DOH open 'quitlines' to help Filipinos quit smoking

  • June 20, 2017

MANILA, June 20 -- The Department of Health (DOH), in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), today launched phone and mobile-centered support services to help Filipino smokers quit tobacco.

Harnessing the power and potentials of communication technologies, the DOH now offers Filipinos who want to kick their smoking habits real-time counseling and support through a quitline.

Quitline is a hotline –165364 - that smokers can call. For the mobile-based cessation, simply text 'STOPSMOKE' to (29290)165364 – and text messaging will begin support and guidance to quit smoking, instead of actual operators and voice. Services will be available and accessible via SMART/Sun Cellular and Globe.

“We are all pleased to share with the public new services that will help them initiate or continue quitting the use of tobacco products,” Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial said. “The ubiquitous availability and reach of telecommunication devices have already enabled numerous possibilities. From effectively bridging the communication gap between people, these devices are now also seen as valuable tools in improving health care delivery systems to address the burden of tobacco use,” she added.

Based on the country’s 2015 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), seven in 10 of Filipino smokers would like to quit tobacco. But only 4% of those who smoked in the past 12 months reported success in fully kicking the deadly habit.

"The Philippines is once again at the forefront of tobacco control innovation as the first country to launch a mobile tobacco cessation initiative in the Western Pacific Region," WHO Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Gundo Weiler said. "With the Quitlines, Filipino smokers now have on their hands an accessible way to put into action their intention to quit smoking. The World Health Organization is proud to support this initiative together with the Department of Health and the International Telecommunications Union." he added.

Non-communicable diseases-NCDs (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, respiratory diseases) are threat to the Western Pacific Region, to which the Philippines belongs. In 2012 alone, approximately 11 million deaths in the region were due to NCDs, undermining economic development.

There are now 1 million less smokers in the Philippines (GATS, 2015), and there is real demand for smoking cessation services as tobacco control programs are strengthened: graphic health warnings are prompting smokers to quit; significant number of local governments are enforcing better smoke-free ordinances and more recently, the President has just signed EO 26 banning smoking in public places nationwide.

The Philippines was the logical pilot for the WHO-ITU partnership, ‘Be He@lthy, Be Mobile’ (BHBM) because of the high penetration of mobile telephone in the country.

“Cellphone penetration rate in the Philippines was 113% as far back as 2012. Mobile phones provide a reliable and cheap tool to access even the remotest of populations. The Philippines is a highly digitized society with a rapidly growing mobile phone penetration, and it made sense to roll out the mobile cessation here," Secretary Ubial emphasized.

The mobile cessation component of DOH’s real-time support services was developed under the the BHBM Initiative. BHBM is a larger movement that looks to exploit to incorporate mobile technology – in particular text messaging and apps – to help combat non-communicable diseases or NCDs. So far nine countries have joined the initiative: Costa Rica, Norway, Philippines, Senegal, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Zambia, India and Egypt.

World Health Organization’s (WHO) document on Policy Recommendations for Smoking Cessation and Treatment of Tobacco Dependence says it is difficult to reduce the tobacco-related deaths over the next 30-50 years unless adult smokers are actively encouraged to quit.

Both Quitline technologies implement a range of techniques in their communication and messages, including motivation, advice and guidance, and counseling, over telephone and mobile platforms. (DOH)

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