Smokers benefit from butting out

Kicking the smoking habit is tough, but success brings a host of benefits. Smokers who want to 'butt out' permanently will find many organisations eager to offer free and professional counselling services to help them break free of nicotine’s grip, to live longer, healthier, happier lives.
 
The downside to smoking is well known. Studies show smokers have 10 times the risk of getting lung cancer than non-smokers, while heavy smokers face 25 times the risk.
 
People with long-term exposure to second-hand smoke also suffer an increased risk of smoking-related diseases, such as cancers, heart diseases and bronchitis.
 
The nasty residue from smoking that clings to clothing, hair, skin, and furniture, drapes and carpets, known as third-hand smoke, may cause learning difficulties or mental illness in children frequently exposed to it.

Smoking-related economic loss is about $5 billion annually, and about 7,000 people die in Hong Kong each year from smoking-related diseases.
 
Despite the huge toll it exacts, about one in 10 people in Hong Kong still smoke. 
 
Winning from quitting
Smokers who want to protect their health, and that of friends and loved ones, should quit smoking as soon as possible. News.gov.hk spoke with two heavy smokers who discovered some great reasons to quit for good.
 
Property agent Andy Yu had been smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. When a colleague who had stopped smoking encouraged him to follow suit, he decided to give it a try. He called the Department of Health’s smoking cessation hotline, 1833 183, and was referred to the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals’ service.
 
At work, he and his associates regularly gathered around an ashtray to talk about the market and exchange transaction details. More than half of the sales team were smokers. Mr Yu also relied on cigarettes to relieve stress. His counsellor helped him curb his tobacco dependence.
 
“I wanted a cigarette whenever I had worries over property-price negotiations. The non-smoking counsellor told me this was because the brain needed to replenish its oxygen. She taught me to regain my concentration by doing some stretching exercises, or simply walking around, which is much healthier than smoking a cigarette,” he said.
 
Fighting fit
When he was smoking, he was in poor physical condition. He could hardly run to catch a bus, and it would take 10 minutes for him to catch his breath after he boarded one.
 
Under a doctor’s supervision, Mr Yu started to use nicotine patches, and was encouraged to exercise. Instead of reaching for a cigarette when he is busy at work, he reaches for the door - to go for a walk to clear his head and get some fresh air.
 
“Now I exercise every morning before I go to work. When I first decided to quit, I felt the urge to smoke soon after I woke up, so I tried to divert my attention from cigarettes to sports,” he said.
 
“When I look back, I really wasted a lot of time and money on smoking. Smoking also harmed my body. I can't imagine how a middle-aged man like me could live long if I don't maintain a healthy lifestyle.”
 
Tasty surprise
He discovered another benefit from quitting: he regained his sense of taste.
 
“When I was a smoker, food didn’t have much appeal for me, it all tasted bland. But now, I know how delicious curry is! It seems that my wife's cooking skills have improved. In fact, the doctor told me my taste recovered after I quit smoking,” Mr Yu said.
 
The programme seems to have succeeded, and it has been almost two years since he quit.
 
“I haven't smoked a single cigarette since June 28, 2011. I remember the date - 28/6 - clearly, more easily than I remember my wife’s birthday!” Mr Yu said.
 
Third time lucky
Choy Fai-lung is a chef and a father of three. He had been a smoker for 16 years, and tried to quit twice before. The third time was a charm, as he finally kicked the habit for good.
 
He reached for the phone to call the hotline a year ago, after his wife and children - and his colleagues in the kitchen - urged him to quit.
 
“My wife scolded me whenever she found cigarettes in my pockets or ash on the floor. She also reminded me that our family expenses are large, and that I should spend the money on our children’s well being rather than wasting $2,000 to $3,000 on cigarettes each month,” he said.
 
While he was trying to kick the habit, Mr Choy had to withstand both his urge to smoke, and temptation from his colleagues.
 
“They discouraged me from quitting, saying it was too difficult to give up smoking. Some deliberately gave me cigarettes even though they knew I had made the decision to quit,” he said, adding he will never smoke again.
 
Role model
Mr Choy’s colleague Pun Kwan-leong witnessed the positive changes.
 
“I couldn't believe he would quit after years of smoking. He really overcame many challenges and enticements, by chewing nicotine gum and flatly refusing when people offered him a cigarette.
 
“Now, he concentrates more on his work. When I saw him looking so much better and healthier, I started to smoke less.”
 
Help at hand
Apart from reinforcing tobacco-control laws, the Government works towards building a smoke-free culture in Hong Kong through taxation, education and publicity.
 
More people are realising the benefits of not smoking, and the latest figures put the proportion of smokers at 11.1%, down from 11.8% in 2008.
 
If you or someone you know wants to quit smoking, call the Department of Health’s smoking cessation hotline, 1833 183, or visit the department’s website for details. There are many groups eager to provide free, professional counseling services. http://www.news.gov.hk/en/categories/health/html/2013/03/20130321_130244.shtml