Snuffing out smoking a difficult task

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She started smoking when she was 16 years old because her boyfriend smoked and he was cool. Thirty years and five attempts later, she has been nicotine free for almost one year.

"I finally decided last year that the Smoke Out was going to be the day. I called a girlfriend and asked her to take me to Grand Junction, in her car, and to take me out to do things where I couldn't smoke. We went to the mall, to the movies, to dinner -- everywhere I couldn't smoke."

Vicki Gutierrez can thank her girlfriend for the smoke-free trip to Grand Junction, her family for their support and her employers, Frank and Tammie Hanel at KRAI, for helping her to successfully give up her addiction.

"Every time I quit before, I snuck, so I never really quit," Gutierrez said. "I always figured out a way to sneak one here or there because I wasn't really ready to make the commitment to do it for sure."

Like most who quit, Gutierrez said the first few weeks are especially tough.

"You'll get horrible cravings where you feel like if you don't get a cigarette, it will be the end," she said. "But, although the feelings may be frequent, they won't last long. I thought I would feel that way 24 hours a day. But once I realized that the feeling will go away, I thought 'I can do this.'"

Grand Futures and the Moffat County Tobacco Coalition will host this year's Great American Smoke Out Nov. 20. During last year's smoke out, local pharmacies gave away 350 Quit Kits to smokers or loved ones who were trying to help smokers quit. Of those 350 kits, there's no way to tell exactly how many were successful in their endeavor to quit smoking but the statistics are dismal.

"Statistically, it takes a person seven times of trying to quit smoking before they actually succeed," Cindy Biskup, Grand Futures director said.

Quitting can be particularly difficult because smokers like to smoke.

"I liked the way it tasted and I liked the way it felt," Gutierrez said. "But, I have never defended it (smoking) to anybody. It has no redeeming value at all. It's unhealthy, it stinks and it's expensive."

Making the decision to quit smoking is personal and difficult, but the health benefits and the quality of life improvements make the uphill battle worthwhile.

"Anyone who has ever quit smoking will tell you it's one of the biggest accomplishments of their life," former smoker Angela Kimmes said. "It's like being freed from the prison of addiction and that's definitely something to celebrate."

Gutierrez is also no stranger to feeling trapped within her addiction.

"I'm very independent and the fact that something like smoking could control me for so many years made me angry," she said.

Gutierrez never realized how much smoking affected her children and family until she quit smoking.

"One day my oldest daughter who was 28 at the time came and sat on my lap," she said. "I said, 'What are you doing' and she said mom you smell so good for the first time."

Gutierrez said she warns against thinking that just one puff won't ruin all of the effort put into quitting.

"I had quit once before for a couple of years, and as soon as I picked up one cigarette, I was smoking again," she said. "I would never pick up that first cigarette again. I would never take that one puff again."

For Gutierrez, the support that she received from her employers at KRAI also has made a difference.

"Tammie and Frank (Hanel) bought and paid for whatever aids that we needed and they provided a lot of encouragement," she said. "They were so good because they would never condemn you for smoking, but if you made the decision to quit, they were right there to help you."

Life will be much more convenient for Gutierrez and her family now that she won't have to weather cold winter days outside each time she smokes, she won't have to ask her husband to pull over on road trips so she can get her fix and the best benefit of all is how good she feels every day.

"It's not on my mind every waking minute," she said. "Before, you would hope to make it through a meeting or dinner, or whatever, but it was always on my mind."

This year's Smoke Out campaign will include radio and television ads promoting the Colorado Quitline (1-800-639-QUIT) and the Colorado QuitNet (www.co.quitnet.com) and will air on local radio stations and television channels.

"The 'I Did It' ads remind people of all the reasons they want to quit smoking and lets them know they are not alone in their desire to quit," Tobacco Prevention Program Coordinator Judy Hiester said in a press release. "The Colorado Quitline and QuitNet are available to support any Colorado resident in their quit attempts and have been proven to increase their chances for success."

Local residents also are encouraged to stop by any local pharmacy to pick up a free Quit Kit, which includes stress balls, sugarless candy and gum as well as information about the hazards of smoking and second-hand smoke and promotional materials for the cessation of tobacco chewing.

Gutierrez often stops to talk to youth who are smoking behind the mall and she reminds them of all of the reasons why smoking is such a nasty habit.

"You think you can give it up anytime, but someday you're going to be like me and you're not going to be able to do it," she said. "When I started smoking, we didn't know what we know now -- the world was made up of smokers. We know so much more now. Why would you ever start?"

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