Free SMS program to help Arab men quit smoking begins

The program is not only aimed to use spoken Arabic, but also to utilize Arabic culture.

March 26, 2017 18:10
2 minute read.

Smoking. (photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)


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A free program has begun to help the more than 44% of Arab men who have the highest smoking rate in Israel, and as a result the shortest life expectancy, to quit.

The Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, with funding from the Israel Cancer Association and the Health Ministry, has initiated SMS Quit. Arab men are sent interactive cellphone messages in Arabic on a regular basis that encourage them to kick the habit and abstain from tobacco use, especially in times of crisis.

Faculty member Dr. Hagai Levine said just 7% of Arab women smoke, while their male counterparts are almost seven times as likely to light up cigarettes, nargileh and other products. He noted that smoking- cessation programs are included in the national basket of health services, but many smokers nevertheless try to kick the habit on their own.

Using SMS messages to help people quit smoking has proven successful abroad, doubling the chances of smokers giving up the habit – and for good. A Braun study a year ago found that 30% of participants in a Hebrew-language SMS program stopped smoking for at least three months and that smokers were pleased with the program.

This program was developed not only to include spoken Arabic but also to utilize aspects of Arab culture, with the help of Hiba Shehada, a medical and public-health student of the Hebrew University- Hadassah. After registering on the Arabic section of the cancer association’s website, participants are asked to set a target date for kicking the habit. The participants will then receive regular text messages encouraging them to quit smoking, along with tips on how to do so.

For example, the participants will receive a message titled “Desire” to help them deal with the urge to smoke that can at times seem overwhelming, which says that the impulse will only last for a few minutes.

“Think about something else, and there’s a good chance you will get over it without lighting up,” the SMS adds. If the individual still chooses to smoke, he is advised to speak to a friend who is a former smoker and get advice. Other messages are titled “Boredom” and “Nerves.”

“It’s important to tell all smokers in Arab-Israeli society – women included – that you can quit if you want to stop this addictive and dangerous habit.

We’re here to help you,” said Patan Gathes, head of the cancer association’s activities in the Arab sector.

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