Only 5 percent of tobacco users are able to quit "cold turkey." For most of the rest, a more concentrated effort, often involving doctors and family, is required.

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Only 5 percent of tobacco users are able to quit "cold turkey." For most of the rest, a more concentrated effort, often involving doctors and family, is required.

Monday Medical: Quitting tobacco takes more than willpower


Resources to quit

Resources to help people stop smoking or using tobacco can be found by calling the Respiratory Care department of Yampa Valley Medical Center at 970-871-2392 and by contacting the Colorado QuitLine at or 800-QUIT-NOW.

It's no easy feat to stop smoking or using tobacco. Just ask Debby Harris, a registered respiratory therapist who provides nicotine counseling at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

"People who smoke may try to quit up to six times before they quit for good," Harris said. "About 5 percent can stop 'cold turkey,' without help, but the majority of tobacco users have more success with counseling or group support."

Harris was educated at the Mayo Clinic and provided nicotine counseling at a Nebraska hospital for six years before starting YVMC's program. She sees inpatients and outpatients whose physicians have prescribed her services.

"This program is for those who are ready to quit smoking or using tobacco," she said. "It is important to set a date and then make a personalized plan to reach that goal. People have a better chance of succeeding if they sit down one-to-one with a counselor."

Harris noted that smoking-cessation attempts often increase along with the cost of cigarettes or tobacco. Telephone-based counseling services such as Colorado QuitLine can get overwhelmed by the volume of callers - especially when they offer free nicotine patches.

Other factors that motivate tobacco users to quit include their own health or family dynamics.

"I remember one young man who chewed snuff," Harris said. "He had a 3-year-old son who liked to emulate everything he did. When his son started imitating his tobacco use, the whole family came in for counseling.

"This man successfully quit. He knew he did not want his son to ever start using tobacco, 'just like Daddy.'"

Steamboat Springs internal medicine physician Kevin Borgerding, M.D., is the medical director of Respiratory Care services at YVMC. He discusses tobacco use with his patients during annual checkups or when they complain about respiratory problems.

"Many realize they shouldn't be smoking, and most want to make a concerted effort to quit," Borgerding said. "Tobacco use creates so many different risks, beyond the obvious ones of lung cancer and chronic lung disease.

"Smokers and tobacco-users are at increased risk of heart and vascular disease, head and neck cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer and kidney cancer.

"When we talk, I want to see if the patient is psychologically ready to quit, because they are more likely to be successful," Borgerding said. "There are an array of options that can help people."

Over-the-counter and prescription medications can ease nicotine cravings. Counseling goes beyond physical addiction, delving into everything from time management to personal relationships.

"The pack-a-day smoker has 100 minutes of repetitive activity revolving around cigarettes," Harris said. "We need to replace this activity, suggesting other things to do and think about during the day. It can be a gift to gain 100 minutes per day.

"When I work with couples, sometimes one person wants to quit and the other doesn't," she said. "Their customized plan needs to be very honest about what will take place in the home and relationship."

YVMC is committed to advancing health by establishing nicotine counseling before creating a tobacco-free campus. To protect patients, visitors, physicians and employees from the negative effects of tobacco use, all areas around the hospital, medical office building and Doak Walker Care Center will be tobacco-free in 2010.

Borgerding hopes that diminishing opportunities to smoke and serious health risks will persuade more tobacco users to quit. And Harris encourages people to keep striving to kick the habit until they succeed.

"If someone has tried to quit before, there was a reason they were motivated to stop, and that is a positive thing we can work with," she said. "People can remember the day they started smoking again and why they made that choice, and we can address those issues together.

"I see multiple attempts not as failures, but as good practice toward eventually quitting."

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at


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