With the new year comes the promise of new beginnings and resolutions to quit one or two bad habits. Many people decide to stop smoking for the sake of their health, and of those around them, but may find it difficult to do so without support. This feature brings to you information about Qatar’s smoking cessation clinics.

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, and cancer (particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth, and pancreatic cancer).

Smoking is a significant public health issue in Qatar, not only for tobacco users, but also for non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. Regular exposure to tobacco use, whether first hand or second hand, is directly associated with the development of ill health including cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory issues.

According to Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), the percentage of smokers in Qatar is estimated to be around 37% of the population aged 15 and above, with studies showing that more young people are taking up the habit. The Ministry of Public Health estimates that 31.9% of men in Qatar smoke, 1.2% of women, and worryingly, 15.7% of children aged 13 to 15.

The HMC Tobacco Control Center is seeing an increase in patients wanting to stop smoking, with more than 2,600 consultations and support sessions with tobacco-dependent patients recorded between March and July 2020. Of those seeking treatment, 40% are considered heavy smokers, smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day.  

The Smoking Cessation Clinic at Hamad General Hospital was established in 1999 as an integral part of the national healthcare system, before moving to Hamad Bin Khalifa Medical City as the Tobacco Control Center. The clinic helps smokers to quit with a combined programme including pharmacotherapy with advice and behavioural support. Services are free and available to all.

Smoking Cessation Clinic in Al Wakra Hospital 1
Smoking Cessation Clinic in Al Wakra Hospital

The Tobacco Control Center celebrated its third anniversary of being a WHO Collaborating Centre this year and is the first such facility in Qatar and the region. WHO Collaborating Centres carry out activities in support of the WHO’s mandated international health agenda and includes research institutes and parts of universities and academies.

HMC has recently opened a new Smoking Cessation Clinic at Al Wakra Hospital, the first outside of Doha. Further clinics are planned at other HMC hospitals.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, staff have continued to offer support and treatment services over the telephone, including providing patients with treatment, medication and psychological support. 

While social distancing precautions remain in place, HMC will continue to offer telephone-based services, following its mission to provide health and medical advice to the public regarding the dangers of tobacco use, including secondhand smoke, as well as behavioural support and counselling for those wishing to stop smoking.

Meanwhile, the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) has also recorded an increased number of patients quitting smoking. 

Smoking Cessation Clinics are available at several health centres, with the first clinic opening in 2011  at Gharrafat Al Rayyan, and provide similar support and treatment for those wanting to stop smoking as the Tobacco Control Center at HMC. 

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

Who can utilise Qatar’s Smoking Cessation Services

All centres receive both men and women; up to 5% of people trying to stop are women. Most people seeking support and treatment at the clinics are between the ages of 25 and 40, however the clinics have patients of all ages. Anyone wishing to use the available services can call direct for an appointment or can be referred from any HMC doctor or government health centre. 

Patients receive one-on-one counselling alongside appropriate nicotine replacement or pharmaceutical support. They will undergo a full assessment, which will include their  medical history and related evaluations such as lung function tests. Clinicians will talk to patients about suitable treatment options and effective solutions to quit smoking. These can include nicotine replacement therapies (such as gum or patches), and medications such as varenicline and bupropion. 

A number of innovative methods are now available. Laser treatment, a complementary alternative medicine, stimulates specific points in the body such as the ears and hands, releasing endorphins and helping the smoker reduce the crave to smoke. The spirometer helps in understanding the age of the lung as well as its capacity, allowing patients to know the condition of their lungs and take adequate measures to stop smoking.

The centres also educate the public about the risks of smoking. Many of the community outreach programmes target young people as statistics show that over 10% of smokers in Qatar are under 20. Young people also use chewing tobacco and midwakh/dokha, a tobacco product mixed with aromatic leaf and bark herbs, as these can be cheaper than cigarettes. However, they are also more dangerous, as a higher dose of nicotine is ingested.

Quit Smoking Campaigns and Public Awareness

Law No 10 of 2016 on the control of tobacco and its derivatives determines the usage and control of tobacco in Qatar, with articles covering possession, packaging, sales, and the violations and penalties for infringement of the law.

Tobacco control is part of the Ministry of Public Health’s Qatar National Health Strategy 2018–2022. Goals include: Establishing a system for monitoring tobacco consumption; implementing the tobacco law in line with the policies and decisions of the WHO Convention on Tobacco Control;  establishing quality services to stop smoking, and providing suitable methods for treating nicotine addiction with support through primary healthcare services; and establishing a practical and comprehensive tax model on tobacco products, including customs duties and taxes on tobacco production and sale.

According to Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani, Director of Public Health, ‘Smoking is a significant public health concern in Qatar, therefore it is vital that we increase our efforts to combat tobacco use. The National Health Strategy 2018–2022 sets a target of reducing the prevalence of smoking, and achieving this includes enforcement of our law on tobacco control; which is not only designed to reduce tobacco consumption in Qatar but also to protect non-smokers – such as children – who are exposed to harmful secondhand smoke.’

Smoking Cessation Clinics are available at these health centres – to book an appointment call HMC Nesma’ak Customer Service 16060 or PHCC’s Hayyak 107 • Abu Bakr Al Siddiq • Al Daayen
• Al Shamal • Al Wajba • Al Wakra • Gharrafat Al Rayyan • Leabaib • Mesaimeer • Muaither • Qatar University • Rawdat Al Khail • Al Wakra Hospital 

Tobacco Control Center: Building 311 in Hamad Bin Khalifa Medical City 4025 4981/5080 0959

Tobacco law violations: Report to the Tobacco Inspection Team 5030 2001 

Advice for Stopping Smoking

  • Commit 100% to quitting, otherwise you may not succeed.
  • If you find going ‘cold turkey’ difficult, think about short and long term solutions.
  • Dispose of tobacco items to avoid temptation.
  • Try to avoid negative thoughts – you can do it!
  • Write a list of reasons why you want to quit smoking – for yourself, your family, your wallet…
  • Ask for support from those around you, as well as HMC and PHCC.
  • Exercise regularly, drink more water and eat healthily. Get quality sleep and reduce stress.​
  • Reward yourself for each day, week and month that you have quit.

Author: Sarah Palmer

This feature is an editorial from the ‘Health and Beauty’ section in Marhaba – Issue 79 (December 2020).

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