May 31, 2022
Rachim Sonodimedjo started smoking at the young age of 14, and after smoking for 17 years, he had almost lost hope of ever quitting. When the Pan American Health Organization in Suriname announced that there was an opportunity to participate in one of the Allen Carr’s Easyway-to-Stop-Smoking (ACE) seminars in 2021, he registered for the training on July 13th 2021. Almost six months later, Rachim is still cigarette-free. We sat down with him for a virtual interview, where he elaborated about his successful journey.
In an effort to raise awareness and reduce tobacco use, WHO provided Suriname with the opportunity to allow smokers to participate virtually in the ACE seminar, a one-day training developed by Allen Carr, aimed at helping smokers quit within one day. The initiative was part of the “Commit to Quit” campaign that was launched by PAHO in Suriname on World-No-Tobacco Day, 31 May 2021. Rachim, a Customs Broker and small business owner, was one of the participants of the ACE seminar. Raised in a household and family of smokers, he never knew a life without cigarettes until after he quit. Being severely bullied in Elementary School, Rachim decided to try to reinvent himself in high school. Being one of the only teenagers at the time with a motorcycle, he was succeeding in his mission. However, the friends he surrounded himself with were all older, and all smokers, so in his effort to stay ‘cool’, he took up smoking when he was 14 years old and until 2020, it was a habit he could not quit.
The day of the seminar was the last day I lit a cigarette. I still get emotional and it's quite incredible that I have stopped. I smoked from the age of 14 and before that I grew up in an environment full of smokers. I am only now getting to know a smoke-free life and I know what it is like and it is wonderful!”
Even though the ACE seminar is one day, Rachim made it clear that this was one of his many attempts to quit smoking. He had tried quitting before for health as well as financial reasons, but kept relapsing into old patterns. The commitment to quit can take years and remaining a ‘quitter’ is a choice that is made daily, throughout life’s ups and downs. Rachim’s first attempt to quit was when he started doing Taekwondo, a few years after he started smoking. The intense physical training kept his mind and body off cigarettes for two years. He had to stop training because of moving to a different school, and before he knew it, he was back to smoking again. Throughout the years, the pattern of kicking the habit and picking it back up kept recurring.
“I had seen my parents go through the same pattern of quitting and relapsing before. Every smoker thinks of quitting, but they know it will take time and commitment, so the threshold is very high. Like everyone else, I also had my own personal obstacles and felt like a fraud, because I had always stated that cigarettes are luxury goods and if you cannot afford it, you should quit.”
Like many others, Rachim had lost his job during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the financial strain that cigarettes caused had driven him to keep buying cheaper brands that he did not even enjoy- yet needed to soothe his nicotine addiction. He had also tried nicotine patches, but these did not work for him as it felt like replacing one addiction with another. “I could not live by my own words, even when I was surviving off of savings, I would try to be as frugal as possible in every other aspect, but still kept buying cigarettes.”
Because of the stress of being jobless during the pandemic, his days consisted of being behind his computer screen, with 2 packs of cigarettes on his desk and a cigarette in his hand. By the time of the ACE seminar, Rachim was desperate to finally quit, but extremely skeptical at the same time. However, after wanting to quit for so long, he thought: “it’s free, it’s online, why not?”
After missing the first scheduled seminar due to unforeseen circumstances, PAHO followed up with Rachim, who then registered for the second seminar. His interest was sparked even more after receiving an email from the Allen Carr Organization, urging him not to try quitting or reducing his nicotine intake before the seminar. When in was finally time, all his preconceptions about the tobacco industry and the way the cycle of addiction controls the brain were validated and he felt accepted, not judged, as the trainer, just like Allen Carr, was an ex-smoker too. There were even smoke-breaks, and at the end of the seminar, the participants ceremoniously smoked their last cigarette together while saying goodbye to this habit that had consumed their lived up until that point.
“By the time we smoked our last cigarette, I could not even light it. Tears streaming down my face, I thought to myself: ‘Did I really do this myself all these years?’ -It was emotional to realize that this was it. No more cigarettes. But it was a long time coming and I felt ready and empowered. Since that day, I have been smoke-free, and I am extremely grateful to PAHO for allowing me a chance participate and realizing that I could do it. I can now even be surrounded with people who smoke, drink, dance, and not have the urge to smoke. I am a better version of myself. Thank you PAHO.”
Rachim also shared his quitting-journey on Facebook, where he got many positive reactions and questions about it. He aims to keep paying the positivity and empowerment forward by inspiring others to commit to quit as well.
Each year, more than 500 persons in Suriname die due to tobacco-related diseases, roughly equivalent to almost 12% of all deaths in the country. In July 2020, the implementation project of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), called FCTC 2030, was launched in Suriname. The goal of the project is to advocate the upscaling of evidence-based and feasible tobacco control measures. A year later, in 2021 the first Tobacco Investment Case report found that tobacco use interferes with the Surinamese Government's efforts to improve health and grow the economy, and negatively affects the country's broader development priorities.