Anti-smoking units getting stubbed out

Updated: 2011-04-07 10:52

By Liu Yujie (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Smoking cessations programs at hospitals across Beijing are facing the threat of closure due to a lack of interest, health experts have warned.

Although Ministry of Health figures show the number of smokers has steadily risen to roughly 350 million since 2002, the capital's clinics have seen little change in the number seeking to quit the habit.

"People in Beijing are not active in giving up smoking," said Peng Kun, director of Beijing No 6 Hospital's cessation department. His unit treats just 10 outpatients a week, compared to others specialist departments that receive hundreds every day.

"Very few Beijingers attempt to quit smoking solely for the sake of their health," he said. "Instead, most are forced to do so due to other illnesses that may be worsened by smoking, or due to pressure from their companies or families, or because they are preparing to start a family."

Even the cessation program at China-Japan Friendship Hospital - the first and, for many, the best in Beijing - deals with no more than 80 smokers a week.

A total of 22 hospitals citywide offered services to help smokers quit in 2006, although by 2009 there were just 19, according to official data. However, research by China Daily reporters found that, in reality, many of these designated clinics no longer exist, either having been closed or merged with respiration units.

Liu Shuang, director of An Zhen Hospital's respiratory unit, said the number of people signing up for its cessation program was so low that it had to by integrating with his department to maintain a daily outpatient service. Other hospitals now run programs just two days a week.

He suggested that the problem lies with the fact smokers do not see themselves as patients and never think of visiting hospitals for treatment.

"It takes only persistence to quit smoking," said Qin Lin, a 43-year-old IT worker who has smoked for more than a decade. "Why should we take the trouble of going to a hospital that is not only expensive, but also unnecessary for someone with a determined mind?"

However, Liu argued that giving up the habit alone is not so easy. Statistics show that the average smoker can only last seven days without nicotine before his or her willpower cracks and they pick up a pack of cigarettes.

"In fact, the World Health Organization has long confirmed that tobacco addiction is a disease, and in serious situations the patients must rely on medical methods to get rid of the addiction," he said. "Compared with the expenditures of smoking, it is well worth the money."

Prices for cessation programs, which usually last up to six months, range from 650 yuan to 1,500 yuan, with treatments combining medicinal remedies and psychological counseling. Statistics provided by major hospitals with anti-smoking services in 2008 show about 95 percent of patients quit for good.

Experts suggest, however, that if cessation treatments were covered by medical insurance, many more would sign up for help.

Xiao Dan, director of the Beijing Respiratory Disease Research Institute affiliated to Chaoyang Hospital, said that, due to the country's large population of smokers, more middle-aged and elderly Chinese are affected by respiratory problems, tumors and heart disease.

He suggested that the government do more to promote anti-smoking programs nationwide and allocated more money to designated units.

China Daily

(China Daily 04/07/2011 page3)


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