While some people wait until New Year’s Eve to make a resolution to quit smoking, experts say there’s no time like the present to get started on the effort.
Those who have tried to quit smoking understand the uphill battle in attempting to kick the habit to the curb.
But, help is available.
Through its tobacco cessation program, the National Area Health Education Center has been training health care professionals nationwide to help smokers overcome their addiction.
In Florida alone, the organization has 10 centers covering all 67 counties.
The Gulf Coast North Area Health Education Center (GNAHEC) covers five counties, including Pasco.
Established in 1993, this center has long been affiliated with the University of South Florida’s College of Medicine. It provides resources to help end tobacco use.
The Gulf Coast center offers courses through funding provided by the Florida Department of Health.
“They contract with us to do the in-person group classes,” said Nicole Kelly, tobacco program manager for the center.
Kelly’s background in public health serving Pinellas County was put to good use when she joined the center’s staff in 2013.
After undergoing additional training for her position, she became certified in holding tobacco cessation programs – which aims to help smokers to kick the habit.
The Gulf Coast center offers two free tobacco cessation programs – ‘Tools to Quit’ and ‘Quit Smoking Now.’
‘Tools to Quit’ is a one-time, two-hour session that helps attendees to make plans and prepare to quit smoking.
Specialists, like Kelly, identify the withdrawal symptoms that are expected, how to deal with them as they arise and offer nicotine replacement therapy, if needed.
“We encourage them to set a quit date a week or two after class, so they don’t feel like they have to quit that day,” she explained.
One-time sessions are usually followed up with an evaluation to check on the person’s status seven months after the class.
While walk-ins are welcomed, those who plan to attend are asked to register in advance.
This helps to get an idea beforehand of how long they have been smoking, how often and if they have taken any medications.
‘Quit Smoking Now’ is a six-week program. Class members meet one hour each week.
It’s the same methodology as ‘Tools to Quit,’ but at a more gradual process.
Between classes, members are supposed to put into action the techniques and advice given.
At each session, they report their progress and, by the third week, are asked to quit cold turkey.
The Gulf Coast center is planning to implement a third program in January 2019, which would accommodate large classes at behavioral health sites.
Programs can be held at various locations from medical establishments to libraries.
“Most hospitals and health care systems don’t have tobacco cessation programs that they provide, so we fill that gap perfectly,” said Kelly.
The program also partners with establishments at on-the-job sessions for employees battling with addiction.
This was the case on Nov. 15 for the Great American Smokeout when Gulf Coast center specialists helped encourage workers at their job site to quit smoking.
During the annual event, put on by the American Cancer Society, thousands of smokers across the country make a pledge to quit.
In 2006, Florida voters accepted an amendment that would allocate funds into tobacco cessation programs, thus supporting the Gulf Coast center and creating the Tobacco Free Florida Bureau in 2007.
Tobacco Free Florida opened up courses not only for cessation to end chain-smoking, but also courses for prevention as well.
These organizations also aim to prevent smoking, especially among youths.
According to the Florida Department of Health, the state has made improvements among high school students.
In 2018, 3.6 percent of students were reported as cigarette smokers, a decline from 8.5 percent just five years before.
However, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, have become a popular alternative to traditional ones among Florida teens.
In 2013, 5.3 percent of high school students were consuming the product where now, in 2018, it has nearly quadrupled, to 24.8 percent.
The Gulf Coast center does not advocate the use of e-cigarettes or vaping as a method within its program.
As part of the reasoning, Kelly stated: “Our program is evidence-based. We follow the clinic practice guidelines for tobacco dependence.”
She added that there are seven medications known to help and “we only promote the ones that we know there is strong research to show that they can help someone quit.”
While Kelly works mostly with adults, she said she gets excited when younger smokers come to the sessions because she can help stop smoking earlier in life.
Many older adults experience a health scare, which triggers their decision to quit smoking, she said.
To find an upcoming tobacco cessation class in your area with contact information, visit GNAhec.org/tobacco-cessation.
Published December 12, 2018