With the launching of a national smoking quitline, the Department of Health (DOH) hopes to bring down the smoking prevalence in the country to 15 percent by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial urged the public, especially smokers, to take advantage of their newest antismoking initiative, the DOH quitline at 165-364.
“This is a dream come true for us antitobacco advocates. For so long we’ve been trying to establish a national quitline and program for smoking cessation,” she said on Monday.
Ubial made the remarks at the launching of the national smoking quitline and mobile cessation clinics aimed at helping Filipino smokers quit the habit through real-time counseling and support.
The health secretary urged Filipino smokers to “make use of their cellphones for better health,” stressing that the power to quit is literally in their hands.
Ubial pointed out that from a tobacco prevalence of 29.7 percent in 2009, this has dropped to 23.8 percent in 2015—which meant that around a million Filipinos have stopped smoking.
“We can reduce it further by nine to 10 percent, and bring it down to less than 15 percent smoking prevalence in 2022,” she said.
The quitline—which is also accessible by texting “STOPSMOKE” to 09290165364
—will be initially free in Metro Manila but with toll charges for long-distance calls.
The quitline and the mobile cessation clinics will be hosted at the fourth floor of the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) in Quezon City.
Dr. Glynna Cabrera, smoking cessation program director of the LCP, said they would initially hire 21 people to answer the calls.
LCP executive director Dr. Vincent Balanag added that the 21 counselors would be working 24/7 in two shifts.
“We are working toward making the service toll-free for the entire Philippines, but for now the service is free in the National Capital Region,” he said.
A budget of P 27 million was allocated for the program this year although this may go up next year.
Ubial even tested out the new facility herself by placing a call to 165-364 and asked about smoking cessation services for a friend who wanted to quit smoking.
She pointed out that cellphone access in the Philippines was now at 113 percent as far back as 2012, becoming a reliable and cheap communication tool even in remote areas.
For his part, Dr. Gundo Weiler of the World Health Organization said through the quitline, Filipino smokers now had an accessible way to put into action their intention to quit smoking.