Quitting smoking continues to be one of the top five New Year’s resolutions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70 percent of American smokers want to quit the habit.
But, according to Jess Pieper, an exercise physiologist and tobacco cessation educator at the Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, the majority of smokers who decided to stop on Jan. 1 will be lighting up by Valentine’s Day.
It can take more than 10 attempts to quit for good, and the average smoker lasts a mere eight days before puffing away again.
“The start of the new year is a terrific time for smokers to implement their plan to quit,” said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “The benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle include improved overall health, economic benefits and protecting loved ones from harmful secondhand smoke.”
As most smokers know, though, that’s easier said than done.
Despite the medical risks associated with smoking, about 22.5 percent of adults (46 million) and 26 percent of high school seniors smoke, and smoking contributes to more than 440,000 deaths per year. Smoking is the single most preventable cause of death in the country.
“It’s an addiction and a habit that’s deeply ingrained,” said Pieper, noting that over time, the body becomes physically and psychologically dependent on the nicotine in cigarettes. “People use it to deal with stress, boredom and other emotions, so it’s hard to quit.”
For those determined to kick the habit once and for all, Washington County has several programs to help, including the Stay Quit Tobacco Cessation Program at the Wellness Center, funded by Washington County Health Partners.
The Stay Quit program consists of six one-hour classes offered throughout the year, and uses a variety of tactics to help each person achieve his or her goal.
Several times during the year, Monongahela Valley Hospital offers the SmokeStoppers Smoking Cessation Program.
According to program moderator Donna Hatalowich, SmokeStoppers is a straightforward, no-nonsense quit-smoking program that features strategies to help individuals stop smoking and quit craving cigarettes. SmokeStoppers also addresses the two most difficult obstacles for people who quit smoking – the fear of gaining weight and stress management.
Hatalowich said the program has a remarkably high quit rate of 80 to 85 percent.
“Quitting smoking is probably one of the hardest things someone will ever do in their lifetime. It’s harder to get off smoking cigarattes and pipes and tobacco than it is to stop doing cocaine,” said Hatalowich. “But it’s legal. When you need that fix, you can walk into a grocery store.”
Pam Sullivan, 45, of Washington, completed the Wellness Center’s Stay Quit program in December and said she has noticed improvement in her health.
“I’m definitely more energetic. I go to the gym regularly, and I can tell I’m getting better at staying in the classes for an hour without taking water breaks, like I used to have to do because I’d get tired out,” said Sullivan, who began smoking when she was 17 and once quit for 11 years before she fell off the wagon about a decade ago.
“Food tastes better and I can smell things better. I can tell a difference since I quit.”
Sullivan wears a nicotine patch to help increase her chances of staying smoke-free.
She also plans to attend upcoming group support sessions so that she can provide support to smokers who are trying to quit and be around people who can relate to the struggles she went through to stop smoking.
Social support, according to Pieper, is one of the key components to smoking cessation along
with setting a quit date and having access to products like Chantix, patches and gum that can help smokers quit.
Said Sullivan: “It felt good talking to people who were in my situation. A non-smoker doesn’t understand what it’s like. It’s an addiction. It’s an everyday thing I have to deal with. But I’m glad I quit. I never liked the taste of them anyway.”
Monongahela’s Hatalowich agrees that there is power in numbers.
“They do support each other. They become a little family for a month. At the end of the program, they exchange phone numbers; it’s almost like an AA thing. If they feel like having a cigarette, they call each other up and talk each other through it,” said Hatalowich.
Another resource for smokers who are determined to quit is Healthy Lungs Pennsylvania, one of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s top providers of tobacco education, cessation and prevention programs. Its website, www.healthylungs.org, includes a document called “Quit Smoking Your Way,” which compares a variety of quit methods and points out some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
Mary Ann Valasek of Healthy Lungs Pennsylvania said people who are trying to quit smoking have to find out which strategies and products work for them, and then stick with it.
The benefits of a tobacco-free life are worth it.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” said Valasek. “There are so many options available when someone decides to quit. Quitting smoking is a big resolution, but it’s the best gift someone can give themselves.”