BENGALURU: It looks like a good time to kick the butt. Irregular cigarette supply and the fear of being more vulnerable to COVID-19 is forcing tobacco users to consider quitting the habit. Simultaneously, counsellors are seeing an increase in the number of calls seeking help to quit tobacco, after the lockdown was imposed. The National Tobacco Quit Line Services at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) has been getting a number of calls from smokers.
“Initially, we would get 60-70 calls a day from quitters but now we get nearly 100 calls a day. Among the callers, 20% say that they are not getting cigarettes and others talk about smokers being at greater risk, and whether their recovery will be affected if they test positive for COVID-19,” said Sudarshan Hegde, supervisor, Regional Satellite Centre for Tobacco Quit Line Services, Centre for Addiction Medicine (CAM), NIMHANS.
According to the World Health Organisation, smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly, contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips, which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity, which greatly increases their risk. Tobacco quit lines are operational in four places -- in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi and Guwahati. The one in NIMHANS, Bengaluru, covers the South region through its toll-free number 1800112356.
Angad Singh, one of the counsellors, says that will power and family support are a great help for those who wish to quit. He said that he got a call from a 21-year-old male, an engineering graduate from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, who started working last year and used to smoke about five cigarettes a day. His triggers: Friends and stress at the workplace. He quit due to non-availability of cigarettes and also because of the COVID-19 scare. His deciding moment came when he learnt during counselling that cigarette smoke contains 7,000 chemicals. Tips to manage his craving, stress and relapse prevention were provided to him. He also had support from his family.
Keerthana, counsellor at NIMHANS, received a call from a 24-year-old who used to smoke 90 bidis a day, at an interval of 30 minutes. He tried to quit three months ago, but failed, and is trying again. “Motivational enhancement interviewing is done and some assertiveness training is given to help him handle peer pressure,” she said.