How to stay smoke free in 2010

Newsroom 18/01/2010 | 16:31

A study carried out in August-September 2009 found that 27.9 percent of Romanians over the age of 15 smoke every day. “Romania is one of the few countries in the European Union where smoking is much more common among people with higher education and on high incomes,” says Dr. Magdalena Ciobanu, coordinator of the Smoking Cessation Center at the Marius Nasta Institute of Pneumology. She is also a Ministry of Public Health expert on tobacco control for the European Commission and World Health Organization.

Many people who decide to quit have already experienced some health problems, a disease or nagging symptoms such as exhaustion or a morning cough. Either that or they are afraid of getting ill, often after something bad happens to someone dear to them. However, smoking has become a luxury that fewer and fewer can afford. “Since September-October last year, the financial incentive has become more and more compelling: absolutely all patients I have seen since the beginning of the year have started by saying ‘I cannot afford to smoke anymore,’” says Ciobanu.

The first two months of the year are usually a peak time for wannabe quitters, due to New Year resolutions. This year, however, there has been a hike in the number of patients. In the first two weeks of 2010, the number of smokers who made an appointment at the Marius Nasta Institute increased threefold compared to the previous year. “I estimate that nationwide, as part of this program, around 5,000 people have made an appointment so far,” says Ciobanu.

To come to the aid of would-be non-smokers, the Ministry of Health is financing the National Program for the Prevention of Tobacco Consumption, hosted at the same location as the Marius Nasta Institute. As part of this program, smokers who want to follow a course of treatment to become clean receive aids such as vareniclin, bupropion and nicotine patches free of charge – provided they have no other health problems. There are various offices where patients can make an appointment, a complete list of which can be found on the site or by calling the toll-free telephone number 08008STOPFUMAT (0800878673).

The length of the treatment is two months (with bupropion) or three months (with nicotine patches or vareniclin). The patient must see the doctor once every two weeks for a check-up and to receive the medication. “Medication reduces the symptoms of addiction. This is mainly a medical condition – addiction to nicotine is categorized as a disease, according to the international classification of diseases,” says Ciobanu. The prescribed medication is accompanied by counseling. “Psychological therapy helps smokers find behavioral alternatives to the gestures associated with smoking, but also deal with some cognitive problems that quitting smoking sometimes causes,” says Ciobanu. However, neither medication nor counseling can compensate for lack of willpower. “The main reason why patients do not manage to quit smoking is that, in reality, they don’t want to. Then come the excuses: that they don’t have the willpower, that it is too hard, that they would gain too much weight, that ‘cool people smoke,’ that they don’t want to do what the government tells them, that even doctors smoke, and the list could go on,” says Ciobanu. “They also give the real reason: that they like it and do not feel like giving up a pleasure that is easy to procure, affordable whenever they want and cannot be compared to anything else other than another drug,” she explains.

Many smokers choose alternative methods to beat their addiction. One of these is acupuncture, carried out by specialized doctors. Acupuncture sees addiction as an imbalance between Yin and Yang in the body. Through it, the energies are harmoniously replaced on the route of the meridians. To mobilize these energies, the acupuncture specialist introduces needles into some specific points on their routes. The needles are like small antennas that re-charge and gather or disperse the accumulated energies. Smoking is the result of an imbalance in the energies, explains Dr. Maria Stirbu Teianu, an anesthesiologist specialized in acupuncture, from Medical City Center.

Many of the smokers that ask for Teianu’s help are businesspeople, most of them men.

Many are motivated by fear of disease. Statistics indicate that if a smoker gives up by the age of 60, the risk of developing lung cancer is 16 percent. If he or she gives up by 40, the figure falls to 1 percent. Apart from the threat of lung cancer, smokers are plagued by minor lung afflictions. Many dislike the fact that they and their home smell of cigarette smoke, and that their habit damages their teeth.

Another reason is that smoking causes impotence. “Nicotine influences blood vessels that have a fundamental role in this mechanism. Through acupuncture, this function can be improved,” says Teianu.

Before the first session of acupuncture, the patient undergoes a thorough consultation that lasts about 20 minutes in order for the doctor to establish the person’s physical and psychological profile as well as health background. “It is at this point that we establish the place and intensity of the imbalances in the body and the degree of stress accumulated, and devise the treatment plan, choosing the points on which to act,” says Teianu. After all the needles are in place, the session lasts for about 20 minutes.

“In the treatment of nicotine addiction, ear acupuncture is best. It is believed that the entire body is projected at the level of the external ear, and there are points that influence ‘bad habits’,” says Teianu.

The cost of an acupuncture session at Medical City is RON 60. Patients initially undergo two-three sessions a week, for up to ten sessions. After this, the patient takes a break for a month and then returns less frequently for a longer period.

Generally, acupuncture patients are informed, intelligent, and have an idea about what acupuncture does. “In my experience, if patients are motivated from the start and come of their own will, the success rate is 100 percent. Of course, there are those who give up early or are sent by their family or children. I had a case in which a 12-year-old-girl came with her father to acupuncture so that he would succeed in quitting smoking. He managed it after ten sessions.”


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