A comprehensive network of smoking cessation clinics set up at hospitals nationwide will increase Chinese smokers' chances of quitting
Published: May 28, 2020 04:44 AM Updated: May 27, 2020 10:44 PM

File Photo: VCG

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the world and WHO's latest review of studies by public health experts that smokers are more likely to develop severe cases from COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, there is an urgency for smokers to quit smoking. 

At the moment, municipalities and cities across China including Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province have set up quit smoking clinics to increase smokers' chances of quitting.

In Shanghai, the city has 36 standardized quit smoking clinics at its first-, second- and third-tier hospitals to promote the development of a comprehensive network of smoking cessation and counseling services since the first clinic was set up at Zhongshan Hospital in the 1990s. After scientific evaluations, the clinics will work out tailored quit smoking programs for smokers.

According to Chen De, director of the Tobacco Control and Behavioral Intervention Department of Shanghai Health Promotion Center and vice president of the Shanghai Smoking Control Association, some smokers still aren't aware of the need to quit smoking although tobacco dependence has been included in chronic addictive diseases.

"They just regard smoking as a lifestyle or a habit, rather than a condition that needs treatment at hospitals," Chen told the Global Times on Wednesday.

According to Chen, nicotine dependence can cause a range of unbearable withdrawal symptoms, such as sleep disorders, craving, irritability, frustration or anger, anxiety and depression, after smokers stop or cut back on smoking.

"Some heavy smokers need medicines to interfere. They don't know how to deal with those symptoms during the process of quitting smoking which are hard to bear by simply relying on one's willpower," Chen said.

According to Chen, a quit smoking clinic set up at Ruijin Hospital is one of the city's most efficient smoking cessation clinics with its year-round outpatient visits reaching around 1,200. However, there are 4 million smokers in the city, among whom 400,000 planned to quit smoking in the past year.

"There is still a huge gap between the number of smoking cessation clinics and people who actually want to quit smoking," said Chen, who noted that setting up smoking cessation clinics requires both facility hardware and the expertise of doctors.

Thus, apart from the smoking cessation clinics scattered across the city, Shanghai has set up an integrated smoking cessation service network including a hotline, community service and support and smoking cessation mobile applications to provide different smokers with convenient, scientific and effective smoking cessation services.

Smokers can get instructions via the hotline 12320 and family doctors will instruct and provide follow-up services for them. Smokers with low levels of addiction can also use mobile apps to help them quit smoking.

Research by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the proportion of Chinese smokers accounted for 26.6 percent among people aged 15 and above in 2018 with male smokers accounting for 50.5 percent and females 2.1 percent.

Although the research shows a declining trend in the smoking rate in China compared with previous years' results, there exists a big gap between the nation's tobacco control target that the smoking rate among the population aged 15 or above will drop to 20 percent by 2030.

During the early stages of COVID-19 breaking out, there were several smoking-related rumors about COVID-19, including that smoking could prevent it.

However, the latest research by overseas research institutions including Baylor College of Medicine and the University of South Carolina show that tobacco smoking could increase the risk of infection of the COVID-19 virus.

As WHO's annual campaign of World No Tobacco Day on May 31 approaches, the organization warns that "COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs" and "Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off coronaviruses and other diseases."