Smoking kills five million people world-wide every year. By now more people have died from smoking related illnesses than the number of people killed in the First and Second World War combined. To quit smoking is traditionally the most common New Year's resolution world-wide but only a very small percentage manages to fight the addiction and not light up by the end of February. Smokers in the Czech Republic who are trying to quit can now get a helping hand on a new Quitline if they find themselves slipping back into the habit.
"Hello. I have heard that this phone line can help me to quit smoking. I have tried to quit three times so far but I have always failed. What shall I do?" a determined woman asks a Quitline advisor.
Since the beginning of this year, trained specialists, mainly students of medicine, have been available every weekday from 12 to 8 p.m. to anyone who might need professional help or simply encouragement. Quitline has been approached already by more than 150 people. The very first call came just after the hotline was opened, says Katerina Langrova, the director of the Czech coalition against tobacco.
"The first question was how to stick with the resolution not to smoke after the first of January. It was a lady who was strongly addicted. It was clear to the adviser that the caller needed to use nicotine replacement therapy."
I personally used to enjoy a cigarette at the end of the day or in the pub with friends. Now in my second non-smoking week - and fighting the mental more than the physical addiction - I asked Katerina Langrova what advice the Quitline would give me. How can I get rid of the nagging feeling that a beer without a cigarette just isn't as tasty as it used to be with that fuming evil?
"I would recommend you change your lifestyle. Especially avoid situations that are connected to a cigarette for you. If you used to smoke in a pub, try not to go there for a few weeks or even months. It will definitely help you and when you go back after three months you will be able to go to a pub and not smoke. If you are used to smoking with your cup of coffee and you can't live without caffeine try to drink it with milk or sugar. Try to use a different cup."
The introduction of similar Quitlines in other countries has led to a significant increase in the number of people who want to quit. Here in the Czech Republic there are hopes that the Quitline will help to bring down the number of smokers by 1 to 3 percent in its first year.
The phone line is part of a project that aims to set up centres for treating tobacco addiction in the whole country. Overall figures for the number of smokers in the Czech Republic are not higher than in other countries in the region, but on the other hand the number of young teenagers and women smoking has been rising.
"Smoking became a sign of being an adult among young people. Our task is to persuade them that it is not fashionable to smoke but - that not smoking is fashionable"
One in six people in the Czech Republic dies as a result of smoking, which amounts to 18 000 every year. So if, like me, you're trying to give up the nasty habit, remember the statistics and the Quitline number - 844 600 500.
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