5% of smokers reported having their first cigarette within half an hour of waking up. Over half (55.4%) of daily cigarette smokers smoked 16 or more cigarettes per day.

96.0% of adults believed smoking caused serious illness, while 90.9% of adults believed smoking shisha causes serious illness, and 95.1% that secondhand smoke caused serious illness for non smokers.

38.2% of smokers (35.3% Qatari, 39.4% non‑Qatari) made an attempt to quit in the past 12 months.

51.4% had thought about quitting because of warning labels on cigarette packs.

85.9% supported increasing taxes on tobacco products.

What about shisha?

Shisha, a common pastime in the Middle East, is more dangerous than cigarette smoking, says Dr Ahmed Al Mulla. One session of shisha smoking is known to have harmful effects equivalent to or higher than smoking 20 cigarettes. 

While cigarettes have filters to moderate the smoke, shisha smoke passes directly into the mouth, throat and lungs. 

To find accurate health effects of shisha, the Smoking Cessation Clinic at HMC and American University in Beirut are conducting a clinical study. People are invited to take part in the study on shisha smokers in Qatar to examine adverse effects of tobacco use on heart, blood vessels and the respiratory system. 

Participants in the study need to fulfil the following criteria: have smoked shisha daily for 10 years or more; never smoked cigarettes; are aged 40 and above; and do not have lung disease, diabetes or kidney failure. The study aims to examine around 200 people, with a control group comprising non‑smokers aged under 40 and having the same health conditions as those in the intervention category.

Qatar currently doesn’t have much specific data on shisha smokers, apart from the GATS survey (see previous fact box), as studies undertaken in the past have been about smoking in general. 

The three-year study, which began in April 2013, is funded by Qatar National Research Fund.

Those interested in participating, or simply want help in stopping smoking, can call Dr Al Mulla 4439 2778, or Research Assistant Marwa Al Adawi 4439 0637 or 5016 0391.

Author: Sarah Palmer

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