No ifs, ands or butts

Prevention groups encourage Moffat County to kick the habit

After 31 years, Rick Allen quit smoking -- again.

Allen, who successfully quit smoking for five and a half months last year following the Great American Smokeout, said he wanted to get a jumpstart on this year's Smokeout, which will take place Nov. 20. This time, he's a man with a plan and no excuses.

"I have more of a structured plan than I had before. I stayed on the patch for five and a half months before, so I never actually broke my addiction to nicotine. But, now that I know that the sensations will get less and the addiction will get less, I can do it properly by breaking the addiction cycle," he said. "The more structured the plan is, the easier it is."

Having grown up with two parents who smoked in the home, Allen started smoking at the age of 14 when he got his first job. Like many, Allen began smoking as a way to calm his nerves. In the radio industry he couldn't chew gum or hard candy, so smoking seemed like the ideal answer to the studio jitters.

Allen has lost his mother, father and grandfather to smoking-related causes and he knows what's in store for him if he doesn't quit.

"Why am I sitting here poisoning myself, planning on a horrible, miserable, painful death," Allen said. "I've got every major illness -- heart disease, lung disease, liver disease -- in my direct family line and I'm sitting here killing myself."

Quitting isn't easy.

"Nicotine is likened as being as addictive as cocaine or heroin," Judy Hiester, Moffat County Tobacco Prevent Program director, said. "Breaking that addiction can be extremely stressful and overwhelming."

"Quitting is very difficult at first, because you have to change everything you do," Allen said. "The physical addiction is something that you can overcome in a couple of weeks, but after 31 years of doing things a certain way, psychologically it's so ingrained in your brain."

According to the American Lung Association, certain foods trigger a need for nicotine, so a change in diet coupled with the daily routine changes can be challenging.

Stress and a string of personal crises led Allen back to his first drag since quitting last year.

"I was trying to fight too many personal battles and I caved," Allen said. "It's very frustrating now because it's like I'm mad every time I light up a cigarette."

More than 80 percent of smokers in Colorado say they think about quitting, and 53 percent of those people try to quit at least once a year, Hiester said. In Moffat County alone, there are approximately 1,450 adult smokers, but fewer than 50 smokers and chewers from Moffat County have accessed cessation classes or the free cessation services of the Colorado Quitline, according to the Moffat County Tobacco Coalition. This could mean that the majority of smokers and chewers attempting to quit their tobacco use are doing so without additional support and, therefore, without maximizing their chances for success.

"The average smoker tries to quit smoking seven times before quitting successfully," Cindy Biskup, director of Grand Futures of Moffat County, said.

Allen made his first attempt to quit smoking in 1977 with the help of the American Lung Association. He made it one day.

Nineteen years later, Allen considered quitting again when his father was diagnosed with lung cancer. Just six months later, Allen's father died.

Allen finally made the commitment to quit after his sister-in-law passed away from uterine cancer at the age of 54.

"She was an angel from heaven who dedicated her whole life to giving to others," Allen said. "And here I am purposely trying to take my own life by smoking and she did nothing to deserve her cancer."

The day after Allen returned from his sister-in-law's memorial service last fall, he joined many others from KRAI and stopped smoking as part of the Great American Smokeout.

"I made it through the first day (without a cigarette) for the first time ever," he said. "Then I made it two days and then three days and a couple hundred coffee stir sticks."

Tobacco costs. From increased insurance premiums to long-term health risks, cigarettes and chewing tobacco can become an overwhelming addiction long before users think of the risk and cost associated with the habit.

Someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes each day can expect to spend at least $22 per week supporting the habit, which can equate to more than $1,200 annually according to Grand Futures.

The cost to purchase a pack of cigarettes is only one of the monetary impacts of smoking.

"If you smoke, it will cost you more in insurance premiums. Period," David Schwerin, owner of Moffat Insurance Agency, said. "And if you are looking at life insurance, you can almost count on paying double."

But the lifelong effects can be much more costly.

"Anybody who smokes is eventually going to end up with emphysema," said Dr. Joel Miller, of Craig Medical Center. "Smoking can cause asthma not only in yourself, but in those around you through second-hand smoke," he said.

Miller said that family or friends who are exposed to second-hand smoke from a heavy smoker can develop emphysema, too.

Perhaps the most devastating impact from smoking is lung cancer.

"It takes 10 to 15 years for lung cancer to grow and become symptomatic," Miller said. "You may have cancer and may never know it. By the time you find it, it's already too late."

Miller regularly sees patients who tell him that they are trying to cut back.

"What do you learn when you cut back? You learn to cut back and you become an expert at cutting back," he said. "What do you learn when you quit? To quit."

Miller believes that every time a smoker quits, they learn something. His best advice to smokers who want to make a change is to quit, and quit often.

Hiester echoes Miller's advice.

"We're really trying to feature all different kinds of support services for people who want to quit," Hiester said. "The message we want to give is that every attempt counts. Every attempt brings you closer to the reality of being tobacco-free."

Allen knows that becoming an expert at quitting is sometimes easier said than done.

"One of the things that people do when they quit smoking is that they make it a day or two days and the urge is so overwhelming to have a cigarette that they feel like the world is caving in," he said. "Sometimes you feel like if you don't have a cigarette, you're going to die."

But Allen said that knowing that the sensation for needing a cigarette will get shorter and shorter is the key to making it through.

"Eventually, you think, 'God, I'd love to have a cigarette right now,'" he said. "Then you can turn around and say, 'No I wouldn't.'"

Smoking is a lifestyle.

"It's psychological. It's physical. It's social," Allen said.

For Allen, quitting this time means being around long enough to enjoy being a grandfather.

Samantha Johnston can be reached at 824-7031 or sjohnston@craigdailypress.com.

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