KICKING the smoking habit takes months, sometimes years. Some manage to do it the first time they try, others relapse and keep trying again and again.
With the proper support and information it is not an impossible task though. Lim Ee Lin, pharmacist at Sunway Medical Centre’s SunMed Pharmacy, says that typically, it takes three months, but some people might take longer. It depends on the individual and how they cope.
According to her, everyone who stops smoking, no matter at what age, will gain some benefits. Within a few days, they will notice a difference.
Smoking affects the smell and taste senses, so the first few things they will experience is that everything will smell and taste better. As the carbon monoxide wears off from their body, they will see a difference in their complexion and their heart rate and blood pressure revert to the normal range. In the following months, they will also see a difference in other things. For example, if they were coughing a lot previously, there will be a reduction.
Cheen Ai Leen, manager (retail and pharmacy store) at Sunway Medical Centre, adds that it is never too late to give up smoking. What the senior citizens will face when giving up smoking is similar to what younger individuals feel. For example, when they stop smoking, they will experience cravings and have withdrawal symptoms. This will require followups with the anti-smoking programme they are seeking help from, as well as continuous support from family and friends.
According to Lim, senior citizens who have been smoking for many years would be addicted to it. One of the challenges they have is that they might not know where to go when they want to stop smoking. They may not know where to go for advice or what type of services are available. Some of them may have family members or close friends who are smokers as well, making it even harder for them to quit.
Sunway Medical Centre’s SunMed Pharmacy offers a stop smoking programme. It offers a private consultation with one of the trained and certified smoking cessation providers who will advise them on how they can stop.
While some may prefer a private one-on-one session, others might prefer a group setting. According to Cheen, Sunway Medical is able to provide for both options. In group sessions, the senior citizens will be able to share experiences and ideas on how to overcome their cravings or any methods that are helpful.
“Then, we will have followup sessions with them to make sure that we provide the advice and support that they need. If they need medication, we can suggest which ones might be suitable for them,” says Lim.
Her colleague Madeline Khor adds that there are even followups over the phone, just to ensure the individual is okay and to find out how he or she is coping with the withdrawal symptoms.
Cheen shares that the challenges faced by younger and older smokers are the same. “The key with older generation smokers is their will to stop and their motivation may be different to that of a younger person. Most older people want to spend more time with their grandchildren and they want to be a role model and not be seen as a smoker by the younger family members.
“Most of them want to enjoy the rest of their life. They don’t want to be burdened with diseases. A lot of smokers experience a very bad cough and they smell very bad. They don’t want that to be passed on to the younger generation. We do see that the motivation level for older people is higher when they consider their family and commitments. Especially if they are ridden with a chronic cough, asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), that further motivates them to quit,” she says.
She believes that motivation and will power are the key elements to quitting and to prevent a relapse.
According to Cheen, when an elderly patient comes by the pharmacy and expresses interest in quitting smoking, the pharmacist would take their carbon monoxide level and blood pressure reading. “We will find out if there are any other conditions that they are experiencing, such as lung disease. If we think we can handle their smoking cessation process, then we will proceed. If there is something worrying that needs to be followed up on by a doctor, then we will refer them to a doctor.
“For our programme, we offer both nicotine replacement products (they need to pay for this) as well as behaviour therapy (done via counselling and offered as a free service). We would assess the senior citizen during their initial visit to see which is the most appropriate method to initiate them on. It very much depends on their smoking pattern and their lifestyle and habits,” explains Cheen.
For somebody who is a very light smoker, and only smokes socially, it might be an option to hold something else besides a cigarette when they go out with friends. Do they really require medication? There are products that are very lightweight like the nicotine gum that they can use when required. So, instead of taking out a cigarette to smoke, they would put gum in their mouth. That tides them over for the period of time when they are with their friends.
For heavier smokers, the nicotine patch might be an option, as it lasts longer and there is a sustained release of nicotine to their body. They might also be recommended to chew the nicotine gum to help overcome their cravings.
For those who have previously tried the gum and patches and were not successful, then they might consider oral therapy as well.
“It is very individualistic, which is why we have pharmacists who are specifically trained to provide this service so that they look at the inidividual as a whole, look at their surroundings and environment, and habits, before deciding on the best course of action. We always give the patient the choice. They decide what they want to do.
“The most important thing we want seniors to know is that we are here to help if they ever need somebody to speak to or if they have concerns. If they need some advice on how to overcome certain cravings, we are here. We’re not just selling them the products; we are here to support,” says Cheen.
One of the things that smokers worry about when quitting is that they will gain weight as they regain their sense of taste and smell.
“The key is that with support we direct them to the right eating habits. They have to ensure that they are eating a well-balanced diet and go for healthier options, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Regular exercise is also very important. It doesn’t have to be very physical, just a walk or gardening. Things like that will keep them active and healthy.
“If you don’t keep motivating them by directing them to the right things, they might just grab the nearest candy bar. I think the support needs to be there. That’s why we want to encourage the family to get involved.
“If the family is aware that they will be experiencing better taste, then they could start to look into the diet as well,” says Cheen.
She believes that quitting should not be done alone. For somebody to be successful, the support of family and friends is very important. In fact, partners and family members can join them for the counselling sessions as this will ensure the family is clued in and know how to offer support.
“The key message that we want smokers to know is that they should never stop trying, because who knows, they might be successful this time,” says Cheen.
The stop smoking programme at Sunway Medical Centre’s SunMed Pharmacy began about a year ago. While the consultation is free, the quit smoking products need to be bought.