The World Health Organization (WHO) donated 315,000 nicotine patches to the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP), making the Philippines the first country in Southeast Asia to receive nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) as part of WHO’s Access Initiative for Quitting Tobacco (AIQT).  

The donation will provide 4,500 high-risk smokers with an eight-week supply of Nicorette InvisiPatch, which prevents cigarette cravings. To be eligible, smokers must meet the following criteria: 20–50 years old; ready to quit; with co-morbidities (except if there are absolute contraindications for use); and/or members of the 4P program, or the conditional cash transfer program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.  

Eight weeks may be enough time for a smoker to curb the habit, but the period needed to quit will also depend on the number of cigarettes used per day, said Karlo S. Patron, marketing manager of global healthcare company Johnson & Johnson Philippines, Inc., which facilitated the donation.   

“Individuals will have different quit journeys,” Mr. Patron told BusinessWorld in an e-mail interview. “As they go through the weeks of their quit journey, it is important that they get the support they need through counseling and, with the help of NRT, to manage their nicotine withdrawal symptoms.”  

At an event organized by Johnson & Johnson this June, Dr. Joel M. Santiaguel, a pulmonologist and fellow from the Philippine College of Chest Physicians, said that quitting is a multi-modality treatment and is not just about medicines or patches.  

To this end, the donation of the patches will be complemented with support from smoking cessation experts from the recipient hospitals to help manage their physical, social, and mental challenges of quitting smoking.  

 Smokers will be seen by a physician for initial assessment and counseling, LCP’s executive director Dr. Vincent M. Balanag, Jr. said, with follow-up checkups to be customized based on need. In some local government units, barangay health workers or midwives will be requested to do home visitations to validate a smoker’s quit status, and to help identify potential issues.    

 NRT patches will be distributed to other health facilities, including Baguio General Hospital Medical Center, Bataan General Hospital, National Center for Mental Health, and Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center in Cebu City.   

 The AIQT aims to help the world’s 1.3 billion smokers with the tools and support they need to quit the habit for good. It is supported by the private sector and led by the WHO, together with the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Non-Communicable Diseases, PATH (formerly known as the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health), and the Coalition for Access to NCD Medicines and Products.  

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2015, there are 16.5 million smokers in the Philippines. Over three-fourths (or 77%) of them plan on quitting, but only 4% are successful in doing so. This poses a large concern for WHO and the Department of Health, especially with the threat of the coronavirus still affecting the country. Evidence reveals that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have severe outcomes from COVID-19.  

“Smoking has always been known as a significant risk factor for serious diseases, but its impact has become an even greater worry for us now with the continuing transmission of COVID-19,” said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines, in a statement. “The NRT patches can boost the existing tools that we have as we support smokers to commit to quit.”  

The Nicorette InvisiPatch cannot be purchased over-the-counter in the Philippines. Its special use was granted by the Philippine Food and Drug Administration following review and approval on the occasion of this donation. — Patricia B. Mirasol