Crushing a bad habit

A Hagerstown man celebrates a year of living smoke-free

A Hagerstown man celebrates a year of living smoke-free

November 17, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Dana Coe thought he had been lying to his wife for 12 years, since before their two sons were born.

He had "quit" smoking, but was smoking on the way to work or sneaking out of his North End home for a fix.

Johanna Coe says she suspected he'd been smoking. He would come in from a 3 a.m. walk smelling like smoke and say the smell was "the outdoors."

But when Johanna cleaned Dana's pickup truck a year ago and found cigarettes under the driver's seat, he couldn't hide his habit anymore. Johanna told Dana about tobacco-cessation classes at Washington County Health Department.


"If you want to quit smoking, you have to do it for yourself," she says.

He told her to sign him up, which she did.

"He went to the first class and kept going," she says.

"I was relieved," says Dana, 49, when his smoking habit was out in the open.

Dana, who had been smoking for 28 years, quit cold turkey. It was his second time quitting, but this time he stuck with it as he had support from other people in tobacco-cessation class who were going through the same thing.

Nov. 2 was the one-year anniversary of his quitting smoking. Dana still stops in the smoking-cessation classes when he can, volunteering his time and his own story to help others trying to quit.

The next session starts in January, but health department officials are trying to get smokers thinking about quitting now. Thursday, Nov. 20 is the Great American Smokeout, sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the Tobacco Free Washington County Coalition.

An estimated 16 percent of Washington County adults smoked cigarettes in 2006, the latest year data was available, according to Paula Ernst, community health educator for the health department. That compares with 14 percent for Maryland.

The smokeout and the classes are not restricted to Washington County residents.

For the smokeout, smokers are encouraged to sign pledge cards that affirm they will quit smoking for one day, Ernst says. The pledge cards can be obtained at or by calling 240-420-1796.

"We'll call them within a week to see how they are doing," Ernst says. If they are successful at quitting for one day, their name will be entered in a drawing for prizes.

Class leaders don't try to scare people into quitting, Dana says. There are no disgusting pictures of smoker's lungs.

Instead they talk about why people smoke and ways to quit, and offer some assistance in obtaining smoking-cessation products. But mostly, it's a support group where people can share their stories and tips on quitting the habit, say Dana Coe and Ernst.

One class member couldn't figure out how to get around his early morning habit of smoking as his coffee brewed. The solution: Set the coffeemaker to brew overnight so the coffee is already ready in the morning.

"To one person, it's a major obstacle to overcome. But with the group, ideas come," Dana says.

Smoking is a habit, so you have to find ways to get out of the routine, Dana says.

When Dana quit the first time, he was stationed on a submarine and thought it would be a good move for his health to quit. Eleven months later he went out drinking with friends and lit up a cigarette because for him, drinking and smoking went together.

"The easiest thing to do is pick up a cigarette," says Dana, who originally started the habit out of boredom. "The hardest thing is to not pick one up."

That's exactly what he told his eighth-grade math students at Western Heights Middle School after he told them he was trying to quit smoking.

It wasn't overt, but Dana says perhaps subconsciously he wanted them to know what he was doing. It might help explain the occasional bad mood.

To remind himself of each day he passed smoke-free, Dana wrote "Day 1" on his blackboard. The number went up each day and soon Dana's students asked him what it was about.

Some students were encouraging, while others told him he wouldn't make it. But this time, he says he has made up his mind -- something he says he had not done when he tried to quit before.

Instead of stopping at Sheetz on his way to work to buy his daily pack of cigarettes, he stops by on the way home, walking past the cigarette ads and buys a soda.

"I'm scared not to be successful," he says.

If you go ...

WHAT: Tobacco cessation class

WHEN: The next eight-session program begins Monday, Jan. 12. There is an 11 a.m. to noon program and a 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. program. Sessions are Mondays and Thursdays for four weeks.

WHERE: Washington County Health Department, 1302 Pennsylvania Ave., Hagerstown

COST: Free

CONTACT: To enroll, call 240-420-1796.

MORE: The class is open to anyone older than 18 who is interested in quitting tobacco. Free nicotine patches are available for participating Washington County residents. The health department also will pay for the smoking-cessation drug Chantix for participating county residents whose insurance won't cover it.

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