Smokeout offers ways to kick habit

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— Elsie Hansen, a 72-year-old retired Steamboat Springs resident, began smoking when she was 7 years old, sneaking her first cigarette from her mother.
"It was considered a social grace at the time," she said. Thirty-six years later, Trish Hansen Foster was 13 when she sneaked her first cigarette from Elsie, her mother.
Recently, Trish and Elsie stopped smoking through each other's support and knowledge gained in the American Cancer Society's Fresh Start Plus Smoking Cessation Program. They wanted to end the physical and social consequences they've experienced as well as the parent-to-child cycle of smokers.
Trish and Elsie have good reason for their concern. The American Cancer Society states that, each day, 3,000 American kids begin smoking and virtually half remain smokers. Teens who smoke are three times more likely to use alcohol, eight times more likely to use marijuana and 22 times more likely to use cocaine. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 85 percent of illicit drug users are able to kick their habit, while only 63 percent of smokers can do the same.
"I had quit quitting," Elsie said. "And I really didn't know if I was going to quit when I went to the class with Trish, but I hated to see Trish fight smoking and feel so badly about it. So I was there to support her."
As Elsie began to understand her habit, her goals altered.
"Analyzing my reasons for smoking and putting it into words changed my attitude toward it. I felt I should and could stop, even at my advanced age. And once I'd decided to stop, I found it easier than I'd thought."
Trish agrees.
"The anxiety prior to quitting was probably the hardest part. As smokers, we knew how bad it was, but it was an addiction. I'd tried almost all of the tools for quitting the nicotine gum and patch, Welbutrin. These things didn't work without support. The cessation class accepted that it's a difficult thing to do, but not impossible. Looking at the positives, rather than the negatives, really helped."
Writing about a smoking habit, including each cigarette smoked, feelings prior to and after smoking it, and how strong the urge to smoke is, unveils the triggers that lead to the desire for a cigarette.
"HALT" cautions against getting too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Deep breathing causes relaxation without the use of a cigarette. Oral substitutes such as cinnamon sticks, brushing and flossing teeth, or a drop of oil of cloves, also can help ease cravings.
Seeing the big picture is important.
"I reached a 10-day success of not smoking," Trish said. "On the 11th day, I got tired of fighting it and conned myself into buying a pack of cigarettes. I smoked one and relished it, but when I went to light the second one, I regained control. I don't want to be a smoker. I asked myself when it would be easier to quit again after one cigarette, one pack, one week, one year? It was a fact I was going to quit, so why not turn back now? I haven't smoked since."
Elsie is experiencing success as well, in spite of missing an old friend. "I finally smelled the sulphur springs by the library," she said. "I'd never smelled them in the 37 years I've been here!"

Carrie Burggraf, P.A., is a physician assistant and wellness counselor for the Yampa Valley Health Plan wellness program.

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