4,300 quit tobacco a year after calling South India helpline

Quitline counsellors could only attend to 69,000 of the 5 lakh calls

Updated - September 27, 2019 02:18 am IST

Published - September 27, 2019 12:48 am IST - Bengaluru

Since its inception on September 11, 2018, the Union government’s tobacco Quitline, for counselling in south Indian languages, has received more than 5 lakh calls. It is monitored by National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). The response came as a surprise to the team, who were able to attend to only 69,000 calls since there are only 18-20 dedicated counsellors on the line.

Of the 69,000 callers the counsellors spoke to, 19,000 registered to quit tobacco within a targeted period. From all the southern states, Karnataka saw the maximum number of callers get through to a counsellor, at 29%.

Prathima Murthy, principal investigator, Quitline, and Head of the Psychiatry Department at NIMHANS, told The Hindu that 11,000 of those who had committed to kicking the habit checked in with the helpline themselves or were followed up with by counsellors. “4,300 of these tobacco users have successfully quit to date. They comprise almost 40% of those who were followed up with,” said Dr. Murthy. Nearly 99% of all callers were males, with an average age of 27. The data suggests that young working adults are more inclined to quit tobacco.

Among the callers, 41% were smokers (cigarettes, cigars, beedis) of which 3% reported cannabis usage; 47% were addicted to smokeless tobacco products, such as gutka, and 12% reported both being addicted to smoke and smokeless forms of tobacco.

“Those who were unable to kick the habit only with the help of Quitline, were referred to the nearest Tobacco Cessation Clinic (TCC),” said Dr. Murthy.

“Penetration in rural areas is the next plan. We are working on publicising it, especially among a section of the population who cannot read. Until now the only publicity was on tobacco packs, as we could handle few calls. We have requested the MTNL not to divert calls of North India to the south cell, as we have to concentrate more on South.”

As many as 96% of the callers reported that they learned about Quitline through tobacco packets.

A Quitline counsellor, H.J Subhash said that non-chain smokers, especially teenagers, were hesitant about approaching de-addiction centres for help as they felt that they were not addicts. “Quitline helps them simply by calling, keeping them away from such anxieties,” he said.

The helpline 1800-11-2356 — started by the Union Health Ministry in April last year — is displayed on all tobacco products. Subsequently, the south Indian regional languages cell, NIMHANS Tobacco Quitline was started on September 11.

Call for help

All tobacco products today have message: ‘QUIT TODAY - CALL 1800-11-2356’. A user comfortable with Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil, is diverted to the southern cell, runs by NIMHANS in Bengaluru.

Text messaging

The Centre’s ‘mCessation’ Programme to quit tobacco is a text messaging programme for mobile phone users. A person looking to quit tobacco can give a missed call to 011-22901701 after which, they will be sent a series of messages over several months.

In a 2018 report published by the peer-reviewed online journal BMJ Innovations it was reported that the ‘mCessation’ programme in India had seen a 19% quit rate (estimated as not used any tobacco in the past 30 days).

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