TO quit smoking “cold turkey” may be ideal but often it is extremely difficult. As such, the Government should consider supporting a tobacco harm reduction programme aimed at getting people to switch to less harmful alternatives with the intention to quit completely, says the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Associations Malaysia (FPMPAM).
“Most smokers who have tried to quit have attempted the cold turkey method at some point. However, as a method for long-term smoking cessation, it has the lowest success rate,” said FPMPAM president Dr Steven Chow.
According to Dr Chow, Health Ministry data shows smoking prevalence in Malaysia at 21.3% or 4.9 million Malaysians in 2019.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 found that smoking prevalence among adults in Malaysia has plateaued for more than a decade.
“Statistics have shown us that reduction in smoking prevalence has not been very successful despite the numerous stringent controls put in place over the past decade.
“Public health officials need to evaluate new strategies instead of just implementing more controls on tobacco use,” he said.
Switching to alternative, less harmful options, Dr Chow said, can be a first step towards smoking cessation.
“We cannot discount tobacco harm reduction strategies. Switching to less harmful alternatives such as vape, snus, nicotine patches and gum can provide smokers a pathway towards quitting traditional cigarettes altogether.
“As healthcare professionals, our goal should always be to build awareness of the risks associated with smoking and educate the public on the current options available that can help smokers quit.
“Multiple studies have shown that switching from traditional cigarettes to less harmful alternatives can potentially save the lives of smokers by reducing harm to their health caused by chronic cigarette smoke inhalation” he explained.
To this end, FPMPAM will spearhead an educational series on tobacco harm reduction for its members and the medical community in the coming months.
The federation will be partnering with like-minded NGOs including the Addiction Medicine Association of Malaysia (AMAM) to train general practitioners (GPs) nationwide to provide cigarette cessation therapy in their practice for patients wanting to quit.
The challenges of the present Covid-19 pandemic have driven GPs to be more pro-active and to be engaged in matters involving public health and this includes lessening the disease burden associated with chronic smoking.
UK’s top public health organisation Public Health England (PHE), in its Vaping in England: 2021 Evidence Update Summary, found that the highest quit rates of traditional smoking (74%) were seen when the quit attempt involved people using a medically guided cessation therapy.
“Of course, the ultimate goal is to quit altogether,” said Dr Chow.
“Malaysia can look to countries like the UK as examples, as they have significantly reduced their smoking population by encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives.
“In fact, hospitals in England have also opened vape shops within their premises as part of their efforts to eradicate smoking,” he concluded.