By IM. Abdi Halim M. Musa
Gathering all the will power they have Muslim smokers who fast during Ramadan are refraining themselves from food, drinks and smoking during the daytime to fulfill their religious obligation of fasting during this month.
Owing to nicotine dependency, some smokers may experience withdrawal symptoms, like irritability, anger, restlessness, impatience, insomnia and difficulty concentrating. Due to the craving of nicotine, most smokers reach for their cigarettes after breaking of fast, some may even do so within a few minutes after consuming food or drinks.
Before the "addicted" smoker can quit, he must appreciate what addiction is all about and how he can be weaned off smoking. Ramadan provides an excellent opportunity to change one's mindset and environment to quit smoking.
Understanding what tobacco dependence is all about can help the smoker change his habits. This is especially so because addictive behavior has a direct influence on the bodily chemicals that affect emotions and behavior.
Often, it is the emotional aspects that cause the smoking behavior to continue. And thus the multitude of excuses which smokers offer such as it gives "a surge of energy", or "acts to reduce tension" or even "gives a feeling of security".
What it actually amounts to is that smoking maintains a certain level of nicotine in the smoker's blood, especially in the brain.
This is, in fact, the key to understanding addiction as a result of nicotine inhaled from the cigarette. Under the influence of a high level of nicotine, all the above-mentioned excuses seem real. The smoker is emotionally satisfied by his smoking behavior.
However, after puffing on a stick of cigarette, the nicotine level in the smoker's blood begins to decrease gradually. Over just about one hour, the level becomes almost negligible, seemingly resulting in a "loss" in energy, "increased" tension and "insecure" feelings. And the urge to smoke begins.
At this point, it is critical for the "addicted" smoker to find new strategies to distract himself from the urge to smoke. Try any one or all of these suggestions:
Before the urge to smoke strikes (about 60 minutes from the last puff), start doing activities that make smoking physically difficult to perform. Examples include washing the car, going for walk, jogging, or taking a long shower. Almost any kind of physical exercise may help. Your smoking behavior may be ingrained and automatic. Anticipate this behavior and stick to your plan to quit.
Check your watch (preferably one with the second hand) whenever the urge acts up. Fight it over the next one minute by keeping your eyes on the movement of the second hand. After one minute, your urge will certainly subside. Then continue for another minute. You will feel even better. Repeat for another minute if necessary.
Before the five minutes are over, the urge will pass. Most urges are short. Once you understand and experience this, you will be better able to cope and resist the urge.
Because you are addicted, quitting smoking can prove quite challenging. The physical symptoms of withdrawal from smoking (like being irritable and edgy) may last between three to 10 days, with the intensity decreasing by the day. But the psychological aspect may last longer, weeks and even months. Over time, however, the urge will fade.
Relapses can occur if you are not careful, particularly when you subject yourself to the environment that habitually make you "light up". Be aware of this and the circumstances that will make you do so, such as after a meal or when getting in the car. Keep the cigarettes away.
Most relapses occur within four weeks after a person stops smoking. The chief reason is most smokers are not prepared to make changes. The month of Ramadan should help Muslim smokers who want to give up. Fasting forces a smoker to change his mindset, his environment and his habit. Most routines are broken for a good part of the day over the next four weeks.
So, try to acquire new non-smoking behavior during the Ramadan. Unlearn smoking. Take it a day at a time. If you succeed on the first day, you are likely to succeed again the next day. Before your know it, you are already a non-smoker.
The most vulnerable time, of course, is during meals, especially the breaking of fast.
Consider some of these Ramadan tips:
1. Break fast away from the smoking crowd. Stay home if you have to.
2. Avoid the drinks or foods that are normally associated with your smoking habit. During the fasting month, a variety of drinks and foods can act as alternatives.
3. Leave the table immediately after breaking fast if you intend to end it with a cigarette. Take a walk instead of lighting up. If you break fast at home, go to the mosque for prayers.
4. Look for new distractions wherever possible.
In short, do whatever it takes to disassociate from the smoking routines.
Some other general tips to help quit smoking:
1. Don't smoke any number or any kind of cigarette. Smoking even a few cigarettes a day can hurt your health. If you try to smoke fewer cigarettes, but do not stop completely, soon you'll be smoking the same amount again.
Smoking "low-tar, low-nicotine" cigarettes usually does little good, either. Because nicotine is so addictive, if you switch to lower-nicotine brands you'll likely just puff harder, longer, and more often on each cigarette. The only safe choice is to quit completely.
2. Write down why you want to quit. Do you want
i. to feel in control of life?
ii. to have better health?
iii. to set a good example for your children?
iv. to protect your family from breathing other people's smoke?
Your strength of desire to quit smoking is very important in determining the success you will have in quitting. Smokers who live after a heart attack are the most likely to quit for good, because they're very motivated. Find a reason for quitting before you have no choice.
3. Know that it will take effort to quit smoking. Nicotine is habit forming. Half of the battle in quitting is knowing you need to quit. This knowledge will help you be more able to deal with the symptoms of withdrawal that can occur, such as bad moods and really wanting to smoke. There are many ways smokers quit, including using nicotine replacement products (gum and patches), but there is no easy way. Nearly all smokers have some feelings of nicotine withdrawal when they try to quit. Give yourself a month to get over these feelings. Take quitting one day at a time, even one minute at a time-whatever you need to succeed.
4. Half of all adult smokers have quit, so you can too. That's the good news. There are millions of people alive today who have learned to face life without a cigarette. For staying healthy, quitting smoking is the best step you can take.
May you have many spiritually fulfilling smoke-free days of fasting during Ramadan.
IM. Abdi Halim M. Musa
E-mail: [email protected]