Where there's smoke there's help to quit

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— "Stop smoking? That's easy! I've done it hundreds of times," said Mark Twain, underscoring the challenge of tobacco cessation. Most smokers start because of curiosity, peer pressure, advertising influences and exposure to smoking parents. It usually takes a smoker four to seven "practice runs" and a combination of techniques before he or she successfully quits.

Darrell Akers, an employee of the Extended Care Center, started smoking in the 1950s "when it was considered cool, even sophisticated, to smoke. It was a personal choice to stop," Akers said. "I realized I was getting older and smoking was becoming another strike against me."

The American Cancer Society notes there are 43 carcinogens in cigarettes. These carcinogens cause 400,000 deaths in America each year, more than the number of people who would die if three jumbo jets crashed every day for a year with no survivors. Yampa Valley Medical Center is sponsoring the Fresh Start tobacco cessation program in October. The class costs $60. The orientation, entitled "Are You Ready?" is a free session from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday at the hospital. Call 871-2500 for details.

Akers stopped, as more than half of all smokers do, by going cold turkey.

"It helped me when I realized that the power to quit was inside me, rather than in all the gadgets. Also, working where there's a non-smoking policy seemed to help. It just wasn't worth the time it took on break to get outside to where I could smoke," he said.

Withdrawal from nicotine addiction takes roughly two to seven days, but the key to success is in breaking the habits surrounding tobacco use. Start by identifying the benefits of smoking, such as decreased stress and increased energy. Then find alternate sources for those benefits.

Make a list of reasons to quit, drink many glasses of water, and find a supportive person you can call when necessary. Keep hand puzzles and healthy snacks nearby. Plan small daily rewards and prepare "ways out" for times when temptation strikes.

Many fear weight gain as a result of tobacco cessation. Most people gain 5 to 7 pounds when they stop smoking, a small amount considering that for the risk of weight gain to equal the risk of tobacco use, one would have to be 125 pounds overweight.

Exercise is a cornerstone to success. It relieves stress, clears toxins from the body, and holds off extra pounds. Those who exercise as part of their plan are three to four times more likely to be successful.

Prescription and over-the-counter medications can help. The nicotine patch and gum are easy to purchase, easy to use, and generally low in side effects, but should not be used until smoking has stopped completely. Zyban is a prescription medication that stimulates the brain much like nicotine. It is started seven days prior to the smoker's quit date and has its greatest success when used in conjunction with the patch.

Taking the time to make a plan of action and involving the support of family, friends, and coworkers is a valuable investment.

"Knowing that my son was dead against it and knowing my health would be better helped a lot," Akers said.

According to the American Cancer Society, carbon monoxide levels return to normal within eight hours, the risk of heart attack decreases within 24 hours, and the senses of taste and smell improve by 48 hours. At the three-month mark, lung function increases by 30 percent. By one year, the risk of heart attack is cut in half.

It takes 10 years to reduce the risk of lung cancer by 50 percent. Within 10 to 15 years, the ex-smoker's risk of dying from any cause is almost the same as that of someone who never smoked.

For Akers, stopping was a challenge.

"I've never stopped missing it a little," he said. "I just had to realize it was over. And now I breathe easier, feel better. There's a peace of mind, in itself, not needing tobacco anymore."


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

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