Quitting, then living tobacco-free

 PHOTO PROVIDED   Charlotte County SWAT students from Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda middle schools show their support for Tobacco-Free Florida week during a cigarette butt cleanup at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda.

PHOTO PROVIDED
Charlotte County SWAT students from Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda middle schools show their support for Tobacco-Free Florida week during a cigarette butt cleanup at Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda.

If you’ve ever tried to quite smoking cold turkey and failed — you’re in the majority.

Fewer than 3 percent who try to quit smoking cold turkey are successful, according to Xenia Rosado-Merced, who works as the tobacco cessation specialist at Gulfcoast South Area Health Education Center.

It’s something to which Ruth Nixon can relate.

Nixon has not lived the healthiest life — being a lifelong smoker, she tried to quit numerous times.

“There are times when I went without smoking for three to four days before starting again,” she said.

Thanks to the smoking cessation classes at Gulfcoast South, Nixon says she may finally be able to quit.

“It’s been more than two weeks since I took classes at DeSoto Memorial Hospital,” said Nixon, an Arcadia resident. “It wasn’t easy.”

Gulfcoast South has facilities in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

Tobacco Free Florida was created in 2006 as a state constitutional amendment that called for reinstating a tobacco education and use-prevention program. It aims to reduce tobacco use and is administered through the Florida Department of Health’s Bureau of Tobacco Prevention Program. The program is funded by money derived from a settlement agreement with the major tobacco companies.

Tobacco Free Florida will celebrate five years in Florida with Tobacco Free Florida Week today through April 13.

“In five years of Tobacco Free Florida, we had 500,000 fewer adult smokers,” said Melissa Peacock, health educator consultant for the Tobacco Policy Program at the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County. “The theme of the week is a high-five to commemorate five years.”

There is more work to do, local experts say.

“When it comes to cigarettes in the state of Florida, we’ve seen a decline in both (the) state and county among teens,” Peacock said. “We’ve also seen a decline in tobacco use for adults. There are now more former smokers (in Florida) than current smokers.”

The role of the Charlotte County Tobacco Free Partnership is about supporting policy change using advocacy and education, Peacock said.

“We teach both youths and adults about the tobacco industry,” she said. “We advocate things like tobacco-free parks and work environments to change social norms. We look at ways to reduce secondhand smoke. We are working with local governments about passing resolutions in regards to flavored tobacco since they’re not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

Gulfcoast South gets eight to 10 people on average attending smoking cessation classes with a 33 percent success rate, which is comparable to any other behavioral modification program, Rosado-Merced said.

“We’ve sometimes had people take the classes up to six to eight times,” she said. “On average, in three or four tries they’re successful.”

Those who attend classes average in age from late 40s or early 50s and are lifelong smokers.

The first time Nixon quit, she didn’t smoke for three years. The second time she quit, she says it was under doctor’s orders. This is her third attempt.

“Before the class, I was already trying to quit,” Nixon said. “I’m on the patches and lozenges. My cravings are completely gone.”

Suffering from osteoporosis, Nixon realized she needed to shape up and become more active.

“I feel better,” she said. “I’m eating a whole lot better. I can smell better. I hated the smell of cigarettes. I hated smelling like an ashtray. The key is to do things with your hands that you wouldn’t normally do when you smoke.”

Nixon said it took her a week to settle into the program.

“I feel good with more energy and I am proud,” she said. “I’m glad that I took the class and I recommend it for anyone trying to quit.”

Eighteen percent of adults in Sarasota County have been smokers consistently since 2011, according to Jeanette Robinson, tobacco program manager of Sarasota County Health Department.

“We’re at a good level as it relates to the county since Florida’s average is 19 percent,” Robinson said.

Nine out of 10 adult smokers start when they’re teens and the teens are a focal point for tobacco prevention education, according to Robinson.

In a 2012 data survey, 16.8 percent of high school students said they had smoked a cigarette compared to 2010, when 23.8 percent of high school students say they had smoked, Robinson said.

Sarasota County is looking to work with employers to develop smoking cessation coverage either internally, through insurance or using tobacco-free services, Robinson said.

Call the Florida Quit Line to stop smoking at 877-822-6669.

For more information on Gulfcoast South, go to http://www.gsahec.org  or call 866-534-7909.

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About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News, Examiner.com, and Tampa Tribune.
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