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Time To Quit? For Smokers, Ramadan Is An Ordeal - And Opportunity

During the month-long Ramadan fast, Muslims have to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to dusk. A look in Morocco, when an extra burden for those who can't indulge in their nicotine habit. But there may be a silver lining.

Article illustrative image Partner logo Puffing away in the medina (USAFE public affairs)

RABAT - Mustapha started smoking when he was 11. He smokes about 30 cigarettes a day. It is a habit that makes it impossible for him to fast regularly during the month of Ramadan

“I fast, but sometimes I just can’t," says *Mustapha. "I miss the nicotine or the morning coffee too much. When I’m fasting, since I can’t smoke, I try to sleep all day until the fast-breaking hour.”

He isn’t alone. Many smokers have enormous difficulties during Ramadan. Most of them abstain from smoking to follow religious obligations because they aren’t in Mustapha’s situation. Less addicted to nicotine, they don’t feel the negative effects of fasting as strongly.

Omar*, for instance, has been a smoker for eight years. “To me it’s like any other day, as though it wasn’t Ramadan. I don’t feel any withdrawal symptoms because after a while, you get used to it.”

Some smokers storm drugstores and tobacconists after the fast to catch up on their smoking. Mustapha isn’t one of them. “No, I’m not in that kind of logic. I don’t smoke a lot at night. You know, I don’t think it’s mathematics. You can’t smoke the same number of cigarettes you usually do after breaking fast. It isn’t like sleep that you can catch up on.”

For Omar, it is a question of taste. “Personally, it’s not about catching up. I smoke if I feel the need to, that’s all,” he says.

Despite their addiction to nicotine, the two smokers would like to quit for good. It is a hard but not impossible challenge. “Cigarettes are obviously toxic and costly,” says Mustapha.

Omar agrees. “Breaking the habit is a question of willpower. If you want to, you can. Cigarettes take too high a toll on the body and the wallet.”

The holy month of Ramadan can be a positive gateway for smokers who want to break the habit. But does it work? “Maybe for some, but I think quitting depends on the smoker’s will. Humans are naturally resistant to change. When the change is forced, like quitting cigarettes because of a religious obligation, I don’t think the human brain favorably processes this request. And during Ramadan, stimulants like caffeine or coffee are more attractive. In fact, hookah (waterpipes) cafes are more full during Ramadan than the rest of the year,” says Mustapha.

*Real names were modified for this article.

3 Questions for: Mohamed Ali Anwar, lung specialist

Does addiction to nicotine decrease during Ramadan?
The addiction to nicotine during Ramadan doesn’t change. Except that as Muslim, the smoker is even more constrained by a religious obligation.

So is it a good time to stop smoking?
It’s an ideal time to start withdrawing. In fact I often tell my patients they should choose events like the birth of their children or Ramadan to stop smoking.

What are the consequences of nicotine?
Nicotine is part of the 4,000 ingredients present in a cigarette. It makes the smoker addicted. There are several therapeutic methods, but willpower is the best remedy. 

Read the original article from in French.

Photo -  USAFE public affairs

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