Helpline for smokers is busy, but does connect

After trying all day, Metrolife did get through to national tobacco ‘quit-line’.

It is mandatory to print the tobacco helpline number prominently on cigarette and smokeless tobacco packs.

India is the fourth country in Asia — after Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore —  to have a government helpline for those looking to quit tobacco.

The National Tobacco Quitline Services (1800-11-2356) is a toll-free number manned by Nimhans, Bengaluru. It promises to help tobacco users quit by answering their queries, setting them a quit date, formulating a personalised quit plan, and following it all up with four proactive calls.

The helpline has language options: Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Hindi and English.

Though the ‘quit-line’ must work between 8 am to 8 pm, multiple calls went unanswered during the day. Metrolife finally got through at 7.20 pm on Tuesday.

While the number just doesn’t connect sometimes, at others, a recorded message says all counsellors are busy. On two occasions, the phone rang but no one picked it up.

When Metrolife finally got through, a helpful counsellor spoke in English and sought details about why the caller wanted to quit. He also sought details about how smoking was impacting the caller’s finances and mental well-being. He explained the biological reasons for the body getting addicted to tobacco.

He spent 20 minutes counselling the caller, and was in no hurry to hang up. You can ask to be transferred to the same counsellor when you make a second call.

Monday is a holiday for the service. Twenty counsellors work in shifts.

The counsellor Metrolife connected with had simple tips to help the caller stop or cut down on buying cigarettes. One tip: ‘Think about buying one cigarette at a time from different shops.’

Another piece of advice: Don’t smoke a full cigarette at one go. If you don’t feel like throwing it away, keep the stub and use it later. If the urge is strong, roll up a piece of paper or use a straw and pretend you are smoking.

The counsellor spoke about how much the caller could have saved by not smoking: “You could have gone on a foreign trip.”

He said cigarette smoking doesn’t actually help you calm down. “You can convince yourself you don’t need that cigarette to relax,” he said.

Overall, the counselling was gentle, and for the caller, it was a educative experience.

Call centre

National Tobacco Quitline Services is located at Centre for Addiction Medicine, 2nd Floor, Female Ward, Nimhans, Hombegowda Nagar, Bengaluru.

Progress

The World Health Organization awarded India, the only winner from Southeast Asia, the WHO ‘World No Tobacco Day 2018 Award’ for its efforts to reduce tobacco use in the country.

Now, the Central government has set a target of relative reduction in tobacco prevalence by 15 per cent by 2020 and 30 per cent by 2025.

Long way to go....

A worrying fact is the rise in the number of women smokers in the country. According to studies, India now has 12.1 million women smokers and only lags behind the United States in this segment.

Rural women consume tobacco in various forms: dental paste, bidis, hookah and powder.

Website for help

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has also set up a website to help Indians give up tobacco.

Available at www.nhp.gov.in/quit-tobacco, it has tabs like ‘Simple tips for better sleep’, ‘How to manage craving’, ‘Ten easy tips to get support to quit’, ‘Simple ways to feel better’ and so on.

Though the intention is admirable, the tips are simplistic and idealistic. Some might not even have a direct bearing on quitting tobacco (a tip asks you to smile at co-workers more!) while others are oft-repeated platitudes you hear everywhere. Perhaps people just need to hear it once again!

The website is in English and its reach is now limited to the English-educated population; a majority of tobacco users come from the rural areas.

The website also has a ‘mCessation Programme’ where you can register to quit tobacco for life.

Where’s it?

The quit-line number is printed on all tobacco products manufactured after September 1, 2018. It is mandatory for all tobacco products to carry the number.

Apart from this, 85 per cent of the packaging has to be covered by a health warning on all cigarettes, bidis, and tobacco products. The pictorial warnings have been in effect for almost two years.

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Helpline for smokers is busy, but does connect

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