Posted on February 26, 2018

Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Tobacco Control Center is seeing more and more patients wanting to stop smoking, with more than 3,600 patient visits to the Smoking Cessation Clinic recorded over the past year. Forty percent of those who seek treatment are considered heavy smokers, smoking more than 30 cigarettes a day.

Dr. Jamal Abdullah, a Smoking Cessation Specialist at HMC, said that due to the recent inauguration of the new Tobacco Control Center as well as HMC’s anti-smoking awareness programs, more people are learning about the support that is available to help them quit. This has led to a surge in the number of visits to the Smoking Cessation Clinic. According to Dr. Abdullah, patients attending the Clinic receive one-on-one counseling and appropriate nicotine replacement or pharmaceutical support. Patients also undergo a full assessment, including a complete medical history and related evaluations, such as lung function tests. As part of the assessment, clinicians talk to patients about available treatment options, which include the most modern and effective solutions to quit smoking.

“Medications such as varenicline and bupropion and nicotine replacement therapies such as gums, patches, sprays, inhalers, or lozenges are prescribed for some patients, particularly those who are considered heavy smokers with severe addictions. Any patient who is prescribed medication is closely monitored and the drug therapy is always prescribed as a short-term solution. We recently introduced a new laser therapy treatment which is being used for the first time in the region. Each session takes about 20 minutes and the laser stimulates selected areas of the body, for example, the ears, face, and wrists. It does not cause any pain or negative side effects and so far has proved to be very successful,” said Dr. Abdullah.

Psychological support is also a core part of treatment. Smoking is far more addictive than many drugs and according to Dr. Abdullah, it isn’t uncommon to see patients who have quit experience a relapse. Mr. Mohamed Ahmad, a 42-year-old patient of the Clinic who was able to quit smoking after 20 years, says he understands how addictive nicotine is.

“I was a smoker for 20 years and smoked around two packs a day. I managed to quit two years ago and stopped smoking for a whole year; however, unfortunately, I started up again. During the last few months of 2017, I decided to try and quit for good. I knew my health was being adversely affected as I had chest pain, had frequent headaches and was experiencing weakness in my body. I immediately went to the Clinic and the receptionist gave me an appointment. The doctor listened to my concerns and talked to me about the different treatment options available. I began treatment and with the support of the Clinic and God, I was able to quit. Now I’ve completely changed my lifestyle. I exercise and play sports and enjoy time with my family,” said Mr. Ahmad.

In addition to its work helping individuals, the Tobacco Control Center also educates the public about the risks of smoking. Many of the organization’s community outreach programs target young people, as statistics indicate at least 11 percent of smokers in Qatar are school students under 20 years of age. Dr. Abdullah says smoking cessation interventions can help prevent those who don’t smoke from picking up the habit, while also helping teens who do smoke, to stop. “We know that most people start smoking before the age of 20. Many youngsters start because of curiosity but it can quickly become a very dangerous addiction. Unfortunately, parents are often unaware that their children are using tobacco products, especially in the case of young people who use smokeless tobacco products,” said Dr. Abdullah.

In addition to smoking cigarettes, the most popular forms of tobacco use among young people in Qatar include chewing tobacco (Swedish Snus) and a tobacco product mixed with aromatic leaf and bark herbs (Midwakh or Dokha). These alternatives can be cheaper than cigarettes and can also be more dangerous, with some research indicating that concentrated forms of tobacco can result in the ingestion of a higher dose of nicotine. “Parents can play a key role in educating their children about the risks associated with smoking – talking to them about the health dangers and also supporting them in seeking treatment,” said Dr. Abdullah.

In addition to its ongoing anti-smoking awareness programs, the Tobacco Control Center is finalizing plans to train social workers, school counselors, and other professionals who have regular interactions with school-aged children to serve as ‘anti-smoking advocates’. These professionals will conduct awareness activities in schools and universities, acting as a link between the community and treatment facilities.

For appointments or more information on the Tobacco Control Center, call 4025 4981 or 4025 4983.