Vermont Quits: Part Three - Starting & Stopping

01/14/09 5:30PM By Neal Charnoff
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(Neal Charnoff) All this week, VPR is taking a look at smoking in Vermont. With money set aside from a 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry, the state has made a concerted effort to reduce the number of people who still smoke.

Today, we look at why people pick up the habit, and the best ways to quit.

(Porter) "I had many friends who smoked, and got my first cigarettes off of friends..."

(Charnoff) Ben Porter of Burlington calls himself a "recovering" smoker. Porter is a senior at the University of Vermont. He picked up the habit as a sophomore.

(Porter)"...And I would really say it had to do with the social activity I was partaking in, concerts, you know in between sets you're outside a lot, or at parties, you know kind of group smoking situations that I think fostered my ability to ignore common sense."

(Charnoff) Another UVM student, Rebecca Goletz, is having a cigarette nearby. She agrees that for her, smoking is a social activity.

(Goletz) "Just when I'm drinking and when I'm like around the library when other people are smoking. A few a week I guess."

(Charnoff) According to the health department, the age group that has the highest rate of smoking in Vermont is 18 to 24-year-olds. That doesn't surprise Ben Porter.

(Porter) "It's a time in your life when you're really figuring a lot of stuff out, and more so than that when you're not as strict with yourself as far as your morals."

(Charnoff) But what begins as a social activity becomes for many a lifelong habit.

Dr. John Hughes is a University of Vermont researcher. He says the addictiveness of nicotine is underestimated because it's not an intoxicating drug.

And people continue to get mixed messages about the "coolness" of smoking.

(Film clip, Now Voyager) "Shall we just have a cigarette on it? Yes!"

(Charnoff) In the ‘40's film Now Voyager, the image of Paul Henreid lighting Bette Davis's cigarette can be seen as the ultimate prelude to romance.

Dr. Hughes' research shows that the portrayal of smoking in film and television DOES make people - especially the young - want to smoke.

(Hughes) "It's a thumbing your nose. You're willing to have the intellectual courage to not take the conformity route. The problem is all the kids say I'm not gonna be smoking in five years. And all of them are."

(Charnoff) So how do you counteract the message that "smoking is cool"?

Sheri Lynn is Tobacco Control Chief for the Vermont Health Department. Lynn says that shaming smokers into quitting doesn't work.

(Lynn) "Our research shows that among smokers, they need to feel encouraged, they need to feel supported, and they need people to understand that it is really hard, and that's really what we've tried to do with the Your quit Your way campaign."

(PSA clip, "Your quit your way")

(Charnoff) Dr. John Hughes says that smokers already know that cigarettes are bad for them, and that isn't the message they need to hear.

But they DO need to hear encouragement.

(Hughes) "You can just say - Oh, I heard about this new treatment or did you hear so and so quit the other day or, I really hope that you stop smoking because our kids are growing up...It can be literally ten seconds. And our studies and many other studies show that can have an impact."

(Charnoff) As for the person who's trying to quit, Hughes says smokers need to understand that it takes several tries to be successful. His research shows that half of those who are trying to quit won't make it past three weeks.

Hughes does not recommend quitting cold turkey. He says that any method of treatment, whether it's call-in counseling, nicotine replacement therapy or using prescription drugs, will double the chances of success.

For prescription drugs, there has been much word-of-mouth excitement about Chantix, a drug that blocks the effects of nicotine, and negates the pleasure of smoking.

But some researchers suggest that Chantix can aggravate mental illnesses associated with suicide and aggression.

Dr. Hughes says there's not enough information to prove the link.

(Hughes) "If you don't ever have any history of mental illness or mental problems, Chantix is a wonderful drug, there's no reason not to take it."

(Charnoff) Hughes says that combining counseling with over the counter treatments is really the best way for smokers to kick the habit.

He says that smokers should expect to feel irritable for two weeks to a month, but adds that the withdrawal symptoms WILL go away.

(Hughes) After six months, smokers are less depressed, less anxious, more calm so there's actually psychological benefits to quitting.

Of course, the best way to avoid having to quit cigarettes is never starting the habit in the first place. UVM student Ben Porter can relate.

(Porter) "It's hard in this day and age to not realize how bad they are for you, it really does take a kind of active ignorance to allow yourself to do it."

Tomorrow in our series: The tobacco settlement - and why advocates want more money directed to prevention and quit smoking programs.


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