World No Tobacco Day: Ways to use this lockdown as a catalyst to quit smoking

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BY PUJA GUPTA
New Delhi, May 31 (IANS) Tobacco kills more than 1 million people each year in India, according to the World Health Organisation. While no organ is immune to the destructive effects of cigarette smoke, it has one of the worst impacts on lungs.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk of respiratory problems for vulnerable populations has increased significantly, leaving smokers more exposed to negative health outcomes. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’s recent Covid-19 State of Smoking Poll surveyed tobacco and nicotine users in countries that quickly imposed strong policies or guidance urging residents to remain at home. The poll evaluated the mental and physical toll of social distancing on smokers globally, many of whom have increased their tobacco intake as a way to cope with pandemic stress.
The survey found that 48 percent of combustible tobacco smokers in India believe that smoking increases the risk of either contracting COVID-19 or becoming seriously ill from it. It also revealed significant concerns about the safety of families, job security, and economic opportunity. These mental and physical stresses are particularly harmful for smokers, who often use tobacco to relieve anxiety.
On the other hand, it is possible that the global crisis will awaken a new commitment to healthy living among those who are motivated to change. 66 percent of Indian smokers surveyed reported that they had considered quitting for health concerns amid the COVID-19 crisis, and 63 percent responded they had actually made a quit attempt. Yet, there still exist many smokers who intend to quit but are uncertain about the best way to do so.
The global observance of World No Tobacco Day on May 31 presents an opportunity to raise awareness around smoking risks, and to work with smokers to find effective strategies for quitting.
Dr. Sree T. Sucharitha, MD Fellow in HIV Medicine and Professor in a private medical college in Chennai, and Medical Director of Association for Harm Reduction Education and Research (AHRER), outlines four practices smokers should adopt during COVID-19 to manage their stress and anxiety in a healthy way.

Fitness and Exercise

We all know that exercise is important in our daily lives, but under the current circumstances, this habit may require extra motivation, as activity is often restricted to the home. During the COVID-19 crisis, tobacco and nicotine users in India have proven more likely than those in other countries to increase their use of healthy coping mechanisms (physical exercise, 64 percent; breathing exercises, 58 percent; meditation, 58 percent; yoga, 55 percent), as per The Foundation’s poll. Practicing mindfulness exercises such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises with guided instructions from experts as in digital apps and videos will help in building core emotional resilience and also may strengthen immunity.

Healthy Diet

A healthy balanced diet, which gives the body the essential vitamins and dietary fibers for better metabolism, is crucial during the pandemic. Proper food habits must be maintained by following a diet plan that includes not only recommended consumption of calories, but also: fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products. A healthy diet will ensure that our tissues and cells get proper nutrition to function smoothly. Without proper nutrition, the body is more prone to infectious diseases due to poor immunity.

Take a break, get sleep, and rest

We want to control every aspect of our lives and stay updated on the latest developments, but in situations like these we must learn to accept some lack of control. People should take scheduled breaks and mentally disconnect from the overwhelming news and social media updates about the pandemic. Activities such as playing board games, solving puzzles, or playing with children and pet animals will help you to revitalize for the days ahead. Adequate rest and sleep for 6-8 hours will help minimize the effect of the pandemic on mental wellness.

Connect with people

Humans are indeed social animals. During trying times of uncertainty and fear, it is therefore very important to stay connected with others. Isolation and fear can negatively affect mental health, which can lead to severe anxiety or depression. As per the Foundation’s poll, close to 36 percent of Indian tobacco and nicotine users stated that social distancing has had an adverse effect on their mental health. While a majority of respondents normally turned to tobacco or nicotine products to manage stress (58 percent), 46 percent of respondents have decreased their use during social distancing. Mental health experts have suggested that reducing stress about the lockdowns, spending quality time with family, and indulging in creative activities can help you overcome feelings of depression and vulnerability during this crisis.

(Puja Gupta can be contacted at puja.g@ians.in)

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