SINGAPORE - A nationwide $6.9 million study has, for the first time, pinned down the facts on Singapore's hardcore smokers.
New findings from the Singapore Mental Health Study found that 4.5 per cent of the five million population are addicted to smoking.
Eight in 10 are men. More than half, or 56.4 per cent of those addicted, are married; and education-wise, the biggest group - 34.8 per cent - are those who have completed secondary school.
More than a third, or 35.5 per cent of the smoking addicts, are between 18 and 34 years old.
About a fifth, or 19.3 per cent, are Malays, which is higher than the proportion of Malays in the national population profile, which is 13.4 per cent.
While Chinese make up 69 per cent and Indians account for 8 per cent of the addicts, these figures are below the national proportion of 74 per cent for Chinese and 9 per cent for Indians respectively.
Addicts are also more likely to be alcoholics and plagued with ailments from chronic headaches to back pain, compared to those who smoke out of habit.
The study also found that overall, 16 per cent of the population were regular smokers.
Led by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), the study involved face-to-face interviews with 6,616 people conducted over a year, from December 2009.
It defined addicts as smokers who experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit, puff on dozens of cigarettes a day or who yearn to smoke even when severely ill.
These findings follow the first round of results released in November last year, and found links between smoking addiction and other health conditions.
In the paper published two months ago, IMH researchers noticed that about one-fifth of the addicted smokers suffered from chronic pain such as repeated migraines, neck and back pain.
However, researchers were unable to explain this. They suggested that smokers may have turned to cigarettes to relieve their pain, or smoking may, in fact, be the cause of their pain.
The report's lead author, Ms Louisa Picco of the IMH's research division, said: "There has been a lot of speculation about whether chronic pain causes people to smoke, or if smoking causes chronic pain... Unfortunately, though, this is something that we cannot determine from this study."
She said the study's findings would help to better identify those with a nicotine addiction and provide them with early help.
One way would be to have smoking-cessation posters in GP clinics, suggested IMH deputy director of research Mythily Subramaniam. Smoking-cessation counsellors could also ask smokers if they have problems with pain.
"Just focusing on quitting smoking may not have the desired outcome because of the associated pain," said Dr Subramaniam, who was part of the research team.
Singapore has a range of measures to control smoking, including tobacco taxes, public education and smoking-cessation programmes.
The IMH researchers said that for certain sub-groups, more tailored approaches need to be adopted to ensure the messages are reaching those most in need.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB), which runs smoking-cessation schemes, said it will continue to track such studies to develop programmes that target some groups.
Mr Chris Cheah, deputy director of HPB's substance abuse department, said that smokers enrolled in its programmes are assessed for addiction. Those found to be addicted might be offered nicotine-replacement therapy, such as patches.
• 16 per cent of Singapore's population smoke.
• Another 10.8 per cent have quit the habit.
• 4.5 per cent are addicted to smoking.
• Men are 4.6 times more at risk of addiction than women.
• About a fifth of those who are addicted have long-term pain problems such as migraines, back and neck pain.
SOURCE: SINGAPORE MENTAL HEALTH STUDY
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