Dr Mahendra, a 36-year-old general practioner, took to the habit of chewing tobacco or gutka when he was 17 years old. After numerous failed attempts to quit post-marriage, he came across information about a tobacco quitline last June. The counsellor who spoke to him was friendly and encouraged him to reach out to a Tobacco Intervention Initiative (TII) Centre to get additional help as his addiction (10-12 packets a day) was on the higher side. “The doctor wasn’t formal or strict, yet firm and approachable.
Through counselling, I realised that I had overlooked my expenses on gutka and ignored the dangers of tobacco usage,” Mahendra says. He then fixed a quit date and I started reducing packets of gutka towards that date. Through the cravings and anxiety, the doctor supported Mahendra and after five months the addiction was gone and today Mahendra leads a tobacco-free life.
Dr Digesh Patel, TII Centre Kandivali says that in India gutka is the bigger problem as compared to smoking. At the centre, he uses an audio-visual presentation to explain the negative effects of tobacco to patients who are weary and let’s them decide if they want to quit. Most patients recognise the need to quit and take the required treatment.
“As part of the treatment, we take the patients addiction history and then do behavioral counselling, explaining the positive effects of kicking the addiction. If required, we use Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) in the form of chewing gum that subtitutes tobacco nicotine but is not addictive,” Digesh explains. Treatment also involves other techniques to distract a patient who is having cravings like taking a walk, deep breathing and yoga. Some psychiatric medications are given in extreme addiction cases, he adds.
The pan-India quitline and centres were set up at the end of May 2012, and telephone counsellors are also trained experts who can provide support and advice. Counselling is available in English, Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. Even friends and family members of tobacco users can call the quitline and seek support for their closed ones. Each TII centre has dentists trained by the Indian Dental Association in counseling and tobacco intervention. To get in touch with TII centre doctors, one must go through the quitline. The 87 centres in Maharasthra have counselled 1,274 in the last year of which 641 patients went to 36 centres in Mumbai. Across India there are 645 TII established centres.
Another patient is 40-year-old Mukesh, an auto engineer who’s been chewing gutka since he was 18. His wife called the quitline and slowly motivated him to see the doctor about his addiction. “I avoided meeting him on the first two occasions as I felt uncomfortable, but on the third occasion I gave in and decided to meet him finally. After counselling and supporting me, he asked me to set a quit date. After the quit date, I have successfully reduced the number of packets of gutka I consume in a day from a whopping 20 packets a day to just 5 to 6 packets. With 70 per cent reduction, I will slowly overcome my gutka addiction,” Mukesh says.
Toll-free quitline number: 1800227787, operates daily from 9am to 9pm