ABOUT 11/2 years ago, country club supervisor Ibrahim Mat watched his assistant bleed profusely from the nose because he had nose cancer.
His assistant, Mr Yip Kok Lung, a non-smoker in his 30s, had developed the disease from passive smoking.
Months later - after accompanying Mr Yip on 12 hospital trips - Mr Ibrahim, then a chain-smoker, felt so guilty that he bit the bullet.
He signed up with Cabaran Muharam ('cabaran' means challenge in Malay, while 'Muharam' refers to the Muslim New Year), a programme which challenges Malay smokers to abstain from cigarettes for a month.
Mr Ibrahim, 51, who started smoking at 14, has been smoke-free ever since.
'My friend was in constant pain and had to eat out of a tube. From that day on, I knew I had to quit,' said Mr Ibrahim, who used to smoke two packets of cigarettes a day.
'It was horrible seeing him suffer.'
The father of three won this year's challenge, and was speaking yesterday at the launch of the 2009 run, which began yesterday and will last through January.
In its fifth year, and organised by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) and the
Malay-Muslim community group Clubilya, the challenge will provide smokers who sign up with free workshops to teach them strategies on quitting.
Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Manpower), was the guest of honour yesterday.
So far, 538 participants have registered for next year.
In the past few years, an average of 10 per cent of these participants successfully stopped smoking for a month.
Currently, 18.6 per cent of Malays aged 18 to 69 smoke - the highest compared to other ethnic groups. The national average is 12.6 per cent.
Said Mr Sazali Wahid, 48, who is an HPB consultant for quitting smoking: 'It is not easy to quit, but the challenge is a platform to get smokers to commit to quitting. It is important, because many are ambivalent about it and need a push.'
Side effects range from headaches to nausea, said Mr Sazali, himself an ex-smoker.
'But once they have stayed smoke-free for a month, about 80 per cent of the participants never go back,' he said.
It will be a real challenge for goods transport driver Mohamad Zali, 29, who has signed up for the latest challenge.
'I smoke when I drive, I smoke when I wait for goods to be loaded.
'But both my wife and son have asthma, and I will try my best to quit,' he said.