Middletown Times Herald Record: It's tough to kick the smoking habit, but there are many free resources available to help you get on track

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By Bob Gaydos

published: 02/16/11

"It took me 13 tries and 20 years. I was a two-pack-a-day smoker. Both my parents died of smoking-related illnesses. I was helping people deal with other addictions and kept asking myself, 'Why can't I quit smoking?'"

Today, Jamie Conklin knows why it was so hard for her to kick the nicotine habit. As addictive substances go, nothing compares to nicotine. In 1988, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop issued a report on addictions in which he said cigarettes, a legal product, are as addictive as heroin and cocaine, the more familiar, illegal bogeymen of drug addiction at the time.

Since then, scientific research has gone further than that, declaring nicotine to easily be the most addictive substance.

Adding to the potency is the fact that cigarettes, the most common source of nicotine, are used so often on a daily basis. Ten puffs per cigarette, 20 cigarettes per pack, equals 200 doses per day for a pack-a-day smoker. Plus, the inhaled drug has an almost straight path to the brain's pleasure centers, and nicotine is an all-purpose drug, being both stimulant and relaxant.

The problem, of course, is that this wonder drug also has many more ways to harm its users — and even nonusers — than other drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million have a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars and pipes also have deadly consequences including lung, larynx, esophageal and oral cancers."

Despite this scientific track record and growing public disapproval of smokers, and despite the fact that tobacco use has declined significantly in the past decade, millions still try to quit smoking each year and fail — the way Conklin did for many years.

 

Motivational program

She eventually succeeded and developed a motivational stop-smoking program to help others. Today, she is a smoking cessation facilitator for both the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association. She is also a part-time consultant for the Orange County Department of Health, which is offering her program free to people who live or work in Orange County.

Typically, Conklin says, she gets people "who have not been successful at quitting or are scared to death." Those who resist, she says, are often bolstered by anecdotal evidence that suggests they may not suffer any negative consequences from smoking.

"We all have an Aunt Ethel who smoked two packs a day all her life and died in her sleep at 90," Conklin says. But if you want to compare the power of denial regarding tobacco versus other substances, Conklin, who has worked in the field of substance abuse for more than 20 years, points out that Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, both died of smoking-related illnesses.

 

Changing behavior

There are dozens of approaches to quitting smoking. Conklin focuses on changing the person's behavior before they try to quit smoking. "Smoking is their coping mechanism," she says. "I teach them how to cope without smoking."

Since so much of smokers' lives includes smoking, virtually everything they do can be a trigger to light up. For example, someone might be encouraged to stop smoking while driving for a week before trying to stop smoking altogether.

She also teaches people how to last through the cravings for a cigarette, which she said last only 60 to 90 seconds. Once they get through the craving and withdrawal, she says, it's like a miracle. The program, which is tailored to each person, also includes information on weight loss, stress management and the facts on why they are addicted. The last class is on how to stay stopped.

Conklin emphasizes that the program is based on "evidence-based, clinical practice guidelines," which means it has worked for others.

 

You're not alone

Information on the next free program is listed below. If you've tried to quit and did not succeed, you are not alone. You don't even have to be stopped to enroll in this program or even be sure 100 percent you want to stop.

"It's really a shameful addiction," Conklin says, noting the intense public pressure on smokers to quit today and the ever-increasing tax burden levied on tobacco products. If you're smoking while you're reading this and don't know why, you might want to give quitting another try.