Ramadan project helps him kick smoking habit

Mr Abdul Rahman Rawi gave up cigarettes after smoking for 40 years, thanks to the Health Promotion Board's Ramadan I Quit 28-day Countdown. Come Aug 1, he would have been smoke-free for a year. Photo: The Strait Times

When Mr Abdul Rahman Rawi was nine, a friend urged him to try a cigarette - starting an addiction which lasted for 40 years.

There was a three-year period in the late 1980s when the storekeeper managed to stay smoke-free but he relapsed.

"I thought I could stop whenever I wanted to. So I took a stick from a friend after food," he said.

However, next month will mark a year since the 53-year-old last lit up after he signed up for the Health Promotion Board's (HPB) Ramadan I Quit 28-day Countdown.

Participants on the programme pledge to quit smoking for 28 days during the fasting month of Ramadan. By the time the four weeks are up, they are five times more likely to kick the habit for good.

Since its inception in 2013, more than 2,500 smokers have signed up for the Ramadan countdown programme. Last year alone, there were more than 1,500 sign-ups. The HPB is hoping to recruit 2,000 smokers this year.

"Ramadan marks a time when Muslims engage in fasting by refraining from eating and drinking from the first light of dawn to sunset," said Ms Vasuki Utravathy, who is deputy director of the substance abuse department at HPB.

"Smoking is an activity that is discouraged when one observes the fast," she said.

Last year, one in five participants in the countdown programme quit smoking, while another quarter reduced the number of cigarettes they were smoking each day.

For Mr Abdul Rahman, the process of quitting was a rocky road. His withdrawal symptoms included giddiness and fevers. For two months, he thought about cigarettes non-stop.

But the turning point was when he visited Indonesia's Mount Bromo with family and friends in September last year.

"It was so cold and I wanted a cigarette," he recalled. "But I told myself that I don't want to do it again. I worried that I would get hooked again."

In his locker at work, Mr Abdul Rahman keeps a cigarette packet with one last stick - not to light up, but to remind him of the promise he had made to himself.

"I wrote the date on the box," he said. "1st August, 2014."

This article was first published on July 8, 2015.
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