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How cessation classes help smokers beat their nicotine addiction

Cigarette smoking is a tough habit to break – just ask one of the 42.1 million smokers in the United States. For the Pickens County, Ga. community, smoking rates exceed the state average – an estimated 25 percent of the county’s population are smokers.

Piedmont Mountainside Hospital is working to combat this epidemic by offering eight-week smoking cessation clinics to community members. “Freedom From Smoking” costs only $25 and gives attendees the tools they need to successfully kick their cigarette habits. “We are facilitators through the American Lung Association’s ‘Freedom From Smoking’ program,” explains Cindy London, BBA, RRT, director of respiratory therapy at Piedmont Mountainside Hospital. “It’s one of the most successful programs out there.”

 

How the class works

“The first thing is you must decide you want to quit. It sounds really simple, but I have had folks who haven’t decided and they usually drop out. You have to decide.” London says most participants are shocked to learn they aren’t expected to quit smoking after their first class.

“If you don’t know how to swim, an instructor is not going to throw you in the water. First, we discover what their trigger points are for smoking. We give them tools on how to avoid smoking and redirect themselves,” explains London.  People who quit cold turkey can be setting themselves up for failure, she says.

By week three, the class is ready to stop smoking. London will bring a “big, ugly black box” to class during the third week so students can deposit items like ashtrays, cigarettes they haven’t smoked and even “goodbye letters” to cigarettes.

Each week, participants are encouraged to share their stories of both struggle and success. They often provide advice to one another. London also invites graduates of the program to come in and share their stories. “Those people are very engaged and know what current attendees are going through,” she says.

As soon as they quit smoking, people in the class often notice immediate benefits. “They start to smell things they didn’t smell before, food tastes better, they all look refreshed,” she says. “I tell them they look younger, because it’s the truth.” Those who quit smoking keep their eyes on the prize, whether it’s reducing long-term healthcare costs or watching their grandchildren grow up.

The clinic’s approach doesn’t use criticism or scare tactics to discourage smoking. “We focus on what makes you want to pick up a cigarette and how you can stop doing that,” explains London. “It’s about behavioral changes. If someone slips and smokes a cigarette, we say, ‘That was practice.’ We look at why they slipped and give them tools for how to avoid triggers in the future.”

 

A graduate shares his success story

Tom Wallace, a retiree who lives in Pickens County and a graduate of the smoking cessation program, says he first signed up for the eight-week clinic at the request of his wife and grandchildren. He had been a smoker for 43 years.

“At the time, I was smoking pretty heavily, but I’d never seriously tried to quit,” he says. “What Cindy said at the beginning of class made more sense to me than anything else I’d heard about smoking: there’s no way we can quit that night because we don’t have the tools to do so.” Wallace wasn’t sure if he could quit, but he decided to give the program a try. He tracked how often he reached for a cigarette with a “pack tracker” journal he received in class.

“It really helped me. If I felt like I needed a cigarette, I’d look at the pack tracker and realize I’d just had one five minutes ago,” he explains. “It helped me smoke them further apart.” When he got to week three, “it was actually quite easy for me to quit – it’s hard to believe."

Wallace attributes the program’s success to the fact that facilitators “don’t force the program down your throat. I didn’t feel pressure. I smoked my last cigarette on March 15, 2006.” His life has changed significantly since he quit smoking.

“First of all, I save a lot more money,” he laughs. “My health is much better, too. I don’t cough and hack. I generally feel a lot better. If I’d known it was that easy, I would have quit a long time ago.”

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