Digital Tools Lead the Fight Against Smoking in Asian Countries

March 8, 2024

Smoking has become deeply ingrained in our culture, especially in South and Southeast Asia, where the mortality rate due to smoking is staggeringly high. Annually, over one million individuals succumb to smoking-related diseases in the region, which houses more than 22 per cent of the global adult smoker population aged 15 years and above. Furthermore, a significant portion of the world’s youth, approximately 34% or 14.8 million children aged 13 to 15 years, engage in tobacco use, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable diseases and deaths globally, with cigarette smoking posing a significant public health challenge in many Asian countries due to its high prevalence rates and associated health risks.

In response, Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen from the Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology at INTI International University, along with a collaborative team of researchers from Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Yemen, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has embarked on a mission to evaluate the efficacy of digital interventions for smoking cessation in Asian countries.

A team of researchers, led by Professor Dr Goh Khang Wen from INTI International University’s Faculty of Data Science and Information Technology (FDSIT), has discovered that social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as smartphone apps like WeChat and Quit US, can be highly effective tools for quitting smoking.

Cigarette smoking endangers not only the smoker but also those around them, contributing to a myriad of health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. Despite the well-documented risks, quitting remains a formidable challenge for many.

The research “Effectiveness of Digital Tools for Smoking Cessation in Asian Countries: A Systematic Review” delves into how digital interventions have notably enhanced patient health and clinical care. These tools, lauded for their flexibility and potential for personalisation, have shown promise in aiding smoking cessation across the general populace.

Professor Goh stated, “The advent of digital tools for tobacco cessation has simplified the process for individuals eager to quit smoking and sustain abstinence. These innovations range from mobile apps and web-based programs to social media platforms.”

Marking a first, this study systematically assesses the impact of various digital tools, including social media like Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, and other smartphone applications, in addition to telephones and text messaging, on smoking cessation among active smokers in Asian countries. It offers crucial insights into the digital tools and social apps that have facilitated smokers in achieving a seven-day point prevalence abstinence (PPA), proving to be an effective method for smoking cessation in the region.

Findings reveal that social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp and smartphone apps such as WeChat and Quit US are effective smoking cessation aids. For instance, interventions through Facebook led to a 70% quit rate among participants in the intervention group. Furthermore, smartphone applications employing cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and pharmacist counselling have reported high success rates.

Mobile instant messaging applications, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat, are seen as affordable and interactive alternatives for smoking cessation messaging. Telephone and text messaging interventions have also proved beneficial in offering support, encouragement, and information to those attempting to quit smoking.

“Digital tools offer a viable and cost-effective alternative to traditional smoking cessation methods,” Professor Goh concluded. However, the overall effectiveness of these digital interventions requires further investigation to ascertain their true efficacy, especially in Asian contexts with high smoking prevalence rates and associated health risks.