With the new year comes the promise of new beginnings and resolutions to quit one or two bad habits.

Many people decide on New Year’s Day to stop smoking – maybe they have had one too many cigarettes over the festive season, or simply for the sake of their health, and of those around them, they want to stub out this increasingly unfashionable addiction.

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 HE Dr Hanan Mohamed Al Kuwari, Minister of Public Health, the percentage of smokers in Qatar is estimated to be around 37% of population, with studies showing that more young people are taking up the habit. 

The HMC Tobacco Control Center is seeing an increase in patients wanting to stop smoking though, with more than 3,600 patient visits to the Smoking Cessation Clinic recorded in 2017. Of those seeking treatment, 40% are considered heavy smokers, smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day. Recent campaigns have led to more awareness of the dangers of smoking as well as the availability of support to quit the habit.

The Smoking Cessation Clinic was established in 1999 as an integral part of the national healthcare system. The clinic helps smokers to quit with a combined programme including pharmacotherapy with advice and behavioural support. Services are free and available to all.

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 – some people are in their 70s, and the youngest person so far to try and quit smoking was a 12‑year‑old!

Patients attending the clinic 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. 

Under the assessment, clinicians will talk to patients about suitable treatment options, which include the most modern and effective solutions to quit smoking. These can include nicotine replacement therapies (such as gum or patches), and medications such as varenicline and bupropion. 

Two new innovative methods have recently been introduced at the clinic. Laser treatment, a complementary alternative medicine, reaches 25 points in the body, touching the veins and helping the smoker reduce the instinct 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 Tobacco Control Center also educates the public about the risks of smoking. Many of the community outreach programmes target young people – statistics show that at least 11% of smokers in Qatar are school students under 20. Young people also use chewing tobacco and a tobacco product mixed with aromatic leaf and bark herbs (midwakh or dokha), as these can be cheaper than cigarettes. However, they are also more dangerous, given the ingestion of a higher dose of nicotine.

Those wishing to use the facility can call direct for an appointment or can be referred from any HMC doctor or government health centre. 

Interested parties can also participate in the Waterpipe (Argile/Shisha) Study, a multi-year community-based research study that examines the health effects of this type of smoking.

The study will specifically evaluate the association of waterpipe smoking with markers of early and future cardiovascular and respiratory disease. The study is led by Dr Hassan Chami, from the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, and by Dr Ahmad Al Mullah, from HMC, and is funded by the Qatar National Research Fund, a member of Qatar Foundation.

Meanwhile, the Primary Health Care Corporation (PHCC) also recorded an increased number of patients quitting smoking in 2017. A total of 1,584 patients were registered at their Quit Smoking Clinics and an average of 13.1% were able to quit the habit.

Quit Smoking Clinics are available at several health centres – PHCC introduced its first clinic at Gharrafat Al Rayyan in 2011 – and provide similar support and treatment for those wanting to stop smoking as the Smoking Cessation Clinic at HMC. 

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. 

Campaigns and public awareness

The Ministry of Public Health launched a national campaign in May regarding the impact of smoking and tobacco use. The three-phase, multi-year campaign will encourage residents to adhere to the tobacco control law, understand the risks associated with tobacco use, to dissuade young people from starting the habit, and to advise people how to use the resources available to help them quit.

The campaign starts with bringing awareness of Law No 10 of 2016 on the control of tobacco and its derivatives. The law prohibits smoking in closed public spaces, including a ban on smoking in cars with minors. Flouting these bans can lead to a fine of up to QAR3,000. Shops that permit indoor tobacco use or allow the sale of tobacco products to minors face steep fines and up to three months closure. The law also prohibits advertising or promotions for tobacco products and bans the use of electronic cigarettes, sweika and other chewing tobacco products.

Advice for stopping smoking:

  • Decide to quit – this takes 100% commitment, otherwise you may not succeed.
  • Some find going ‘cold turkey’ difficult, so think about short term and long term solutions. 
  • Throw away any tobacco items to avoid temptation. 
  • Try where possible to avoid negative thoughts. Tell yourself you can do it!
  • Write a list of all the 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. 
  • Think about the physical aspects as well. If you don’t already, start exercising regularly, drink a lot of fluids and eat healthily, get quality sleep and reduce stress in your life.
  • Reward yourself for each day, week and month that you have quit. Save the extra money, spend on a treat or donate to charity.

Quit Smoking Clinics are available at these health centres:

• Abu Bakr Al Siddiq – Monday

• Al Daayen – Monday

• Al Shamal – Monday

• Al Wakra – Sunday

• Gharrafat Al Rayyan – Tuesday/Wednesday

• Leabaib – Tuesday

• Mesaimeer – Tuesday

• Omar Ibn Al Khattab – Monday

• Rawdat Al Khail – Wednesday

To book an appointment, call 107.

Tobacco Control Center: Located at Building 311 in Hamad bin Khalifa Medical City 4025 4981/4025 4983.

Waterpipe (Argile/Shisha) Study: To join, contact Marwa Adawi at 4439 0637 or Dr Ahmad Al Mulla at 4439 2778.

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

Author: Sarah Palmer

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