10 October 2008

Teen Smokers: Help to kick the habit


SET up in 2004, The Tanglin community polyclinic is the Health Ministry's best performing Quit-Smoking clinic in the country.

Unlit filtered cigarettesMore than 500 people have visited the clinic since 2005. The success rate at the clinic has been rising steadily. It was 24.2 per cent in 2005, 35.8 per cent in 2006 and 51.2 per cent last year.

The health ministry said the average quit rate nationwide was between 10 and 15 per cent.

This year, 68 smokers seeking help, visited the twice-weekly clinic and over 30 per cent of the visitors are teenagers. Last year, the number of teenage visitors was less than one per cent.

The clinic's counsellor and staff nurse Swinder Jit, recently added an extra weekday to accommodate the increasing number of teenage visitors.

Swinder does the counselling herself, using her no-nonsense approach.

"How can you smoke when you are having asthma?," she asked a 14-year-old rather firmly but with a concerned tone in front of the teenager's mother.

"Look, your lips are turning black," she tells another teenager with a worried look.

She also listened in disbelief when smokers tell her they resumed smoking because the medication had run out.

"I always warn them not to expect me to believe this lame excuse," she said.

In their first session, smokers are made to take a pledge before Swinder and a witness that they will stop smoking from the day they registered at the clinic.

The smokers then come for follow-up visits to reinforce their efforts to quit smoking for good.

The session begins with the teenage smokers being told to empty their pockets.

If they hesitate, the 53-year-old Swinder gives them an understanding look and assures them.

"We don't judge you by how many cigarettes you smoke. Remember honesty is the best policy," she said.

She then confiscated the items and probed their smoking habits and their reasons for wanting to quit.

Then the experienced nurse lectured on why smoking was bad by drawing the smokers' attention to a graphic skeleton with severe body damage.

"Smoking affects your whole body. The cigarette contains 4,500 chemicals that can damage your body," she said, adding that the chemicals included rat poison, moth ball and ammonia.

The teenagers expressed their surprise when they heard this.

"Ah? rat poison too?," they asked.

She assured them that once they stop smoking they could heal their bodies quickly.

After the alarming lecture, she gave tips on how they could break the habit.

"Don't hang out with people who smoke. Mix with non-smokers. Go to the swimming pool and the education park," she said.

She said the trick to stop smoking was to stop thinking about smoking.

"Divert your thoughts to studies, your future, movies, games and dating," she said.

"When your friend offers you a cigarette, say 'tak nak' (no thanks)."

When the urge came, wait for three minutes, she advised.

"The urge to smoke would usually disappear after three minutes," she added. (See sidebar for more tips)

After hearing the tips, the teenagers asked her if the water pipe Shisha was better than cigarettes.

"No, no, shisha is just as bad. You cannot replace one with another. It is also illegal for you teenagers to take shisha," she said.

After the question-and-answer session the teenagers were given a notebook to record their progress.

Swinder then gave them a pack of nicotine replacement product they can take whenever they feel the urge to smoke.

She ended the session by scheduling their next appointment and gave her final words of comfort.

"Don't worry so much. Just try your best."

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