The Indian government has a reputation for being very in-your-face with its anti-smoking advertisements. With the pop-ups that appear at the bottom of the screen in every movie or the tragic story of Mukesh, they’ve made it very clear that their aim is to eradicate smoking. Most of the smokers I know are unaffected by these shock-value advertisements, it’s almost as if they’ve become desensitised to the disturbing image of throat cancer on the cigarette box, however, the government hasn't let this waver them from their end goal. In 2016 the government had introduced a national tobacco cessation quitline, a more high-involvement approach than the previous ones. Subsequently, on September 1, 2018, the Indian government made it mandatory for the quit smoking helpline to appear on cigarette boxes. Whilst you may have not have noticed it due to the common habit of ignoring the packaging, it appears just below the graphic picture of the throat cancer.
The quitline is a toll-free helpline offering counselling for smokers who want to quit, provided free of cost by the government. A worthy attempt and more hands-on move to provide support to smokers who want to quit.
Quit smoking helpline counsellors suggest home remedies as the first step
When you call the quit smoking helpline, you may have to stay on hold for a few minutes but they connect to you to a counsellor fairly quickly. The counsellor introduces him/herself before formally asking how he may help. “First, we take information about the client, about their habit, how many years they’ve been smoking for and other smoking habits,” one counsellor explains. Then comes the habit tracker part, he says, “We ask them how many cigarettes they smoke, at what time and what are their triggers for smoking.” This is to gauge the level of addiction and avoid those possible triggers by reforming habits. Once they’ve obtained enough information, the counsellors go on to provide home remedies.
Depending on the information provided by the called the counsellor will suggest following a regiment of home remedies that one should make part of their daily routine. “We suggest they drink lemon water in the morning as hydration is important to tackle withdrawal symptoms of nicotine addiction. We also explain to them how it will detoxify their body of chemicals.” He says.
There are a lot of blogs reaffirming his advice, however, there’s lack of academic research on the effect of lemon water on detoxifying a smoker’s lungs. While on the subject of chemicals, the counsellor will educate you on how the chemicals in the smoke deteriorate the smoker’s lungs. He might throw facts at you such as ‘there are 7000 chemicals in tobacco smoke’ and ‘nicotine is the addictive substance’, to explain to you why it is hard to quit smoking.
Quit smoking helpline counsellors help you change your smoking habits
Another home remedy that the counsellors prescribe is chewing gum. Mayo Clinic affirms that giving your mouth something to chew is an effective distraction against nicotine cravings. The quitline counsellors usually recommend normal gum or nicotine flavoured gum if the smoker can afford it. He says that most smokers that call the helpline blame stress for picking up a cigarette. “It relaxes them. A lot of them work in high-pressure jobs and experience constant stress so smoking helps calm them down.” He tells us.
The Quit smoking helpline, however, is not equipped to deal with the psychological aspect of smoking habits.“Quitline counsellors are not trained to deal with mental health issues. So if the caller discloses that they are suffering for psychological issues, we usually refer them to a mental health helpline. That is what the protocol requires of us.” “We are only trained to provide them with tools and support to quit smoking, nothing more than that.”He continues.
The usual protocol is for the counsellors to focus more on practical solutions and systematically reduce the number of cigarettes the clients are smoking. He says, “If they are smoking 10 cigarettes a day, I tell them to reduce one a day, or a week. So that they gradually go from 10 to 0 cigarettes a day. But it has to be a slow and gradual process.” Many people associate tea with smoking, Indians love the famous chai-sutta combination. For them, he advises, “I suggest they avoid tea and drink another beverage. It is tough but I tell them to drink more water for hydration.” This is supposed to eliminate the trigger for the urge to smoke.
Follow-ups are an important part of a Quitline
But is one call enough for people to quit smoking? “No, we have to take a follow-up sometimes up to a year to see how they are progressing. We make sure to collect their contact information and other smoking habit information as a record.” He explains.
You would be glad to know that the helpline consists of trained professionals, not samaritans that volunteer to help. “Much like myself, all the counsellors hold a Masters in Counselling. We are sufficiently trained to handle these cases,” he says. He ends with a heartfelt note saying, “Also, the reason I work here is that I feel good when I help clients, so that motivates me to keep supporting smokers’ journey to quit,”
A credible option if you’re trying to quit
It was a pleasant surprise to find out that we have trained professionals on the other side of the call, waiting to help smokers quit smoking. Dr Raj Kumar, officer-in-charge of the Quitline talks about its success, “The cessation rate is as good as achieved through face-to-face counselling. This programme has the additional benefit of reaching more people because it does not involve physical travel and can be done at your convenience.”
This is a resource available for everyone and it can be an option for you if you’re looking for a professional cessation program.
The quitline number: 1800-11-2356