Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® Program at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Helps Smokers Quit for Good

Two Hospital Employees Share How the Program Has Helped them Stay Smokefree

(December 5, 2013)

Pictured are Peggy Russo (left) Freedom From Smoking Facilitator at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center and Lahey employee Jeanne Ciocca (right) who is a graduate of the Freedom From Smoking program.

About one in six people living in Massachusetts uses tobacco and studies indicate that a full 70 percent of them want to quit.  Yet many smokers who want to quit mistakenly believe that they can’t; they’ve either tried before or failed or they’re frightened because they don’t know what to expect or where to start.  That’s where the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking® (FFS) Program comes in.  And for smokers who want to quit and happen to live in the Greater Boston area, they needn’t look any further than the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center in Burlington. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center is one of three academic medical centers in the New England which offers the Lung Association’s renowned FFS program on an ongoing basis.  Based on the number of participants who completed the program, Lahey's end of clinic success rate oftentimes exceeds the average quit rate of 55% typically seen in FFS programs across the country.

The Freedom From Smoking group clinic consists of eight sessions using the Lung Association’s FFS curriculum and materials. The comprehensive program is designed to help smokers understand their addiction to tobacco and provide them with tools to make quitting easier.  The number of participants in the classes is limited to 20 so that each individual gets the attention they need and has a chance to fully participate. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center offers the Freedom From Smoking Program at no cost to the community and its colleagues alike. It is offered every month at both the Burlington campus and Lahey Medical Center, Peabody. 

“The Freedom from Smoking program that is being offered at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center is second to none and truly is a model program,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “While we offer our Freedom From Smoking Online program 24/7, it’s unique to have an actual in-person group clinic being run continuously in the same location.    We’re grateful that Lahey Hospital & Medical Center has committed to offering this option to the community because quitting smoking is the best thing  people can do to reduce their risk for premature death and disease and improve their health.”

“I am very passionate about this program because it has helped me personally,” said Peggy Russo, of Chelmsford, who is now the facilitator of the program at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. She’s helped hundreds of people quit using Freedom from Smoking since 2004.  “My job is to take away the anxiety from people and let them know that is okay if they don’t succeed right away. We take quitting one day at a time here and we emphasize that slipping up does not have to mean failure; you try again the next day.”

Russo remembers how difficult it was to quit when she finally did several years ago.  She said she believes her own personal experience has enabled her to be a better facilitator as she can relate to much of what the smokers in her class are experiencing.  She herself had stopped and started several times before quitting for good and that is common; statistics say the average smoker tries to quit seven times before they are successful.

Russo says that the most rewarding part of working as a facilitator is seeing people empowered and feeling much better about themselves than they did when they walked into the classroom for the first session.   “People come to this program and quickly realize they are not alone and that they are going to be supported every step of the way. I feel lucky to be doing the work I am doing every day.”

Another person who feels fortunate that Peggy Russo is doing the work she is doing is Jeanne Ciocca of Natick. With the support of Russo and FFS, Ciocca was able to kick her addiction to tobacco six years ago this January. Ciocca, who manages patient accounting and billing at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, had quit before but went back to smoking at a particularly stressful time in her life.  She credits FFS with teaching her the tools she needed to quit for good.

“In preparing for Quit Day, “I wrote a letter to say ‘goodbye’ to my cigarettes and it was a very powerful exercise for me; I re-read that letter I wrote then every year on my quit anniversary,” says Ciocca.  “The experience of being in a group setting with other people who were also going through the process of quitting was very effective for me.  The other participants kept me strong and we all supported one another.”

“There’s a whole life beyond cigarettes and you are much stronger than you think you are,” said Ciocca.  “I was struck by how quickly I felt better once I stopped smoking; people will feel better sooner than they think.” Ciocca said an important motivator for her was becoming a grandmother and wanting to be there for her grandkids. “I wanted this phase of my life to be one of health.  I’ve achieved that now and I am forever grateful to this program.”

At work, Ciocca says she feels very supported in her efforts to stay smokefree and healthy. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center is a tobacco free campus and offers a number of employee wellness programs, including a walking program.  Ciocca says she  walks every day with coworkers and continues to use many of the techniques she learned in the program, like exercising, taking time to relax and drinking lots of water, to manage her stress. “The thing you come learn is that stress will always be there,” she says.  “Through this program we learn how to manage it differently.”

To learn more about the Freedom From Smoking Program offered at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, visit Lahey.org/tobaccotreatment or call their quitline at 781-744-QUIT (7848) for assistance. 

To learn more about the Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking online program, visit ffsonline.org.