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Be a Quitter

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Stop smoking with the help of trained experts at area clinics and over the phone

health-smokingjpg.jpgThe odds are stacked against smokers. If you’re one of the 26.5 percent of Louisianans who smoke, consider the following:

  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 6,400 people in Louisiana die every year from smoking-related illnesses.
  • Annually, tobacco use costs our state $1.15 billion in direct medical expenses, and another $1.66 billion is lost in worker productivity.
  • The future doesn’t look rosy either: 36.4 percent of Louisiana teens smoke as compared with 22.9 percent nationally.

Perhaps most alarming of all is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Quitting smoking may be only a phone call away.

The Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL), a program of the Louisiana Public Health Institute, has set up a 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669) hotline for smokers. The hotline offers more than just available resources for smokers; it is staffed by smoking cessation experts, says Jason Melancon, a spokesperson for TFL.

“These trained professionals are accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Quitline counselors also provide information on Nicotine Replacement Therapy, refer callers to local “Freedom From Smoking” clinics, and schedule up to five follow-up phone calls as a means of continued support throughout the quitting process.”

Smokers wishing to quit must have an organized and comprehensive plan because they are facing a formidable opponent: nicotine. Thomas Lotz, executive director of the American Lung Association (ALA) of Louisiana, admits that nicotine is “one of the most addictive substances on the planet.” Peer pressure remains an enticing component for luring new smokers, and although television advertisements are banned, tobacco marketing still has a strong presence, Lotz says.

The good news is that smoking cessation programs have dramatically improved.
“They’re much better now than they were ten years ago,” Lotz says. “Nicotine replacement therapy products are more available and the amount of nicotine has been fine tuned to match what the smoker needs in order to quit.”

According to Lotz, the other half of the equation for successfully quitting is behavior modification. There is now more science to back up the idea that smokers should change their environments and actions when they are trying to quit and to make the changes permanent. In other words, be aware of what triggers smoking. Avoid these triggers and replace them with a healthier alternative. As Lotz simply puts it, “If you find yourself always smoking at bars and lounges, stop going to bars and lounges. Instead, you might spend more time at non-smoking establishments like a gym, shopping mall, or the movies.”

Lotz cautions concerned family members, friends, or spouses that the smoker is the one who makes the decision to quit. Lotz calls this the action stage — when the smoker has contemplated the smoking habit and decided it’s time to do something about it. “You can’t do this for your wife or your mother. You have to do this for yourself,” Lotz says.

But it doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. ALA of Louisiana partners with TFL, Ochsner Health System and West Jefferson Medical Center to offer “Freedom From Smoking” clinics. The clinics take place at these two hospitals, and are five weeks long with a total of eight sessions. Each clinic participant receives special attention in developing his or her own quitting plan, dealing with recovery symptoms, controlling weight, managing stress through relaxation techniques that work, and being prepared to fight the urges to smoke.

Lotz says these clinics, as well as others, are reasonably priced and only cost $10 to $75 for the entire eight sessions.

Not only are the clinics affordable, but smokers who quit also start receiving health benefits almost immediately. Dr. Kevin Kovitz, director of Interventional Pulmonology at Tulane University Hospital and Clinics, reports that a smoker’s risk for heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and vascular disease begin to lessen as soon as they put out their last cigarette. Over time, an ex-smoker’s chances of getting one of these diseases approach that of a non-smoker.

So, it’s never too late to quit, and as Dr. Kovitz says, “It’s always a good time to quit smoking.”

It’s advice that feels like a breath of fresh air.

For more information on the Freedom From Smoking clinics, contact the American Lung Association of Louisiana at 828-5864 or visit www.louisianalung.org/.