BY Dr. Sanjiva Wijesinha 

When I was a young medical officer in the Sri Lanka Army many years ago, a reputable tobacco company supported our fighting soldiers. Whenever the army was called out for warlike activities, this corporate entity would demonstrate its strong support for the nation and military by generously donating a free carton of cigarettes every week to every serviceman.

At the time, it garnered good publicity for the tobacco company in question and appeared to be a great boon for our servicemen. But with the wisdom of hindsight, I realise that this generous gesture was in reality a brilliant marketing ploy by the merchandiser.

All the officers and enlisted men who relieved their stress, anguish and boredom by puffing these free cigarettes soon became addicted to smoking. And when they returned to barracks after the riots or insurgencies were over, they continued to be regular smokers, spending their hard-earned money to buy more cigarettes and feed their addiction.

The problem with smoking is that the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive. It makes people want to smoke, and the continuous exposure to the other harmful substances contained in cigarettes results in the smoker being at risk of developing a host of health problems such as emphysema, bronchitis and lung cancer.

Some of my former army colleagues, who were tough and fit young men at the time I got to know them, are now ridden with bronchitis and emphysema. By the time they reached their 60s or 70s, the mere act of climbing a flight of stairs was enough to make them breathless. And since the manufacture and sale of cigarettes continues across the globe, and there’s no end in sight of their addictive qualities, what can be done by someone who wants to quit this life-threatening habit?

Nowadays, there are medications that come under the nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) umbrella. The right use of these medicines can greatly increase the chances of a smoker who wants to quit to actually do so!

NRT provides them with the nicotine their bodies crave without exposing these smokers to all the other noxious substances that cigarette smoke contains.

It works by reducing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal that smokers who suddenly quit will experience since it supplies them with nicotine sans the other toxins found in cigarettes. In this way, they can gradually reduce the dose of nicotine as their bodies progressively become accustomed to managing without cigarettes.

This medication comes in various forms such as skin patches that can be applied like a sticking plaster, which will slowly release a small quantity of nicotine over 24-hour intervals. Alternatively, NRT can be taken in the form of lozenges, sublingual tablets that can be dissolved under the tongue, chewing gum and even a nicotine inhaler.

Quitting smoking involves overcoming the psychological and emotional dependence on cigarettes, as well as the body’s addiction to nicotine. Sometimes, consulting a counsellor or psychologist can help smokers quit as could the support of a friend with whom they can take steps to quit at the same time.

Indeed, it’s difficult for a committed smoker to quit smoking. But once he or she has made the decision to do so, there are many methods that can be adopted to achieve this admirable goal.