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Program offers help to quit smoking

January 03, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Gene Keller was 12 when he puffed his first cigarette.

For more than 50 years, Keller smoked as much as two packs a day, and eventually faced heart and lung disease.

Quitting was the hardest thing he's ever done, but it was worth it, he said.

"I feel better. I look better. I smell better. Even my food tastes better," said Keller, 69, of Hagerstown.

As each New Year approached, Keller resolved to quit smoking. He tried a variety of methods, including going cold turkey and participating in paid programs.

Nothing worked, he said, until he signed up for the Washington County Health Department's Stop Smoking for Life program, which has been offered for five years.

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"They can't make you quit, but they can sure help you," said Keller, who hasn't had a cigarette in four years.

The free four-week program provides instruction on the negative effects of nicotine addiction, what to expect during withdrawal and emotional support during its 75-minute, twice-a-week sessions.

Keller and others who have kicked the habit attend the sessions and describe how they found the strength to give up nicotine.

The Stop Smoking for Life January session begins Thursday and can be a resource for those whose New Year's resolutions involved kicking the habit, said Nell Stewart, coordinator for special programs at the Health Department.

The program isn't a miracle cure, she said.

The success of the program varies based on the determination of each participant. Of the 575 people who have gone through the program, 248 have quit smoking, she said.

Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's anti-smoking crusade has gotten through to Washington County, where 79 percent of people over 18 don't smoke, she said.

The remaining 21 percent are the "die-hards," Stewart said.

Smoking among teenagers has been on the rise and the Health Department has been working closely with the Washington County Board of Education to help turn things around, she said.

As a former pack-a-day smoker, Stewart knows exactly what people are going through in the Stop Smoking for Life program, she said.

Stewart said she doesn't pretend that it's an easy process but "It's worthwhile to quit."

Classes range in size from 15 to 20 people and participants are not pressured to quit, she said.

The program provides information to help smokers stay positive and come up with a plan for quitting.

A support group meets the first Wednesday of each month for those who have stopped and need emotional support or those who are still working through their addiction.

Help is there if you need it, said Stewart, but "you won't do it (quit smoking) until you believe it's possible."

Classes are held in the second-floor auditorium of the Washington County Health Department on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For more information, call Stewart at 301-791-3034.

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