Covid 19 coronavirus: Russian and Ukrainian fishermen kick the habit – thanks to MIQ nurse

Russian and Ukrainian mariners smoking up to three packs a day have kicked the habit during a stint in MIQ – thanks to the help of one Christchurch nurse.

“There were a couple [of mariners] who’d been smoking up to 60 cigarettes a day, almost chain smoking,” nurse Amber Rex says.

“And once they commenced the programme, they’d literally gone from one day smoking 60-odd cigarettes a day, for around 40 years – to nothing, which was phenomenal.”

Rex helped 20 mariners curb their nicotine habit completely during their MIQ stay, with a further 15 dramatically reducing how often they light up.

Some of the fishermen – among the 500-plus who have made their way through the Garden City’s isolation facilities since October- found themselves with a 14-day stint ahead of them, and health worries on their mind.

Rex said during the daily health check ups, she noticed many of the men voicing concerns their habit could have on their health.

“A lot of them expressed the desire, or interest to try and reduce [their smoking].”

And they were heavy smokers – puffing through multiple packs a day, stocked up with cigarettes to last them months at sea, with nothing but the blue horizon in front of them.

Armed with a Russian interpreter, Rex devised a smoking cessation programme for six men initially, but found her services in demand as word spread.

Rex said she was worried that some would succumb to cravings, sitting alone in a hotel room with a forced isolation stay yawning ahead of them.

But some found the support her programme offered, with daily check ins and calls – coupled with nicotine patches and lozengers, kept them on track.

“A lot of them were friends,” Rex said.

“They’d ring each other up, and say, ‘I’m on the programme, I’ve only one cigarette a day, how many have you had? And the other one would say, ‘I’ve had none’, there was a camaraderie.

“It was really amazing how they all rallied together.”

A recent Canterbury District Health Board report into last year’s outbreak of Covid-19 in the Sudima Christchurch Airport hotel revealed around two-thirds of the 253 fishermen were chain smokers – some visiting the hotel’s smoking area four times an hour.

Before testing positive for the virus, a number of the infected men traipsed back and forth through corridors to the outside smoking area – while at the height of virus shedding.

The CDHB later changed how the incoming guests were managed – and gave smokers their own balconies, so they could keep their distance from one another.

The mariners left MIQ last week, their cigarettes traded in for nicotine replacement therapy lozenges, gym, patches, and prescriptions for refills.

Rex hopes their days of smoko breaks aboard the ship will remain – sans smoko.

“I am very proud,” she said.

“It was a real honour, a real privilege to work with these guests. It was an amazing experience.”

A two-week stay in an MIQ hotel is great time to look at replacing bad habits, she said.

“It’s not just mariners that are smokers – a lot of people that come through [MIQ] are smokers.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for them to evaluate their lifestyle and be mindful of their social and mental wellbeing, while in isolation.

“If we’ve got the opportunity where we can help someone – even if it’s not quitting completely but to reduce – I’d love to help.”

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