Thank you for not smoking

VNA, American Cancer Society encourage tobacco users to stamp out their butts

In the fall of 1986, Jim Meineke of Craig walked into the Holiday Inn to try a radical new approach to quit smoking, a 35-year addiction.

That approach: hypnosis.

"Why did I decide to quit?" he said. "I knew it wasn't any good for me. So I went and got hypnotized. I went to the Holiday Inn and paid some dude and it worked for me.

"I haven't had one since. I haven't had a craving."

The spell that Meineke underwent 20 years ago is similar to the trance that critics and health care professionals say Big Tobacco -- a common reference to five of the largest tobacco companies in the world -- has on users.

They relay one glaring statistic to illustrate their point about the highly addictive, and they say, lethal substance. Tobacco kills about 435,000 people per year, a death toll more than 200,000 higher than the combined casualties of AIDS, fire, car accidents, heroin, homicide, suicide, cocaine and alcohol.

Those figures come courtesy of the U.S. Center for Disease Control, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Health Statistics, National Safety Council and Smokefree Educational Services and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Teresa Wright, tobacco prevention coordinator for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, said Wednesday that the death toll statistic illustrates how deadly tobacco use, and business, has become.

"It's all just a deadly, deadly business," she said. "It's a heinous industry."

Wright delivered a presentation Wednesday at American Legion Post 62 covering the tobacco industry and its negative impacts on users. Her speech was a precursor to today's Great American Smokeout, an annual event created by the American Cancer Society.

It encourages all tobacco users to quit for one day in hopes of turning that tobacco-free day into a tobacco-free life. This year, Coloradans have an added incentive to quit this year -- eight free weeks of the nicotine patch, provided by the Colorado QuitLine, a toll-free telephone coaching service.

More than 160 people from Moffat County have sought information about quitting smoking through Colorado QuitLine since 2003. For Routt County, that number is 81 people.

Wright said tobacco users face an uphill battle in curbing their habits. She said the average smoker will try to quit at least seven times before successfully stamping out use for good.

"It is a process," she said. "It really does take a plan. Very few people can quit cold turkey."

She said people hoping to quit need to find a way around "triggers," or times when nicotine cravings are at their peak -- first thing in the morning and following a meal are two of the most common times.

"I think if (users) really knew (the dangers) than gosh, why did they ever start?" she said. "I think some people just think it's a little habit that they can walk away from whenever they want.

"It's not a habit. It's an addiction. I don't know how many ways to say it."

She also described tobacco as a lightly regulated industry, saying that the contents of a hot dog are more thoroughly scrutinized and that the health care industry is seriously out-manned and out-gunned by Big Tobacco.

In 2003, for example, the tobacco industry spent $593,000 per day on marketing in Colorado, or $213 million for the year, Wright said. The industry, she added, also spends more in a single day on marketing than 47 states spend on prevention in an entire year.

"It's so skewed," she said. "It's almost like a losing battle."

And, like all battles, there are winners and losers.

Count Roy Southard, a Craig resident of 30 years, among those who may have lost the battle against smoking, but is attempting to win the war by quitting for good.

Southard, 67, has smoked for 50 years. He quit a week ago to help combat two lung diseases -- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema. Southard now has to use an oxygen tank 12 hours a day.

"It took me about three months to get down to three to four (cigarettes) a day," Southard said. "Last week, I quit for good. So far, I've made it.

"If people knew what it was really doing to them, they would, too. If I'd have known, I never would have started."

Southard said his health problems, combined with inspiration from his family, give him all the reasons he needs to never smoke again. He said quitting is simply a case of mind over matter.

"If you don't have the habit, don't start," he said. "If you've been smoking for a long time, you can quit if you want to bad enough. You just have to make that decision."

That decision can start today.

"If you can do it for one day, you can do it for good," Southard said. "The first day is always the hardest."

Any tobacco user can receive the patch free by calling Colo--rado Quitline at 1 (800)-QUIT-NOW, or 1-800-7848-669. For more information, call Teresa Wright, tobacco prevention coordinator at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, at 871-7639.

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