Getting more smokers to kick ‘poisonous’ habit
Published on: Tuesday, June 14, 2022
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Ho holds up a poster showing the benefits of giving up smoking.
IS SMOKING a big health issue in Malaysia? Yes, worryingly so. The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS) 2019 shows that one in five Malaysians over the age of 15 are smokers. According to the NHMS, there are about 4.7 million male smokers and 135,000 female smokers in the country. The prevalence of smoking is 45 per cent of higher across men of all age groups. Hence, smoking is a huge cause of concern in Malaysia.

Since January 2019, smokers have been prohibited from lighting up in restaurants with an enclosed space in Malaysia. Restaurant owners who fail to put up No Smoking signs at the premises risk having to settle a RM3,000 fine or serve a 6-month jail term. Selling cigarettes to those under 18 years of age has been forbidden since May 14, 1994.

The two global areas which have a high number of smokers are Southeast Asia and the Balkan Region of Europe. According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco kills more than 18 million annually, both active and passive smokers. The Centre for Disease Control in the US cites tobacco as being the highest leading cause of death for preventable disease.

Tobacco use increases the likelihood of developing lung cancer, oral cancer, heart disease and blood clots. It also ups the risk of heart attacks and strokes and leads to tooth and gum decay, as well as wrinkled skin. Cigarettes contain many harmful compounds, including Tar, Aceton (nail polish remover), DDT (pesticides), cadmium (found in batteries), ammonia (floor cleaner), arsenic (found in termite poison), hydrogen cyanide (the gas used in death chambers) and carbon monoxide (the noxious fumes from car exhausts).

Pharmacists have foreseen the looming problems caused by the increase in smoking and have doubled-down on efforts to educate the public on the “poisonous” effects of tobacco. The smoking rate in Malaysia has dropped by 0.8 per cent yearly since 2012 and we hope to raise these levels in the days to come.

Smoking is a difficult habit to kick especially when one becomes dependent on nicotine. We strongly believe, however, that where there is a will, there is a way. Many community pharmacists around Malaysia are certified smoking cessation providers (CSCSPs). The CSCP-training programme involves participation in a workshop and some practical attachment at smoking cessation clinics at a public hospital. Those who complete this programme receive certificates from the Malaysian Pharmacists Society. They go on to become ambassadors for the programme who work together with smokers to devise a plan to quit. This plan is based on the smoker’s current health status, family history, economic situation and motivation level. The impact tobacco may have on the members of a smoker’s household, especially the presence of young children, also factors into the plan.

The benefits of giving up smoking will be emphasised during counselling to motivate the smoker who is trying to quit. For example, after 20 minutes of giving up smoking, the heart rate will be normalised, after 12 hours of quitting smoking, the level of carbon monoxide in one’s blood drops to a normal level, after 2 weeks of quitting smoking, the risk of a heart attack reduces significantly and lung functions improve.

After foregoing smoking for up to nine months, one’s shortness of breath and tendency to cough reduces tremendously. 

Meanwhile, smokers who do not light up for more than five years have a stroke-risk which as low as those who have never puffed on a cigarette. 

Health professionals, like pharmacists, will recommend some nicotine replacement therapy during the process to help the patient and also monitor any side effects with these nicotine products. Licenced nicotine-based products sold under the supervision of pharmacists aim to lessen the patient’s daily dependence on nicotine.

Since City Hall is promoting better health for Kota Kinabalu residents, do take the opportunity to get your friends and loved ones to join a “non-smoking KK clan”. Do not hesitate to consult any healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, for help. Let’s create a smoke-free environment and, at the same time, use the money we would normally spend on cigarettes for better purposes. Let us promote a smoke-free and healthy KK and Love KK and its residents more.

#Jemima Ho is a qualified pharmacist and immediate past president of the Sabah Pharmaceutical Society



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