UAE addiction experts are warning that nicotine in cigarettes is as addictive as heroin and other opiates, which is why so many people find it so hard to quit smoking successfully without counselling and medication.
The doctors’ comments come ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31 when people across the globe commit to stop smoking – a habit that increases the risk of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that tobacco caused 100 million deaths worldwide over the course of the 20th century.
This year the key message from local doctors is that although willpower is an important factor in giving up smoking most people need extra help from healthcare professionals at smoking cessation clinics, where they can go through a step-by-step programme for addiction to nicotine.
According to the WHO even brief advice from healthcare professionals can increase tobacco abstinence rates by up to 30 per cent.
“Nicotine is addictive; there is a lot of confusion about this but it is highly habit forming to most people even more than opiates and heroin,” said Dr Ahmed Yousif, Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Director of the National Rehabilitation Centre, Abu Dhabi.
“Many people underestimate nicotine’s addictiveness and they try to give up smoking and fail. But they should not be disheartened; addiction to nicotine is a chronic disease like diabetes and many people cannot succeed on will power alone, they need to take part in a programme that offers counselling, medication and information to help them quit and that is what smoking cessation clinics offer,” added Dr Yousif.
“As physicians, we recognise the role willpower plays in putting people on the path to quitting but it’s rarely enough to see them through to the end. Support from a qualified healthcare practitioner has been shown to play a pivotal role in helping smokers make a serious commitment and improve their chances of giving up smoking,” explained Dr Emad Kowatli, Consultant of Internal Medicine and Pulmonologist at the American Hospital, Dubai.
Smoking cessation clinics change smokers’ behaviour by assessing people’s physiological, psychological and behavioural dependence on nicotine, offering counselling that works through the pros and cons and teaches useful life skills such as stress management.
Doctors can also prescribe nicotine replacement therapies or non-nicotine smoking cessation therapies to help reduce cravings for nicotine and remove the satisfaction smokers get from cigarettes.
“Self-commitment and the support of family and friends can give people the motivation they need to start on the road to quitting but visiting a doctor or a smoking cessation clinic, where therapies and treatments are on hand, can significantly boost their chances of success instead of relying on willpower alone,” concluded Dr Kowatli.
Other alarming facts having emerged on smoking addiction in the Middle East includes impotency in men, which was revealed to Emirates 24|7 earlier when world-renowned author and sex therapist, Dr Rosie King, made the resounding statement: Smoking is sexual suicide.
In a country where the shisha culture is embedded in its social makeup, the news that excessive usage of the water pipe causes impotency in men has seen many a heavy smoker cross his legs in fear.
"If you are man in your 40s and a heavy smoker, the chances of you suffering from erectile dysfunction is 25 per cent higher," the good doctor said earlier. "Smoking contributes to the narrowing of the arteries in the penis, thus leading to a limited blood flow to the male organ, hence making it difficult for the man to show his pleasure towards his partner."
The UAE has already upped the efforts to curb the health risks that come with excessive shisha smoking by banning its use outdoors in residential areas and near schools, in December last year, where data indicated that some 54 per cent of shisha smokers indulge in the water pipe in cafes, while the remaining smoke shisha at home.
“Let's face it, shisha is delicious, with its exotic flavours and its ability to disguise itself as such a harmless thing to do,” says Dr King. “But data from the World Health Organisation has revealed the harmful nature of this seemingly innocent act.”
On the occasion of World 'No Tobacco Day' which falls on May 31, Dubai Municipality has urged traders to stop selling cigarettes for 24 hours at petrol stations and retail markets as part of its activities to combat smoking phenomenon during the occasion.
63 shops, hypermarkets and supermarkets, and 138 petrol stations will participate in the voluntary campaign in cooperation with the municipality.
All the restaurants and cafes are requested to cooperate with the civic body and participate in the campaign by stopping the sale of shisha for a period of 12 hours. A series of events will be held in collaboration with Johnson '&' Johnson, and the door is open for all to participate.
There will be free tests provided by Dubai Medical College, and a lecture on the supervisory role the Municipality in maintaining the health and safety of the community, and a call for smoking cessation for staff, as well as honouring the participants.
This is the appropriate opportunity to highlight specific messages aimed at combating smoking along with World No Tobacco Day, says DM.
The Dubai Municipality has issued a law in 2007, regulating the smoking in public places in November 2007.
(with inputs from Bindu Suresh Rai)