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Mon, Mar 02, 2009
The Straits Times
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Actress Pam Oei turns anti-smoking counsellor
by Tan Yi Hui

Dim Sim Dolly Pam Oei is one of Singapore's best loved comedians, but these days she is counselling people with a problem that is no laughing matter - giving up smoking.

The actress herself finally quit three years ago after 17 years of being addicted to cigarettes.

Forget shock tactics such as the gory pictures of cancer-ravaged faces on the packets of cigarettes. Her secret: counselling treatment in Britain. Oei, famous for her madcap Dolly persona in the Dim Sum musicals, strikes a serious note as she tells Life! the treatment helped her to address the reasons she smoked.

Says the actress, who picked up smoking in her junior-college days: 'I tried everything, from nicotine patches to pills and acupuncture. It never worked.'

Now, after her success with the internationally famous Allen Carr method, the ciggie-free Oei wants to help others give up for good, too.

In December, she became the sole franchisee here for the method, after training for two years under the long-distance guidance of a mentor in London.

In what must be a dramatic change for the talented Oei, a winner of three Life! Theatre Awards, the stage star is now a certified Allen Carr therapist. Neither exams nor a medical background is needed, according to her.

She has seen 25 clients, who each paid $599 for a minimum of three sessions in three months. She says they can come back for more in this period if they wish.

The first lasts for five hours, followed by a pair of 2 1/2-hour ones. According to Oei, the first session is enough for most people and none of her clients has required the follow-ups.

An unusual feature of the treatment is that there is a three-month money-back guarantee should clients lapse into smoking after attending all three sessions.

Even Oei admits that this seems 'too good to be true', but insists that people have to try it to believe it.

Clients hear about her through word of mouth or via the Allen Carr website. She does not have an office, but rents venues, although she intends to have a permanent place one day.

But she will not be dropping acting anytime soon to pursue her franchise full time.

Other celebrities in anti-smoking causes include 98.7FM DJ Shan Wee and Fly Entertainment artist Mindee Ong under the Fresh Air For Women campaign, a 2004 initiative by the Health Promotion Board, which is still running.

Singapore already offers plenty of services to help people give up smoking. Hospitals islandwide have smoking-cessation programmes and clinics where conventional methods of counselling and medication are offered. Some hypnotherapy or acupuncture clinics also provide treatment to quit smoking.

As for the Allen Carr method, Oei attended its London clinic in 2006 and was able to stub out the cigarette for good.

The Allen Carr organisation, named after its founder, was established in 1983 in Britain and now has branches worldwide. It uses 'cognitive therapy'.

According to Oei, counselling breaks down someone's perceived reasons for smoking, such as pleasure, boredom or stress relief, and in the end, 'smokers are left with the realisation that smoking does nothing for them'.

Doctors contacted by Life! declined to comment on the Allen Carr method. A check with the Ministry of Health indicates there is no compulsory registration or certification for private practices such as Oei's as no prescription of drugs is involved.

She has used some of her life savings to set up the franchise. She declined to reveal costs, but says she has yet to break even and hopes to do so in 11/2 years.

One of her success stories is British expatriate Philip Morris - yes, he has the same name as American tobacco giant Philip Morris International.

The 43-year-old father of four and smoker of 25 years has gone without smoking for over a week now. The longest he had ever managed was just 24 hours.

He says: 'I was sceptical at first but after the first session, I asked Pam: 'What did you do to me?''

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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