Ramadan is perfect time to quit smoking, say UAE health experts

As smokers have denied themselves tobacco for almost 16 hours of fasting, it does not take much extra willpower to quit the habit completely, say cessation experts.

Experts on quitting smoking say that stopping the habit need not mean weight gain as long as quitters exercise and eat healthily. Sammy Dallal / The National
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ABU DHABI// Smokers are often afraid to quit because of a fear of putting on weight, experts on stopping the habit have said.

They urged addicts not to put vanity ahead of their health, and to use Ramadan as a perfect opportunity to kick the habit.

“They think that when they quit smoking they will gain weight,” said Dr Hanan Ali Obaid, head of the Dubai Tobacco-Free Project.

It was one of the main concerns raised by those seeking help from smoking-cessation clinics run by Dubai Health Authority, she said.

Some smokers put on a few kilograms after quitting because they overindulged when their sense of taste returned, but weight gained could be avoided by healthy eating and exercising, Dr Ali Obaid said.

Quitting is probably the most important thing smokers can do for their health and the benefits are immediate, she said.

They should use the holy month to quit because Muslims are not allowed to smoke in the long hours between sunrise and sunset. Non-Muslims are also prohibited from smoking in public places, making it difficult to have a cigarette.

Dr Samer Makhoul, an addiction specialist and head of the psychiatry department at Al Noor Hospital’s Airport Road branch in Abu Dhabi, agreed that smokers thinking about quitting often voiced fears about putting on weight.

“Smoking is an addiction and smokers – they want to make any excuse not to stop smoking,” he said. “One of them is always ‘I heard people who stop smoking gain weight’.”

One of the reasons people may put on weight after kicking the habit was that they nibbled on food more after quitting to mimic the hand-to-mouth motion of smoking, said Dr Makhoul. “That is the problem when you quit smoking. You want to have something in your mouth,” he said.

“Also, unconsciously, you feel like you are allowed to be a bit naughty around food if you stop smoking because you are now healthier.”

Instead of reaching for the chocolate, choose healthy alternatives such as chopped carrots or cucumber, he said.

Ramadan was always a good month to stop smoking, he agreed.

“You are managing up to about 16 hours at a time without cigarettes, so you are managing all those withdrawal symptoms. All you need to do is manage a little longer and it is done.”

After 48 hours you will have passed the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, he said.

Dr Harpreet Saini, a specialist in addictive behaviour and head of family medicine at Healthpoint in Abu Dhabi, said smokers could quit without affecting their weight in the longer term by following simple tips when kicking the habit.

She said filling up on soup and water at iftar was a good starting point.

“This will stop you from overindulging in the carbohydrate-rich dishes that define most iftar menus and leave you with a false sense of satisfaction,” she said.

“Similarly, if you find yourself peckish later in the night, reach for vegetables, fruits and nuts – which are higher in protein and fibre – instead of snacks full of empty carbs and calories.

“Another trick to quell your hunger is to brush your teeth often during the night. If your mouth is fresh and clean, you may have less of an urge to eat, or smoke for that matter.”

Exercise also helps to curb cigarette cravings and relieve withdrawal symptoms, she said.

Dr Jeffrey Chapman, the chief of the respiratory and critical care institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, agreed Ramadan was the perfect time to stub out the habit.

“Continuing to abstain from smoking between sundown and sunrise throughout the holy month is an excellent catalyst to help you quit for good,” he said.

“Quitting smoking helps to lower the risk of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, hypertension and kidney disease.”