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Smoking: The late regrets

It’s been three months since the last time Dinh Van Tinh, 52, has had that pleasure of puffing on a traditional Vietnamese pipe that has become as familiar as an everyday meal for him over the last quarter of a century.

VietNamNet Bridge – It’s been three months since the last time Dinh Van Tinh, 52, has had that pleasure of puffing on a traditional Vietnamese pipe that has become as familiar as an everyday meal for him over the last quarter of a century.


Dinh Van Tinh, 52, from Ha Nam Province, a lung cancer patient, is being examined by doctors at Bach Mai Hospital’s Nuclear Medicine and Oncology Centre after receiving chemotherapy. 

Now he suffers from body-shaking coughs and ominous wheezing from the depths of his battered lungs.

At the Department of Nuclear Medicine and Oncology Centre at Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, Tinh struggled to get his words out.

After surgery to remove a tumour from his lungs, he went through painful chemotherapy sessions, and it’s difficult to believe the haggard-looking man is only in his early 50s:

Tinh said he is scared of smoking now, but he’s still addicted.

Tinh’s wife has been taking care of him for months ever since he was admitted to hospital in mid-March.

She is reluctant to allow anyone to meet Tinh, given his almost bed-ridden condition. In recent days, he has hardly been able to hold anything down.

But Tinh is still determined to get his message out to people as a wake-up call for those still smoking

Tinh said he used to work as a carpenter near his home in Kim Bang District in the northern province of Ha Nam.

“Everyday, I’d leave packs of cigarettes and tobacco on the veranda for the workers. It gradually became a habit, a bad one,” he said.

He regularly smoked 10-15 cigarettes a day, but then at around the age of 40, he switched to Vietnamese pipe tobacco (thuoc lao).

Earlier this year, he started to experience lung complaints and a malignant tumour was discovered in his lungs.

He underwent surgery a month ago.

“After being admitted to hospital, the doctors told me to give up smoking. Now lying here in hospital, I’m scared of cigarettes. I know, even if I survive this treatment, my health will never be the same. I regret it now. I have made it a personal mission to tell my children and grandchildren not to smoke.”

Dr Nguyen The Thu from Bach Mai Hospital said that they had removed part of Tinh’s left lung.

Thu stressed that smokers like Tinh ran higher risks of lung cancer, and grimmer prognoses than other individuals with lung cancer caused by other factors.


In the respiratory centre at Bach Mai Hospital, Le Hong Khanh, 62, was admitted after a pneumonia-like inflammation and water on the lungs were discovered.

The cause of the problem was smoking.

Dr Pham Thi Le Quyen said the patient went for an examination following two weeks of fever, coughing and chest pains that showed no signs of dying down.

“Long-term smoking causes damage to the linings of the respiratory tract, leading to inflammation and increased mucus secretion, said Dr. Quyen.

After two weeks of treatment and a course of strong antibiotics, Khanh’s condition has improved and he is about to be discharged.

Dr Quyen warned that if Khanh did not give up smoking immediately, he could contract cancer or heart disease.

Khanh said he worked out at sea, so due to the cold weather and frequent night shifts, he often smoked to “warm himself up”.

Khanh insisted that it was the first time he had experienced problems during his 30 years as a smoker, but said he was determined to kick the habit.

“Since the day I was hospitalised, I have not had or wanted to have a cigarette.”


Staff members at the office for stop-smoking consultation are talking to smokers who wish to give up smoking. — VNA/VNS Photos Thuy Giang

18,000 calls

According to surveys, nearly half (45.3 per cent) of Vietnamese male adults are smokers, translating to over 20 million smokers in the country, while the rate in female adults hovers around a negligible 1.2 per cent.

The World Health Organisation said that about 7 million deaths a year are due to smoking-related diseases. In Vietnam, 40,000 die from smoking every year, and the figure is forecast to reach up to 70,000 by 2030.

Phan Thu Phuong, deputy director of Bach Mai’s Respiratory Centre, said that due to the growing number of people who wanted to quit smoking, the establishment of the centre was assigned to Bach Mai Hospital by the health ministry and the Viet Nam Tobacco Control Fund in 2015.

A free hotline and consultancy service have been set up at the hospital with 15 members of staff available day and night to advise people how to quit smoking.

“Over four years, the centre has received 18,000 calls from smokers who have seen the harmful affects of smoking and want to give up,” Dr Phuong said.

The hospital also wants to collect information from smokers, including their smoking history, and their reasons for smoking and for giving up smoking, to compile a basic health profile for each caller.

Rather than just waiting for calls, the hospital can now contact people who have called the hotline to invite them to anti-smoking campaigns.

According to Phương, each smoker participating in the programme received 7-11 phone calls during the quitting process, including a last call 1 year after the regime started.

A successful regime means that former smokers do not smoke for a year.

“So far, 120 smokers have successfully made it,” Dr Phuong said.

Risks of e-cigarettes

Along with the fight against conventional cigarettes, health experts have also engaged in another uphill battle against the rising use of e-cigarettes, which many people believe are less harmful.

Most people use electronic cigarettes to try to quit or reduce smoking. However, the main component of e-cigarettes is still nicotine. The WHO says there is currently no evidence to say for sure that electronic cigarettes are safe.

A 2015 survey on smoking among adolescents showed that up to 60 per cent of students started smoking very early in life (7-13 years old).

A health ministry study consolidated this figure by showing smokers are getting alarmingly younger, with 21 per cent of young males (16-24 years old) smoking.

17 per cent of male students said they had smoked before the age of 10, while 10.3 per cent of male students and 4 per cent of female students said they thought they would smoke in the future.

Multiple studies have pointed to the harm nearly 200 toxic chemical components in cigarettes can cause, but for patients like Tinh and Khanh, the true realisation only came after their health deteriorated beyond repair.

For time being, Tinh’s greatest wish aside from getting better is for other people to quit while they can before it’s too late.

Thuy Giang

Source: VNS

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