'I used to finish 2 cigarette boxes every day': Ex-smokers in UAE share inspiring stories of quitting the addiction

For these people, recurring sickness, non-stop cough, and unexplainable chest pain served as a wake-up call, reminding them that smoking does nothing good for their bodies


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Wed 31 May 2023, 5:20 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Jun 2023, 8:29 AM

Fayez Abu Taha, a 45-year-old Jordanian expat in the UAE, smoked 20 to 25 cigarettes every day for the past 20 years. Last month, he kicked the habit cold turkey — and he's never looking back.

To Fayez, it was a victory. "I feel much better now ... My perspective towards life has changed.”

In observance of World No Tobacco Day, medical professionals worldwide are rallying behind the cause, and in the UAE, former smokers are adding their voices to urge smokers to consider quitting. This year's theme, "Grow Food, Not Tobacco," emphasises the need for governments to support farmers in cultivating sustainable crops instead of tobacco, improving food security and nutrition.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), tobacco-related deaths exceed eight million annually, with seven million directly linked to tobacco use and 1.2 million attributed to secondhand smoke. These alarming statistics highlight the urgency of addressing smoking addiction.

Fayez said he started smoking with friends in college and it later became part of his daily life. "Every hour or half an hour, during coffee or tea break, I would go out and smoke. It was my friend, especially at night."

Health issues kicked in

Two months ago, however, some chest pain and nonstop cough served as a wake-up call.

"I rushed to the doctor at Burjeel hospital. The first thing he told me was to stop smoking immediately. I was hospitalised and obviously, I was not allowed to smoke there whether inside or outside. Initially, I felt that itch to smoke but because I was not allowed, I had to stop. There was no option. Now it’s been a month and I have stopped completely.”

It was the "best decision ever", he said. “I feel much better now, I can sleep better now. Earlier, I used to fall asleep only at 2.30am or 3am. Now the moment I hit the bed I can sleep. I also sleep at a stretch without interruption and my chest feels lighter. Now I go to the gym and pay a lot of attention to my health and wellbeing."

Former smokers admit that quitting can be challenging, but with determination and the right strategies, breaking free from this harmful habit is possible.

“Try to stop smoking gradually. Reduce from 20 to 10 cigarettes, from 10 to eight cigarettes. Reduce step by step one would automatically start feeling better," they advised.


'I no longer sit near smokers'

Common triggers for smokers include stress, social situations, and specific routines.

Mohammed Mahfouz, a Pakistani national working as machine operator in a UAE-based company, used "to finish two boxes of cigarettes every day". However, a year ago, recurring sickness prompted him to re-evaluate his smoking addiction.

“I used to feel stressed sometimes due to various reasons. I started smoking 10 to15 cigarettes one year ago. But a year back, I started falling sick frequently. I used to get fever and cough, throat pain, and my eyes would start watering," he said.

The damage smoking caused to his body became apparent, leading Mohammed to make the decision to quit.

"One such time when I fell ill, I suddenly developed an aversion for cigarettes. A box of cigarettes was lying in my cupboard, and I thought I was repeatedly falling ill because of smoking and tobacco. So, I took out the box and threw it in the dustbin. We wasted so much money on treatment. I started realising the futility of my actions,” he said.

Mohammed no longer sits near smokers and urges everyone to quit, highlighting the importance of preserving one's health.

Ultimatum from daughter

Ashok Kumar's story of smoking cessation also revolves around willpower and family support. Starting as a teenager, he recently quit smoking at the age of 60, determined to truly start living.

After being admitted to the hospital for five days, Kumar’s daughter had given him an ultimatum. “My daughter literally threatened me. She said either you quit smoking when you come back to the house from the hospital, or I am leaving the house.”

The wake-up call for Kumar was when he couldn’t even celebrate his 60th birthday due to flu-like symptoms. One thing led to the other and his flu developed into chest congestion.

“I used to smoke 15 to 16 cigarettes a day. It was not only affecting my health, but I also realised in hindsight that it is unpleasant for people around you as your clothes leave a stench. My family had anyway been urging me to quit smoking. Many like me start in college as they feel inspired by movies and think it is ‘cool’ to do so. But as you grow older, you become more prudent and you learn your lives lessons, sometimes the tough way,” says Kumar. "My doctor Dr Muhammed Shafeek Kalladi, who is a specialist pulmonologist at Aster Hospital, has also greatly assisted me in my smoking cessation journey."


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