How Dr Au Hon Sam’s smoke free beliefs grow strong at almost 90 years of age

Sunday, October 28, 2007
Issue 150, Page 5
Word count: 735
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Only when people break the myth that quitting smoking will be more detrimental to their health, they will have the strength to lead a new life without the habit, former smoker and chairman of a local anti-tobacco association said.

The 89-year-old retired medical doctor, Dr Au Hon Sam, told the Macau Daily Times exclusively that he picked up smoking five decades ago because of the stressful work environment as a health department chief in China’s Zhongshan city.

Since then he said he had been a true tobacco addict who consumed three packs of cigarettes every day.

And it was until the early 1970s that his life had changed after reading two publications in Macau.

Originated from China and migrated to Macau in 1961, Dr Au said Si Sio Monthly, a lifestyle and health newspapers issued by a Hong Kong church, inspired him so much that made him determine to turn away smoking.

Also influenced Dr Au was the Reader’s Digest.

The information published about the side effects of smoking aroused his health concern as he said this topic was not prevalent in society in that era.

In the early 70s, he invented a medicine to help smokers quit tobacco, including himself.

However, he said he did not rely on the pills a lot, adding that “they are just a supplement, only determination will lead to an ultimate success”.

Having experienced the effectiveness of his tobacco substitute, Dr Au wanted to share the medicine with more smokers by disturbing them in local pharmacies.

However, no people were willing to buy his product when he was encouraged by the pharmacies not to give the pills away for free.

“And it was when I lost more than 200,000 patacas in the business,” Dr Au said.

Two years following the failure, the doctor decided to establish the first anti-smoking group in Macau, Smoking Abstention and Good Health Association, in 1980.

The non-profit association have been organising regional conferences, seminars, school campaigns and community events in an attempt to awake the public’s consciousness of the harm.

The Macau No Tobacco Day has been held by the group on every May 30 starting from 1988 to echo the World Health Organisation’s World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

In 2005, Dr Au founded the first clinic in Macau which offers free medical support and tobacco substitutes for smokers wanting to go smoke free.

The substitutes include chewing gums, pills and bandages which are all fully subsided by the Social Welfare Bureau since 2005.

The clinic, which runs seven days a week, received some 1,600 smokers seeking for help last year, association’s secretary general Dr Cheong Man Leok told the Macau Daily Times.

Of these people, Dr Cheong said the youngest was a 14-year-old and two thirds were males.

He said successful cases accounted for 75 per cent with people completely got out of any sorts of tobacco for one to two months.

Dr Au said smokers usually took only a month or few weeks to restore a healthy life without the presence of tobacco.

“It’s more of a psychological problem. As long as they understand how serious smoking actually impairs their health and quitting the habit will not contradictorily further harm their bodies, it’s not hard to achieve the goal no matter you’ve been smoking for four months or 40 years,” the 89-year-old said.

Asked how the prevalence of this tobacco habit had shaped in the local community between the 1980s and present, both Dr Au and Dr Cheong said it had inclined to a much younger age group.

“In the past it wasn’t unusual to see excessive tobacco promotion and images in the television and movies,” Dr Cheong said.

“Ring leaders and triad members all smoke and it distort the young people’s beliefs that smoking represents power and status, and signifies you are a hero.”

He said although this kind of heroism distortion had been suppressed quite a lot nowadays, he blamed the Education and Youth Affairs Bureau for not putting serious effort in preventing the rise of teenagers going smoking.

Both doctors said Macau’s anti-smoking progress was on a slow pace because the government did not invest many resources and budget in order to make it happen.

“We actually started talking about this issue right ahead of Hong Kong did, but more emphasis and effort have been paid by the Hong Kong government so we’re seriously lagging behind now.”


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