Perhaps the most rewarding part of being a respiratory therapist is helping people to quit smoking. Day in and day out respiratory therapists, nurses and other clinicians see the tragic effects of cigarette addiction. Being a part of helping to eliminate or alleviate all that suffering is a wonderful experience. Like most health care providers who continually see the immediate and long-term benefits when someone stops smoking, I can’t help but want to share the good news of those benefits.
It’s important to know that kicking the habit is a very different experience for each person who attempts it. Everyone’s experience varies because people are addicted to smoking for different reasons and to different degrees. There are those who decide to quit and actually do it; and stay smoke-free for the rest of their lives. Others really want to quit and really try to quit; but can’t muster the motivation and energy to do it. Still, others know they should quit but put it out of their mind; or live in a kind of denial that is hurting them.
This parable helps to understand the situation: A cigarette habit is like a friend who we allowed to move into our house. At first there are benefits to the relationship which may include the stimulation and pleasure we receive from smoking or the socialization we enjoy with other smokers. However, in time these benefits begin to wear thin and we discover that our friend is taking our money, leaving a mess and creating difficulties with our friends and family. This ‘friend’ always has a rational argument as to why we should let him stay. He explains that it won’t be long, and he will leave on his own; but he never does. If we force him out, we find him knocking at the door at all hours of the day and night pleading to be allowed to stay a little longer. In the end it takes great determination and persistence to kick him out for good.
As a former smoker, I can easily relate to this story. It took a lot of doing to evict the habit from my life. Over the years, as a respiratory therapist I’ve had multiple opportunities to share my story to encourage others to quit smoking, but the best program that I have found to help those who have a difficult time quitting is the one developed by the American Lung Association.
There are three basic parts to their program: First, list the reasons why you want to quit. These reasons are your motivations. The clearer you can see and feel why you want to quit the more motivated you will become. Recognizing that smoking is the number one cause of preventable death is a strong reason to quit. Another motivation is to quit for someone you love. If smoking is hurting your relationships it can push you to the point of kicking the habit. Another big motivation is the money being wasted. The average one pack a day smoker spends $3000 a year on their habit. In the last five years that’s $15,000 that has gone up in smoke!
Pick a quit day that is three or four weeks in the future and prepare for that day by examining your addiction. Find out where, when, and why you smoke each cigarette. Be honest and objective. Be creative and find alternative behaviors in those times and places where you usually smoke. If possible, alter the situations or avoid those places where you smoke.
When quit day comes, it is important to realize that urges are time limited. Believe it or not the urge for a cigarette does not last longer than six minutes, usually less.
Another important idea is to establish a support group. Explain to family and friends that you need their help and support. In most cases you will be surprised how much they will want to support you.
The benefits of living without cigarettes are enormous. Your health improves in so many ways. You look better and your self-esteem increases. You set a better example for the children and young people in your life. There’s more money in your wallet. Your car, your clothes and your home smell better. Food tastes better and your sense of smell improves. The list goes on and on. It is definitely worth it!
The Bristol/Burlington Health District has partnered with Bristol Health to offer Bristol Housing Authority residents the American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking class free of charge. If you are a Bristol Housing Authority resident and are interested in the program to quit smoking, please call Brenda Moore, ROSS coordinator at 860-585-2022. All others are asked to call Bristol Health at 860-583-5858. Some of our classes are scheduled to start the second week of September 2019. So if you are interested, please sign up as soon as possible.
Tom Berrill, BA, RT, is a respiratory therapist with Bristol Health and has almost 30 years of experience.