Hospital program helps area smokers break deadly habits by David Lias Editor's note: Members of the smoking cessation classes wore badges bearing simply their first names. To respect their privacy, they aren't identified by their full names.
Fourteen Vermillion residents who have been addicted to cigarettes for years have decided to break their deadly habits � but not without help from each other.
The local women and men are enrolled in the smoking cessation program entitled "Quitting for Life," offered at the Sioux Valley Vermillion Campus.
On Monday, the group met for its formal "graduation" with Cathy Andre, RN, who teaches the smoking cessation program at the hospital.
Nearly all of the participants have stopped smoking.
And nearly all of them admitted during Monday morning's meeting that they are facing new challenges.
"It was a very long weekend," said Lisa, who had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 25 years before taking her last puff the week of Feb. 21.
That was the week this 10-session course began. During the course's first four weeks, the participants met once each week for one hour to learn about cessation and discuss stress management, weight gain, and strategies for quitting.
During the week of March 13, those strategies were put to use by the program's enrollees. They stopped smoking beginning that day, and attended daily sessions that week through Friday.
After last Friday, the participants found themselves facing their usual weekend routines on their own � without cigarettes.
On March 20, shortly before their graduation, they shared experiences and gained insights and strengths from each other.
Kathy is coping with life without cigarettes with healthy doses of humor.
"Whenever I see someone driving down the road smoking, I
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get angry with them," she said.
Bart, who on average smoked 30 cigarettes a day for the past 20 years, has loaded up on breath mints to fight his cravings.
"So far, I have a handle on it," he said.
Another man enrolled in the class wasn't so lucky last weekend. He attended a bowling tournament, and found himself fighting old habits in a smoke-filled atmosphere.
"I finally lost my willpower," he said. I had four or five cigarettes."
He added that he also has begun to occasionally smoke a pipe to ease his cravings for nicotine.
Andre reminded him that he had been smoking three packs a day.
"Don't ever throw in the towel," Andre told the new ex-smokers. "A little slip doesn't mean you have to go back to three packs a day."
"I'm just hoping that the craving eventually goes away," Terry said. He and some of the other class members are relying on nicotine replacement therapy in the form of patches or gum. Some are also using medication that doesn't contain nicotine but helps reduce the withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke.
Terry, who has smoked about two packs a day for 24 years, said, "I'm tired of it. And I sat down and figured out the money (that I spent on smoking). That was a real shocker."
Dick survived the weekend by keeping his mind off of smoking.
"I found all kinds of things to do," he said. "I kept so busy I didn't have time to think about it."
After more than a week without lighting up, Dick said, things are starting to change.
"What I notice most is my taste buds � things are starting to taste differently."
Another class participant, who wishes to remain anonymous, said she no longer likes to be in places where people are smoking.
She encountered a group of smokers last weekend.
"I didn't stay for very long," said the woman, who had smoked for approximately 17 years. "It's an odor that's definitely upsetting right now."
Andre didn't hand out diplomas at Monday's graduation. She gave each class participant a small drawing of a majestic bald eagle soaring high in the sky.
"I'm giving you each this drawing, because the eagle is a sign of freedom and control," Andre told her students.
She added that, from now on, the group will probably meet once a week for support until they feel they have conquered smoking.
The cessation class, Andre said, has helped the participants identify some of the reasons they maintained their smoking habits for so many years.
"We have them go through their day, and write down what their 'triggers' are," she said. For some people, a cup of coffee was always an automatic cut to light up. Others always smoked after a meal.
Andre at first asked the participants to consider reducing the number of cigarettes they smoked.
"We had them rate their cravings, because if their cravings were really, really strong, I would tell them to give in to it, and instead of smoking an entire cigarette, just smoke half of a cigarette while we were getting ready for the actual quit day," she said.
Some people smoke because their friends do. Others find it a stress reliever. "And for some people, it's just habit. They've done it for so many years," Andre said.
The known health hazards associated with this habit, however, fill up an entire page of material presented to the class.
Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, can lead to adult acute and chronic leukemia, and cause various other cancers, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver, osteoporosis and other heart problems.
The participants in the cessation class are reaping a host of health benefits, even though they've only gone without cigarettes for a little more than a week.
A person who stops smoking soon has normal blood pressure, pulse and temperature. Within 24 hours, the chance of heart attack begins to decrease. In two days, nerve endings are repaired, and the ability to smell and taste are enhanced.
A host of other improvements are in store for the ex-smokers. In the coming months they will discover that they have better circulation. Walking will become easier and lung function will improve up to 30 percent.
Over the next nine months, they will notice a decrease in coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath. A year from now, their risk of coronary heart disease will be one-half that of a smoker.
Andre said it is very important for people who try to quit smoking to not give up, even if they succumb to their desires and light up a cigarette.
"If you slip up, you slip up," she said, "and you start again. A lot of people want to just throw it all in and say, 'I'm a failure; I can't do this.'"
Research has shown, however, that it's not uncommon for people who are trying to quit smoking to get off to a rocky start.
"On average, smokers make seven attempts to quit before they succeed, and this program is designed to strengthen your reasons for quitting and to provide solid strategies with support so that your decision can last a lifetime," Andre said.
Several more smoking cessation courses are scheduled throughout April and May. Individuals interested in signing up for the course, which costs $75 per participant, may call the hospital at 624-2611.