Time to tackle smoking as a society
Singapore needs to rethink its approach to help smokers quit
Today is World No Tobacco Day and the harms of smoking are well-known and widely accepted globally.
Yet smoking continues to be a key health concern in countries around the world.
World No Tobacco Day has been established to tackle this issue on an international level.
Singapore, too, is committed to addressing the issue of smoking.
We have various regulations and policies to discourage potential smokers, including youth, from picking up the habit.
This is just one way we can reduce and keep smoker numbers low.
The other is to help and support current smokers quit smoking.
World No Tobacco Day is an opportunity for us, as a society, to understand and discuss how we can help tackle smoking.
Understanding the cigarette addiction
Cigarette addiction is far more complicated than it seems.
Addiction to smoking is caused by nicotine, a chemical found in cigarettes.
Nicotine is a highly addictive substance and is one of the most difficult addictions to quit.
Getting addicted to nicotine is a slow process which makes getting rid of the addiction a drawn-out process as well.
Consuming nicotine releases dopamine in the brain, providing smokers a constant "feel good" feeling.
The "high" a smoker gets from smoking cigarettes is not at dangerous levels.
It has a mild effect on the brain, enough to completely relax a smoker without compromising their alertness.
This feeling is what reels a smoker back into having their next cigarette, making it difficult to quit.
A smoker will continue smoking, remain addicted to nicotine and feed their smoking habit because cigarettes can still be legally purchased from the nearest convenience store.
It takes 10 to 15 years for smoking related health issues to develop and affect a smoker.
Health-led motivation to quit is then not the most viable option.
Other initiatives such as visual warnings on cigarette packages have little effect on a smoker and are almost negligible in weaning off a smoker's addiction.
Tackling smoking and cigarette addiction through a lifestyle change
Current health policies and suggested quit methods are largely ineffective. Cold turkey on its own is near inhumane.
Smoking, for many, is a lifestyle choice which they resort to when they need a break from work, after meals, or hang out with friends and colleagues.
One of the most effective ways to address smoking is to encourage a smoker to change their lifestyle habits of smoking - like encouraging someone to lose weight in a healthy manner.
What this means is for a smoker to slowly and steadily cut down their consumption of cigarettes.
Like losing weight, we need to consider coupling the reduction in the number of cigarettes consumed with other feasible alternatives that complement their journey towards progressively weaning off cigarettes without falling back into the addiction.
The writer is clinical manager and psychologist at The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness Centre, which treats mental health disorders, trauma and addictions.
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