x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Now is the time to quit smoking

More than a quarter of men in the UAE smoke, but doctors say Ramadan can be a big help for those who are trying to give up altogether.

Ahmed Misbah lights up in the stairwell of his apartment building in Sharjah. The 23-year-old journalist hpes the ban on smoking during the day will help him to quit the habit completely.
Ahmed Misbah lights up in the stairwell of his apartment building in Sharjah. The 23-year-old journalist hpes the ban on smoking during the day will help him to quit the habit completely.

With no smoking allowed in public during the day, Ramadan may provide the perfect opportunity to give up cigarettes, doctors say. Dr Abid Mohammed said the holy month was the most popular time of year to quit, not least because there was less temptation.

"Even if a smoker is not Muslim, Ramadan can motivate them," said the Dubai-based doctor. "Of course, there is also less temptation as no one should smoke during the fasting hours. This will automatically help. Giving something up which you are addicted it to is never easy, so having a goal is always good." Dr Mohammed said Ramadan allowed smokers to think about the short, rather than the long term, which made quitting easier.

"It is easier for someone to think 'I won't smoke for a month', than to think 'I won't ever again'. The latter could be quite daunting. But once someone has quit for a month they will no longer be addicted to the nicotine and will hopefully have also got rid of the habit." Ahmed Misbah, 23, is trying to quit, mostly because of pressure from his family and friends. He hopes the holy month will give him the strength to join the growing ranks of former smokers.

"Now you are not allowed to smoke in most places," he said. "I cannot smoke in my work or in the mall, I do not want to have to leave places to smoke anymore. "In Ramadan, I have stopped smoking during the day, until the evening. This will really help me stop smoking all the time. "I feel Ramadan will make a big difference. It will give me more strength to stop which I have not had before." Mr Misbah, a journalist who lives in Sharjah, has smoked seven or eight cigarettes a day for six years. Despite smoking being very common among young men, it is still a bone of contention with his parents.

"It has caused a lot of trouble with my parents; they do not smoke," he said. "But it is for my own reasons that I want to stop, firstly for my health. I know it will be very difficult but I am determined and do it." According to World Health Organisation figures released this year, more than a quarter of men in the UAE, and 2.6 per cent of women, smoke. Its Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2005 found that 26 per cent of boys and 14 per cent of girls between 13 and 15 in the UAE smoked. A quarter of these had tried smoking before they were 10.

Authorities have recently taken steps to stop people smoking in public. However, the factor to which many people attribute the high numbers of smokers - the low cost - remains unchanged. A packet of 20 cigarettes costs around Dh7 in the UAE, whereas in the UK and US it would be nearly six times more expensive. Earlier this year, the National Tobacco Control Committee said it was looking to discuss the cost of cigarettes with the Ministry of Economy. However, no action has been taken.

There is also a plan to put graphic photographs on cigarette packets to show smokers the damage the habit can do to their health, but this proposal is still awaiting approval from a GCC committee. Austyn Allison, a media editor in Dubai, smoked a pack a day for 10 years before stopping during Ramadan in 2007. After moving to Dubai four years ago, Mr Allison said the low cost of cigarettes and the high number of smokers made his habit worse.

"Ramadan certainly helps you get into the spirit of things," he said. "I fasted for the previous Ramadans and then thought, why not cash in on the spirit of self-restraint and quit smoking properly." Mr Allison, 31, said Ramadan made a big difference to his attempts because of the sense of self-restraint, although he did not know it at the time. Ordinarily, a pre-determined date for quitting could always be moved, he said, with or without good reason. The beginning of Ramadan was set in stone so there was no way to back out.

"I smoked right up until the night before Ramadan started," he said. "I was pretty much chain-smoking until then. "During Ramadan it is easier [to give up]. There is not as much temptation and you can't nip outside for a cigarette. It worked for me. I haven't smoked since." Like Mr Allison, Ian Daley blames cheap cigarettes and the smoker-friendly atmosphere for increasing his smoking since he moved to Dubai in 2005.

Mr Daley, 34, has smoked about 20 a day for seven years. He had given up before, for five years, but eventually gave in to temptation. This time, he does not intend to smoke again. "Ramadan will definitely make it easier because during the day it is not even a choice, you have to do it. You can't pop outside and have a cigarette in public," he said. "It's a major advantage because you are forced to curb your smoking anyway so you may as well go the whole distance and just stop."

One of the main reasons he has decided to try give up is the approach of his 35th birthday. "Up until this point I have to admit I quite enjoyed smoking," he said. "But now, approaching mid-30s, I've had enough. I've also started exercising and I've found that smoking is limiting. "I am determined this time." munderwood@thenational.ae