More quit smoking in 28-day campaign

PHOTO: More quit smoking in 28-day campaign

Over the years, Mr Abdul Razak Amirudeen tried to quit smoking many times, but always found himself reaching for yet another cigarette.

Last year, he tried again.

This time, the 31-year-old software engineer joined a 28-day programme where he received daily tips and encouragement via SMS and social media, as well as calls from Health Promotion Board (HPB) counsellors, who monitored his progress.

The 28-day timeframe is crucial - international studies have shown that smokers who stay away from cigarettes for four weeks are five times more likely to quit for good. "I had someone to accompany me throughout the journey," said Mr Abdul Razak, who has stayed smoke-free now for almost nine months.

Like him, about 3,400 people signed up for HPB's "I Quit 28-Day Countdown" last year.

Almost 480 - or 14 per cent - stayed smoke-free for at least six months, said the board yesterday.

Last year's figure was more than double the 1,500 who signed simple pledges to quit smoking in 2011, when the campaign started. One in 10 succeeded in kicking the habit for at least six months then.

Last year, the board's Quit Hotline also saw about 14,500 calls, up from just 2,681 in 2011.

HPB attributed the increased sign-up and success rates to the better strategies it has been using, and participants' greater familiarity with its anti-smoking efforts.

Latest figures from the National Health Survey, gathered before I Quit began, show that in 2010, about 14.3 per cent of Singapore residents aged 18 to 69 smoked, compared with 12.6 per cent in 2004.

HPB hopes to cut the number to 10 per cent by 2020, and there are multiple efforts here to discourage people from smoking.

In February, for instance, Singapore hiked taxes for cigarettes and other tobacco products by 10 per cent. And by the end of next year, shops will be banned from displaying cigarettes for sale.

The board is also studying efforts overseas, such as New York's recent move to raise the legal age limit for cigarette purchases from 18 to 21. Here, those aged 18 and above can buy cigarettes.

"There are other countries with higher age limits, but this does not mean smoking (prevalence) is lower," noted Ms Vasuki Utravathy, deputy director of substance abuse at HPB.

This article was published on May 21 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.