Letters to the Editor
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"Stop Smoking Now"
This month, we have articles to remind us about the anti-smoking campaign in Singapore. Some of us treat this campaign with the same level of enthusiasm (or perhaps indifference) as with other campaigns in Singapore. As a medical doctor, this cannot be so. We must have a strong commitment to support and help make this particular campaign a success. An Article from National Health Education Department, Ministry of Health, tells us why this must be so and how we as busy practitioners can play our part.
How can we be directly involved in the anti-smoking campaign? I asked this question to a colleague recently. I had expected a simple answer. For example, we could ask our patients about their smoking habits during this period of anti-smoking campaign. We could again tell them the health risks that smoking brings to his/her body. We could tell them in no uncertain terms to make a firm decision to stop smoking.
It is obviously not so simple. In fact, as any doctor knows, this advice is not easy to dispense. My colleague friend said she rarely tells her patient to stop smoking. The only time we actually ask about smoking, if at all, is in our first consultation. We often ask about smoking at the end of our medical history as a routine question. Our patients know it is a routine question and often give a nonspecific answer. We usually do not probe further. We assume our patients know about the ill effects of their smoking habits. We seldom, almost never, tell them to stop smoking.
What has become of the simple "stop smoking" advice? I think two factors in recent times have greatly hindered us from giving simple "stop smoking" advice. Time and competition. First, the average 5 minutes we spend with each of our patients limit the amount of extra time we have in health education and in communicating general medical advice. Unfortunately, it is often less time-consuming to prescribe medicine than to start a discussion on the health consequences of prolonged smoking.
Intense competition for the same pool of patients may have also eroded our ability to tell our patients unpopular medical advice. We know our patients are very defensive when it comes to bad news and unhealthy habits that they feel they cannot change. They do not want to hear "stop smoking" advice. At the same time, we do not want to be seen to be "preaching" to them.
I believe the medical profession plays a pivotal role in ensuring the success of the anti-smoking campaign. Make it our habit to tell our patients to "stop smoking" today.
DR WONG TIEN YIN