'I Quit' campaign helps Singapore smokers kick habit

Mr Iqbal Hadi Subiarso with an old, large shirt of his. Photo: TNP

For the past 10 years, he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, spending about $300 a month on his habit.

In recent months, Mr Iqbal Hadi Subiarso capped his smoking to once a week, with two or fewer cigarettes each time.

Since the start of Ramadan, the 26-year-old also started fasting from cigarettes and hopes to quit completely by the end of the fasting month.

Mr Iqbal's journey to being smoke-free began last December, when he took up jogging and playing football to lose weight.

"I used to play football and was demoralised that my stamina was poor," said Mr Iqbal, a driver.

He was often short of breath and could jog for only five minutes. He realised that the reason for this was his asthma and smoking made it worse.


But kicking the habit was not easy.

Before this, Mr Iqbal had tried to quit smoking three times and had tried to lose weight once.

Each attempt lasted less than two months.

"It was very, very hard to stop smoking. The challenge to quit smoking is the itch. The temptation is there," said Mr Iqbal, adding that whenever he had free time, the itch to smoke would creep in.

Health Promotion Board's I Quit campaign helped him make more progress in his recent attempt by sending him daily SMS messages with words of encouragement and health milestones as part of the 28-Day Countdown, which he completed last week.

Mr Iqbal also managed to lose 28kg through exercising since December.

He received support from his family, especially his brother Amirrul Mustaqim Subiarso, who would go jogging with him on the weekends.

Mr Iqbal's family also joined him at an I Quit campaign walkathon on May 30.

"It was good for family bonding. It helped us stay fit and healthy to walk together," he said.

Mr Amirrul, 20, said: "When we found out he was smoking, the whole family was disappointed, especially since he was so young."

Mr Iqbal's mother, Madam Kamsiah Ayob, a 49-year-old housewife, said: "I was so scared that the health risks shown on the cigarette boxes would happen to him.

"I am happy for him. I hope he can quit 100 per cent."

He quits after 50 years of smoking

For the past 50 years, Mr David Wee, 72, always had a pack of cigarettes on him.

In January, he finally kicked the habit after signing up for the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) I Quit campaign.

The retiree had tried to quit twice previously and failed as he hung around friends who smoked.

"It was something my friends did when we socialised," said Mr Wee, whose family continues to motivate him.

"I tried to keep it away from the children, as I didn't want to be a bad example."

As a teen, his elder son, now 38, disapproved of his smoking habit. Mr Wee used to smoke about 10 cigarettes a day.

His son was once so annoyed that he took cigarettes out of Mr Wee's pack and snapped them in half.

Mr Wee would also get into arguments with his wife, Mrs Wee Soo Hoong, 65, after his failed attempts to quit.

"When I started smoking again, I tried to do it quietly. When she found out, she fought with me," he said.


In January, she accompanied Mr Wee to a clinic to sign a pledge with HPB to stay smoke-free.

HPB's I Quit campaign encourages smokers to be smoke-free for 28 days so that they will have five times the chance of quitting for good.

Smokers receive 28 days of tips through their mobile phones, counselling services and events.

Although it has been more than 28 days since he embarked on the programme, Mr Wee still receives fortnightly calls from an HPB representative asking him about his quitting process.

In April, Mr Wee took a smokerlyser test that measures the amount of carbon monoxide in a person's lungs and blood stream, which he passed.

He said with a smile: "I am proud of myself. I am happy, healthy and fresh."


Registration for the Health Promotion Board's I Quit 28-Day Countdown 2015 began last month. Here are some quick facts about it:


Launched in 2013, it sends SMS messages to participants on how to cope with withdrawal symptoms and smoking triggers.

The messages also contain celebratory notes when smokers reach a milestone.

Participants can go to selected pharmacies to receive smoking cessation counselling. They can also call a hotline or get in touch with a HPB representative via SMS for support.


All Singapore residents. Previous participants were mostly men in their 20s or 30s.


Out of the 10,000 participants last year, 57 per cent now smoke less or have quit smoking.


Go to the HPB website (www.hpb.gov.sg/HOPPortal/health-article/11946) to register or visit a partnering pharmacy or an I Quit road show. Details can be found on the website.

This article was first published on June 26, 2015.
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