Why Ramadan could be the ideal time to quit smoking

Fasting hours, time for reflection and community support during the holy month can all help, say health experts

Health experts say Ramadan is the ideal time to quit smoking thanks to community support and the built-in break during fasting hours. Getty Images
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There are many reasons to quit smoking – physical, social, financial and more – but when it comes to deciding when to pull the plug on the habit, smokers often say there is never a perfect time. However, health experts believe Ramadan is as good a time as any and cite myriad reasons.

“Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, personal growth and strengthening well-being,” says Dr Grace Fabrizia Graziani, a family medicine specialist at Aster Royal Clinic. “It can also be a powerful opportunity to break free from smoking.”

Dr Harkirat Singh Wilkhoo, a specialist in homeopathy and lifestyle medicine at RAK Hospital, adds: “Fasting and abstaining from smoking for an average 13 hours a day is a good resistance for the mind and body. Ramadan is about self-control and discipline, which makes it a perfect chance to stop smoking for good.”

With the addition of a little willpower, the experts believe those wishing to quit smoking can utilise the new habits and routines that are a part of this time of year and emerge from Ramadan well on their way to a smoke-free life.

How Ramadan can help

The built-in break that comes with fasting “disrupts your smoking routine and reduces your body’s dependence on nicotine, giving you a head start”, notes Dr Graziani.

“There’s also inner strength. Ramadan emphasises self-discipline, which can translate to resisting cigarette cravings. Quitters can also rely on community support with many mosques offering programmes aimed explicitly at quitting smoking during this time. This sense of shared goals can be a huge motivator.”

When fasting hours come to an end, Dr Graziani says it is important to prepare for the cravings. He recommends waiting 30 minutes after breaking fast before thinking about smoking.

Engage in activities you enjoy, such as spending time with family, reading a Quran chapter, or volunteer work
Dr Grace Fabrizia Graziani, family medicine specialist, Aster Royal Clinic

Cravings are often strongest after eating but, according to Dr Wilkhoo, they will fade away if you persevere. For those quitting gradually, he advises trying to extend the length of time between eating and smoking each day. When the fasting day ends, he suggests reaching for water instead of cigarettes, vapes or shisha, as hydrating can help combat the urge to smoke.

“Eating food that fights nicotine cravings, such as ginger, basil and cayenne pepper, as well as drinking chilled water, helps to divert the mind,” says Dr Wilkhoo. “Hobbies such as painting, reading, singing, gardening and pet care allow for mental diversion and will keep you busy. Supportive friends also play a strong role in keeping smoking at bay.”

Dr Graziani adds. “Engage in activities you enjoy, such as spending time with family, reading a Quran chapter, or volunteer work.”

The experts at Go Smoke Free also recommend sucking on cinnamon sticks instead of cigarettes and drinking herbal tea.

Understanding your habits

“I admit I tried to give up smoking last Ramadan, but found that I couldn’t make it stick,” says IT specialist Daniel El-Khoury, 44. “It was more of a last-minute decision, which I don’t think helped. Obviously, I had the physical cravings, but I also found I was more affected by the social cravings, such as when everyone was having shisha or smoking after iftar, and I wanted to join in.”

He adds: “I’m going to try again this year, but the difference is I feel a lot more prepared this time around.”

Experts say understanding why an individual smokes can help them quit and take the necessary steps to anticipate and counter the triggers that lead to lighting up. “Take time to reflect on why you smoke,” says Dr Graziani. “Is it for social connection, stress relief, or boredom? Identifying your triggers can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms.”

Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing or meditation can increase your ability to stay calm
Dr Neha Solanki, pulmonologist, Cleveland Clinic

Cravings, emotionally, physically and psychologically, can influence how easy someone may find it to quit, says Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Dr Neha Solanki.

In heavy smokers, the cravings can start as soon as half an hour after their last cigarette, she says. The effects of nicotine withdrawal can include insomnia, irritability, an increase in appetite and headaches, Dr Solanki notes. Quitters may also experience anxiety.

“A lot of people smoke to help calm anxiety and deal with stress,” adds Dr Solanki. “Relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep breathing or meditation can boost your parasympathetic response. This helps diminish your anxiety, increases your level of focus and your ability to stay calm.”

Do nicotine patches break your fast?

The Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department has decreed that wearing nicotine patches while fasting is permitted, noting that “they are not nutritious and the substances in it are absorbed through the skin and blood and not through an opening in the body”.

Experts also say those wishing to stop should take into account their personal traits and personality type. For instance, while some might find it beneficial to quit overnight, others prefer to stop gradually.

There are plenty of nicotine replacement medications, patches and gum available through doctors or at the pharmacy, although chewing nicotine gum would not be permitted during fasting hours.

“For some people, cold turkey is the only way to go,” says Dr Solanki. “But for others, this method is just too difficult. It’s hard to break the ritual of smoking.”

Setting a “quit date” – such as the midway through Ramadan – can help those who wish to stop gradually.

Dr Solanki adds: “Often, people will start with nicotine replacement therapy. For example, nicotine patches replace the nicotine from cigarettes and help treat the urge. Over time, we slowly taper down the amount of nicotine in the patches you get.”

Studies have shown that whether someone stops gradually or immediately, the end health results are the same.

“Ramadan can be a turning point in your journey to a smoke-free life,” says Dr Graziani. “By using these tips, seeking professional support from your doctor, and working on the underlying reasons why you smoke, you can achieve lasting change.”

Updated: March 16, 2024, 3:28 PM