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SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2007
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Kick the habit with support — call Alabama Quitline

By Andrea Brunty
abrunty@decaturdaily.com · 340-2448

Talking to someone about quitting may be what you need to extinguish your cigarettes forever. The Alabama Tobacco Quitline is a free service that can help — all you need is a phone.

If you call the Quitline, you can expect to go through in an initial intake, as you would a traditional doctor’s office, said Pamela Luckett, the Quitline’s director.

The master’s level counselors will ask you questions such as how much you smoke, when you started, how many times you have tried to quit and what’s your motivation to quit.

The health of a caller is important to determine, Luckett said, because some issues, other than lung and heart problems, are related to tobacco use, which often surprises callers.

The counselors then assess the best method to quit smoking based on each caller’s needs.

Free patches

The program can include four weeks of free nicotine replacement patches for those who qualify. Callers must also agree to participate in cessation counseling.

“We do that clinical screening because we want to make sure people are healthy enough to use the patch,” she said. “And we use the nicotine replacement patch because it has the best success rate.”

The questioning process also is a way to screen those who are serious about quitting and those who just want information.

“We’re not just a patch giveaway; there’s a process to it,” Luckett said.

Of the 3,000 Alabamians who called the Quitline during the last grant year (which ended in July), 2,000 people started treatment. For those who quit smoking using the patch, the Quitline saw a 45 percent success rate.

“That might not sound like a lot, but it’s about a 12 to 15 percent (success rate) for the general population who try to quit on their own,” Luckett said.

Monica Thompson, a tobacco cessation counselor, said she works with callers to help replace smoking with a healthier lifestyle.

“It’s exciting to get one of your clients to actually quit and stop depending on tobacco,” she said. “We give them the motivational keys to start again.”

One of her clients, a young woman, started the program angry.

Thompson asked her to break trigger habits by not smoking in the house or car.

The client’s response: “ ‘Well, this is my house. I pay the bills. You can’t tell me what to do,’ ” Thompson said. “So you just have to say, ‘OK, ma’am, I’m not telling you, I’m asking you.’ ”

“They don’t like it and they disagree with what you’re telling them, but in the end, they’ll figure it out,” Thompson said. “They realize it makes sense and then we become the ones that support them and they’re doing the legwork.”

Relapsing

Luckett said for many reasons, people drop out of the services.

“People aren’t always willing to accept the fact that they’re addicted to something,” she said. “It’s an addiction as well as a behavioral habit, so we have to address” both sides of that.

“A smoker is a smoker is a smoker. If you use tobacco in any pattern, you’re a smoker.”

Some people decide to quit, but then find themselves relapsing once they are put into trigger situations.

Counselors also face an “I need someone else to do that for me” mentality, Luckett said.

“People change their mind ... or they want a magic bullet,” she said. “The magic bullet is one of the biggest things that we fight.

“They’ll say ‘My relatives laid them down and never had a problem quitting.’ But that never happens,” she said. “People will remember one person like that and hundreds who have tried and failed.”

It’s common to relapse anywhere from three to six or seven times before you finally quit, Luckett said. The Quitline has a follow-up process of three months, six months and a year to help prevent relapsing.

“You really can’t be the decision-maker for a caller ... you have to lay out the benefits of quitting and what their motivation to quit is ... and how willing they are (to commit). ... There’s not a miracle way.”

If you smoke more than 20 cigarettes or a pack a day, a rate reduction can help, Luckett said.

Light cigarettes

Light cigarettes, however, are not any safer or less addicting than regular ones, she said.

“There are more holes in the filter, so you actually draw harder, which causes the carcinogens to go farther in the lungs,” she said.

Stress is the No. 1 reason people relapse, she said.

“People will say, ‘I can’t handle stress without the cigarettes,’ ” she said. “Some quit until a stressful event occurs” like a divorce, death or loss of a job.

Triggers

The Quitline offers steps to track triggers. Most tobacco users have a pattern they follow, Luckett said.

Heavier smokers may find they need nicotine the first five minutes of the day. They will have trouble being in locations where they can’t smoke.

“Caffeine, alcohol, driving in the car, right after a meal — all those things are triggers. We try to help people look at what are their triggers every day,” she said. “Most cigarettes are part of a habit or routine. We help people understand when is it a habit and when is it nicotine and then learn how to adapt to not smoking.”

Some people get so discouraged that they beat themselves down, Thompson said, and her job is to remind them they’re not alone and everyone makes mistakes.

“(Quitting smoking) is really like losing your best friends,” she said. “Sometimes you just need to be listened to and supported.”

Call Quitline

Contact the Alabama Tobacco Quitline at (800) QUIT-NOW.

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