Program helps smokers quit

June 30, 1999|By ERIN HEATH

Nell Stewart knows how hard it is to stop smoking.

Stewart tried her first cigarette when she was 5 years old. After smoking for 40 years and being diagnosed with asthma, she joined a smoking cessation program with a friend and managed to quit.

After she quit smoking, she went back to college and later helped design a smoking cessation program called Stop Smoking for Life.

That program, which Stewart coordinates with Jo Ann Kline, will celebrate its fifth anniversary at the Washington County Health Department next month.


Stewart is hopeful that the state tobacco tax increase of 30 cents per pack, which goes into effect today, will inspire more people to give up cigarettes. The tax on cigarettes in Maryland is now 66 cents per pack.

In addition, a 15 percent increase in the cost of other tobacco products, like pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and cigars, will take effect on July 1, 2000.

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the country, Stewart said. It accounts for at least 30 percent of cancer deaths nationally and at least 41 percent of cancer deaths in Maryland, and it causes about 1200 deaths a day, she said.

Nonsmokers can be harmed from second-hand smoke, Stewart said.

In addition to the health problems, Stewart said smoking can cause cosmetic problems such as premature wrinkles, dry skin and discoloration.

Washington County is an area at risk, Stewart said. While about 20 percent of state residents smoke, 22.7 percent of county residents are smokers.

Melissa Bartles is one of the Stop Smoking for Life success stories. She quit smoking through the program after 28 years as a smoker, and she now volunteers as a certified addictions counselor.

Bartles said she wanted to stop smoking because she felt like the addiction was controlling her life. She signed up for the smoking cessation program so she could have the support of a group of others who were trying to quit.

Even after joining the program, Bartles soon found that giving up cigarettes was not easy. She experienced insomnia, unwanted weight gain, headaches and periods of confusion. Trying to quit felt like going through a break-up from a relationship, she said.

Nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, is more addictive than cocaine, heroin or alcohol, Stewart said. While 10 percent of those who use alcohol become addicted, she said more than 85 percent of those who use tobacco become addicted.

The difficulties of breaking away from nicotine make it hard to help people to quit smoking, Stewart said. The success rate of Stop Smoking for Life is about 40 percent.

Bartles went back to smoking once after being nicotine-free for three weeks. She said she looked for support to fellow smokers trying to quit and family members, and she remained focused on gaining the control she thought she had lost through her need to smoke.

She said going through the tough withdrawal process was worth it after she stopped smoking for good.

"I don't have to let the cigarettes decide whether to drive or take public transportation, or which restaurant to eat lunch at," she said. "I can go anywhere and do anything I want now."

Stop Smoking for Life offers four free smoking cessation programs a year.

The next program begins in September at the Washington County Health Department.

Meetings are twice a week and last 75 minutes. Each program is four weeks long. Both day and evening sessions are offered. The average meeting size is eight to 15 people.

The Health Department offers monthly support group meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month, as well as individual counseling.

For information on Stop Smoking for Life, call 301-791-3034.

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