Up in smoke; Class participants are dropping deadly habit

Up in smoke; Class participants are dropping deadly habit by David Lias Editor's note: Members of the smoking cessation class featured in this article are identified only by their first names to respect their privacy.

Cathy Andre, RN, who teaches a smoking cessation class at Sioux Valley Vermillion Hospital, didn't present diplomas to her seven students during an informal graduation exercise at the hospital Monday night.

Instead, she presented them with small, framed drawings of bald eagles soaring in flight to remind her class that they're on the road to freedom from the deadly habit of smoking cigarettes.

"This is something to look at to inspire you, and to remind you that you've quit and you've freed yourselves from smoking," Andre said.

Her class � six men and one woman � had been moderate to heavy smokers for decades. Their involvement in Sioux Valley's smoking cessation program, titled "Quitting for Life," has given them hope that they may live the rest of their lives free of nicotine.

Kicking the habit has been a struggle for every class participant. The smoking cessation program, with a combination of education and fellowship, has given the students the support they need to gradually, and hopefully permanently, free themselves of tobacco.

The 10-session class began Jan. 23. During the initial four weeks, the participants met once a week to discuss stress management, weight gain, and strategies for quitting.

During the fifth week, from Feb. 19 through Feb. 23, participants stopped smoking and

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attended daily class sessions. Monday evening marked the final class session of the group, but Andre said, a support group will continue to meet monthly to help the participants remain non-smokers.

Russ, who had averaged a pack a day for 35 years, had been smoke-free for two weeks as of Monday night. He began smoking while he was in the Navy. He quit once for three years, but started again, he said, when he was shipped overseas.

"The group has helped me," Russ said, "and the book of information that we all received really had some good information."

Russ' motivations to give up smoking include improving his health and saving money.

"The thing that I got in my mind was the cost of everything," he said. "When you think that you have to spend $3 a pack ? it's just not worth it."

Alan began smoking 22 years ago while attending college. The descriptions of his present experiences made him sound like a tight-rope walker � a man barely able to forge a path into a new world made up of non-smokers.

"If I found a pack of cigarettes today, man, I'd smoke it," he said. Even walking through a restaurant where someone is puffing at a cigarette is enough to nearly drive him to light up.

"The smell of a lit cigarette just drives me nuts," Alan said.

"I'm thinking that you need to get some Zyban, because Zyban can help that craving," Andre said.

Some of the class participants are relying on nicotine replacement therapy in the form of patches or gum. They also are aware of other medications, such as Zyban, that doesn't contain nicotine but helps reduce the withdrawal symptoms and the urge to smoke. Alan is able to find refuge from desiring a cigarette by keeping busy. He's currently busy with a home remodeling project, and he's hoping that will help him shed the smoking habit.

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.

Charles, a smoker for 27 years, was having the hardest time letting go of his habit.

He has been severely hooked on cigarettes; for a period he regularly smoked from five to six packs a day.

He fears that the nicotine patches he tried recently to help him abstain from smoking were "too much too late. I should have started them at the beginning at not at the end, because receiving that nicotine 24 hours a day just made me more anxious to want something."

Charles said he's still fighting the smoking habit. He admitted that he lights up about 10 cigarettes a day.

It was a confession that brought praise, not condemnation, from the other participants.

"It's better than a pack a day, or five packs a day," Alan said.

Andre told him not to get discouraged, and to try the lowest dose of nicotine gum available to ease his craving.

"You've been doing really good," Andre said to Dennis. "To slip up like this is not that big of a deal."

Deb, who has smoked between one and two packs of cigarettes for 20 years, admitted she had been without "her little buddies" for nine days Monday night.

"I just try to stay away from them," she said, laughing. "They're bad friends."

Deb has been able to remain free of nicotine, so far, she said, by approaching taking things one day at a time.

"I've tucked away in the back of my mind that this really isn't forever � that if I really wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes, I could go out and do it," she said. "I think if I just keep on thinking about making it through one more day without them, I'll make it."

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