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Five years smoke free

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November 12, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

ADDISON COUNTY — Kathy Ciociola of Vergennes had tried to stop smoking more than once, but never managed to stay away completely until she found out about the “Ready, Set… Stop!” program of the Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable. Ciociola found the atmosphere of that program more helpful than trying to quit on her own, and she has now been smoke-free since June 15, 2002.

To Ciociola, the difference was the program’s message. “It’s not one of those ‘smoking is bad’ things. It’s more of a positive, ‘How can we help you’ thing,” Ciociola said. “Smokers know it’s bad for them … (Quitting) doesn’t have to be that bad.”

Those looking for a reason to stop smoking could look for help this Thursday, when the Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable will join with the rest of the nation in recognizing the Great American Smokeout, a day when smokers take a day away from their cigarettes, cigars and pipes.

Ciociola, 52, decided to quit when she began thinking about her son starting a family of his own.

“I didn’t want to be a smoking grandmother,” she said. When she Melanie Clark, program coordinator of the Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable (and now Ciociola’s daughter-in-law) asked her for advice about the program, she decided to sign up.

She said the program was successful for her partly because it had an intentionally positive message rather than focusing on the many problems caused by smoking. The health effects of smoking are well documented and the messages right on cigarette packages warn that “smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and may complicate pregnancy.

 “Smokers know it’s bad for them,” Ciociola said. “Quitting doesn’t have to be that bad.”

Ciociola started smoking at 18, and before she quit, she smoked “a couple packs a day.” In addition to everything else, the expense of how much she smoked was a source of worry for her.

“I’m finally just admitting it. I didn’t want my husband to know at the time,” she laughed.

The “Ready, Set… Stop!” program, funded by the state and administered in Addison County by Porter Medical Center, included weekly sessions with a group of people all trying to quit. “It was so successful for me,” Ciociola said. She now teaches those cessation classes to others. The program also provided some financial support for materials like nicotine patches, lozenges and gum for the part of the cost that the individual’s insurance wouldn’t cover.

The Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable makes an ongoing effort to help other people do what Ciociola did. The group is now working with local schools and employers to encourage their workers who smoke to quit — for at least one day — during the 2007 Great American Smokeout on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Participating employers receive free advertising materials, “Quit Bags” for their employees with tips and tools to help them quit smoking, and a $25 gift certificate that they can raffle off between all those at their site that successfully quit for the day. The Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable will also provide a $250 grand prize to be awarded to one lucky winner from among all of the area employees registered for the Smokeout.

“Quitting smoking is one of the healthiest lifestyle changes that a person can make, but it’s also one of the most difficult,” Clark said. To help people quit, she encourages individuals to use the free quit-smoking services provided by Porter Hospital and the state of Vermont. These services include:

• Ready, Set … Stop! classes that provide people looking to quit with proven strategies to not only give up cigarettes but to manage the things that prompt them to smoke, such as stress and nicotine addiction. The classes provide a supportive group atmosphere and are led by trained smoking-cessation experts. The classes are held locally, and participants qualify for free nicotine patches, gum or the lozenges.

• Individual counseling. The same trained professionals are also available to people who are more comfortable with quitting on their own. Individuals participating in individual counseling are eligible to receive free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.

• 1-800-YES-QUIT. This is the state’s quit line, available to everyone. Counseling is available by phone through the quit line, which also acts as a clearinghouse for people seeking information about classes and individual counseling. Individuals receiving coaching through the quit line are eligible for free nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.

• Vt.QuitNet.com. This is an online site for quitting, tips, support, facts on and smoking — a real upbeat site.

• TobaccoStories.org. Stories by Vermonters and the impact smoking had on their lives.

The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout grew out of a 1971 event in Randolph, Mass., in which Arthur P. Mullaney asked people to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a high school scholarship fund. The idea caught on, and on Nov. 18, 1976, the California division of the American Cancer Society succeeded in getting nearly 1 million smokers to quit for the day. That California event marked the first Great American Smokeout, which went nationwide the next year.

Quitting smoking is almost always a challenge, and it definitely was for Ciociola.

“It’s a combination of luck and hard work,” she said. But the longer she went without smoking, the easier it got. “You feel better that you get through that day, and that motivates you for the next.”

For more information about the Great American Smokeout or about how to participate in next year’s Addison County Great American Smokeout Challenge, contact the Addison County Tobacco Control Roundtable at 475-3083.

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