World No Tobacco Day

VIC Joins Efforts to Beat Tobacco Addiction

28 May 2008

31 May 2008 marks the 20th World No Tobacco Day and following the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO) anti-smoking initiatives all around the globe are driving home an urgent message: Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death today. Every year 5.4 million people worldwide die of tobacco-related cancer or cardio-vascular illnesses. Unless action is taken now, that figure is likely to increase to more than 8 million a year by 2030.

The link between tobacco and lung cancer is conclusive. Yet in spite of growing awareness in many countries, a WHO report published earlier this year showed that governments around the world continue to collect up to 500 times more money in tobacco taxes each year than they spend on anti-tobacco efforts. And not one country has fully implemented all six internationally agreed key tobacco control measures at the highest level. The report also revealed that the smoking epidemic is shifting to the developing world where, by 2030, 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths are expected to occur.

Protecting the Young

The theme of this year's World No Tobacco Day is Tobacco-Free Youth. It aims to highlight how tobacco marketing, which targets new, young and potentially life-long tobacco users, imposes a serious threat to the world's estimated 1.8 billion young people (aged 10-24). Nicotine, the chemical compound found in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine and notoriously hard to give up, particularly if the habit is acquired young.

Meanwhile, experts say efforts to encourage adults to stop smoking must also intensify if statistics for the next two decades are to be significantly impacted. Alongside increased pressure for more stringent tobacco control measures, they say public awareness campaigns, workshops and initiatives must be available to help smokers give up the habit.

VIC Initiative

Here at the Vienna International Centre (VIC), the Medical Service observes World No Tobacco Day with an information campaign, and in connection with this the nurses are running Smoking Cessation Classes, which offer advice, encouragement and individual support for people wishing to kick the deadly habit. Says Elizabeth Ackah, one of the nurses involved in the classes: “We aim to attract people who are thinking about giving up smoking as well as those who have already made the decision. The emphasis is on providing both practical and emotional support in a relaxed, informative group setting.”

During the hour-long lunchtime classes, which are held once a week over a five week period, the specially-trained nurses carry out carbon monoxide testing. This breathing test, which shows how much carbon monoxide is present in the blood, is a powerful illustration of how smokers are damaging their bodies. At the same time, nurses provide information, lifestyle suggestions, and advice on nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum or patches — a very useful substitute to combat early-stage craving in those who have given up tobacco use. Meanwhile, class members are encouraged to form a support group so that they can call on each other for help when the going gets tough. “And, of course, the nurses are always available to offer words of advice or support, if necessary,” says Elizabeth.

Since the classes began ten years ago, the Medical Service has counselled hundreds of VIC staff and family members, with considerable success. Since 2005, for example, 65 people have taken the classes and at least 25 of them quit smoking by the end of the five weeks. One former 60-cigarette a day smoker who quit three years ago still celebrates by presenting Medical Services with a cake each year on the anniversary.

One Woman's Story

Lerzan Yazici, a UNIDO staff member, stopped smoking a year ago with the help of Medical Services' Smoking Cessation Classes. The mother of two daughters says that when she joined the classes in April 2007, she was convinced she was a hopeless case. “I'd been smoking for most of my adult life — more than 15 cigarettes a day — and I didn't really want to quit,” Lerzan recalls. “I enjoyed smoking.” But the habit was taking its toll on her health. Lerzan says she began to suffer dizziness and palpitations when she smoked. Worse, she frequently woke up during the night fighting for breath. Doctors diagnosed sleep apnea, a serious condition exacerbated by smoking.

During her first visits to the class, Lerzan listened and made copious notes. She says what she heard made sense and, gradually, she began to think she might have the strength to quit her smoking habit. Encouraged by nurses Elizabeth Ackah and Lucy Boschitsch-Bron, Lerzan set a date when she would stop smoking: 2 June 2007.

Today, one smoke-free year later, Lerzan says she feels liberated. The first thing that happened after quitting was that the sleep apnea cleared up and, for the first time in years, she began to sleep properly. Then she realized she was getting fitter — she could climb stairs without getting out of breath. Her cough, a constant companion of recent years, had disappeared. Sure, there were times when she felt tempted to light up again. But the nurses had given her tools to deal with those moments — breathing and visualization techniques — which really worked. And that, says Lerzan, provided the biggest and most unexpected benefit of giving up smoking: the sense of empowerment at beating those moments of weakness. “It gives you strength, and the feeling that you can handle challenges,” she laughs. “And that, in turn, has given me a sense of self-confidence and accomplishment. It's a feeling almost of euphoria.”

But smoking is a powerful addiction and, for some people, very difficult to overcome. “What is difficult is making the decision, the commitment, to quit,” Lerzan says. “After that, it really isn't as hard as people think, especially with the help of the wonderful team in Medical Services. I would urge all smokers to take the leap and give it a try. It really works. And it feels great!”

That's the message that will be going out to smokers around the world on 31 May. And it's a message fully endorsed by VIC Medical Services and PACT. The smoking habit can be broken. And it's never too late to try.

For more information contact Elizabeth Ackah or Lucy Boschitsch-Bron.