As everyone knows, it’s tough to give up the bad habit of smoking.

That’s why the health authority in Beijing has launched a program to recruit 500 smokers this year to help them quit smoking for free through outpatient services and a dedicated hotline, Xinhua reported.

Zhou Wei, an associate chief physician in charge of the project at Beijing Hospital, told Xinhua that a drug called Varenicline plays an important role during the treatment.

Beijing Hospital is one of the four medical institutions providing free services to smokers in the program.

“Varenicline can block the combination of nicotine and its receptor, and stimulate the brain to secrete dopamine, giving patients the same sensation as smoking. After taking Varenicline for a period of time, they will develop an aversion to nicotine, and then kick the habit of smoking,” said Zhou.

Apart from outpatient services, a hotline is also available for those who are unable to accept professional treatment, according to the organizer. The service includes five phone call interventions during the treatment and four calling back interviews afterwards, helping evaluate patients’ progress with quitting.

The project was first initiated in 2017 by the Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control to target 105 local taxi drivers. It turned out to be a success, convincing the organizer to extend the program for 310 local citizens in 2018, the report said.

More than 51.9% of the participants last year successfully quit smoking, about 10 times higher than the rate for smokers who tried to beat their addiction through self-discipline alone, according to the Beijing Center for Diseases Prevention and Control.

“The treatment worked well for me. I haven’t smoked for more than a year,” said Yuan Xiaomin, a 40-year-old Beijing resident who had smoked for 20 years until he took part in the project last October.

“Medicine is not our only tool. Patients’ will to quit smoking is also important,” Zhou said. “We distributed brochures to the participants on the dangers of smoking and tips on how to quit. In addition, a WeChat group was established with two doctors answering their questions and encouraging them to share their doubts every day.”

According to the World Health Organization, more than 8 million people die from tobacco use every year. Tobacco can also be deadly for non-smokers. Second-hand smoking contributes to heart disease, cancer and other diseases, causing additional 1.2 million deaths annually.

According to the Business Insider, smoking remains a fairly integral part of modern Chinese culture. Cigarettes are branded with magnificent adornments and are still exchanged when strangers meet, or given as elegant gifts on important occasions.

As reflected in this explainer of the role of branding in Chinese smoking culture from The China Daily:

“Chunghwa (Zhonghua), as a symbol of a high-end cigarette brand in China, has very high sales in China. It was on a short allowance until 1988. Anyone who carries a Chunghwa cigarette between his or her fingers is regarded as upper-class or a wealthy man or woman.

Panda, another prestigious cigarette brand, is also scrambled by people who like smoking. People believe cigarettes establish one’s social class. If you are holding a low-end cigarette, you are probably a nobody.”

Then there is the generally low awareness of the consequent health risks associated with cigarette smoking that has minimized the casual efforts of authorities to reduce smoking rates.

But the government is as addicted to the tax revenue as China is to the product.