Becoming a father helped him to become an ex-smoker
A newborn in the family inspired Mr Muchtar Abdul Karim to kick an old habit – and he has stayed smoke-free ever since.
A newborn in the family was the reason Muchtar Abdul Karim was able to kick an old habit – and he has stayed smoke-free ever since.
Mr Muchtar Abdul Karim started smoking at the age of 14, but tobacco had been a part of his life even before that. His grandfather who lived with him was a smoker, and when his uncles – who were also smokers – visited, they would bring his grandfather cigarettes.
“Cigarettes were readily accessible to me,” he recalled. “I didn’t even have to purchase them myself.”
When he was 29, his wife became pregnant with their first child, a girl. Knowing that they would soon have a child – and that his wife had asthma – hardened Mr Muchtar’s resolve to quit.
“I would have had a guilty conscience had my wife or child’s health in pregnancy was affected due to my smoking habit,” he says. “That gave me the motivation and drive to quit smoking.”
While Mr Muchtar had tried quitting four or five times earlier, the impending birth of their baby helped to make this time a success. Now 43, he has been smoke-free ever since, and his daughter is now 14. Married for 16 years, he also has two boys aged nine and eight years old.
BUILDING AN ‘I QUIT’ SUPPORT SYSTEM
While Mr Muchtar’s children have never seen him smoke, his wife was aware of his smoking when they got married. While he tried not to smoke in front of her due to her asthma, he still struggled to break his nicotine addiction. He quit when he fell ill or had chest pains, but would start smoking again when he recovered.
Mr Muchtar’s nicotine dependency is typical of most smokers. According to Guardian pharmacist Marie Chen, the nicotine from a smoker’s first puff takes only seven seconds to reach the brain, where it binds to nicotine receptors and releases a feel-good chemical, dopamine.
“This gives the smoker a ‘hit’ of pleasurable sensations,” explained Ms Chen. “When the nicotine wears off, the body is left craving for the same feeling.”
Mr Muchtar’s wife supported his efforts to quit by replacing his post-meal cigarette craving with dessert. After eating, the couple would indulge in his favourite ice cream flavour – sticky chewy chocolate. If it was unavailable, they would search for a similar flavour to distract him.
Such support from loved ones is an important, if sometimes overlooked, factor for smokers looking to quite the habit. Said Ms Chen: “It is also important for smokers to address other aspects of their smoking habit, such as psychological, social or habitual factors, to boost the chances of quitting successfully. For example, if certain social situations or emotions trigger you to reach for a cigarette, identifying and avoiding these triggers can play a big part in quitting successfully.”
Since quitting smoking, Mr Muchtar has improved his stamina. He is now able to last an entire game of football, compared to before. While he acknowledges that the stresses of life – such as from raising children – can be a trigger for nicotine cravings, his children are still his most powerful motivation for not going back to cigarettes. It also helps that he is a quit smoking consultant with the Health Promotion Board.
“I must admit that my job has helped me to be smoke free until today,” he said. “It also allows me to help other smokers quit the habit and to be a role model to my family.”
HELPING OTHERS FIND THE DRIVE TO QUIT
For smokers who struggle with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, he recommends quit aids like nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). This gives the body a small, controlled dose of nicotine, without the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes.
Said Ms Chen: “This helps to reduce the urge to smoke by satisfying the body's nicotine cravings and lessen the withdrawal symptoms from quitting.”
While Mr Muchtar himself did not use NRT while quitting, he found it comforting to know that it was available at pharmacies if needed.
Some smokers have benefited from NRT. Said Ms Chen, “Studies have shown that using NRT increases quit rates by 50 to 60 per cent. In fact, HPB recommends that NRT should be offered to all tobacco users who are trying to quit, unless there are contraindications.”
“For best chances of success, you should start using NRT on your quit day, at the time you would usually smoke your first cigarette. A regular schedule mimicking the smoker’s usual smoke routine may be most helpful to curb cravings before they become too strong or uncontrollable,” she added.
Smokers can choose from nicotine patches, which provide a long-acting effect with a steady dose of nicotine absorbed through the skin, or nicotine gum and lozenges that are faster-acting and able to curb short, strong cravings throughout the day.
“These NRT formulations can even be used in combination to improve quit rates,” said Ms Chen. “Depending on your level of dependence, cigarettes per day, habits and lifestyles, you can choose the right therapy for your own quit journey.”
Mr Muchtar recalled a participant in a smoking cessation programme he conducted who did not like nicotine gum, but then switched to nicotine patches and was able to quit smoking.
Besides using quit aids, Mr Muchtar recommended that smokers take part in programmes like I Quit and remain mindful of smoking’s impact on their loved ones, even if they do not smoke near them.
He pointed out: “Even if smokers do not smoke indoors, people around them are still exposed to third-hand smoke once they return home. Quitting does not just benefit the smoker – it benefits their families and friends. If you smoke, find your reason to quit smoking now. If you wait for it to come to you, it may be too late for your health, or the health of your loved ones.”
Have you successfully quit smoking? Share your stories on social media using the #KicktoQuit hashtag.
Keen to find out more about nicotine replacement therapy? Take the first step to quitting by speaking to a pharmacist at Guardian, Watsons or Unity to find out more about nicotine replacement therapies, which are available at pharmacies. You can also sign up for a personalised quit journey – including face-to-face counselling at participating retail pharmacies – via the I QUIT programme here.