RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
Every year the American Cancer Society designates the third Thursday of November for its Great American Smokeout - when all smokers are encouraged to give up their habit for a day.
The Department of Defense supports the effort and takes it a step further by giving servicemembers an opportunity to make an online pledge at the www.ucanquit2.org Web site to stop smoking that day.
The Randolph community will again observe the Great American Smokeout with its annual Turkey Trot, a 5-kilometer fun run and walk set for Thursday at 11 a.m. at the Rambler Fitness Center jogging trails. The event, planned by the fitness center and co-sponsored by the Health and Wellness Center, will include a drawing for six turkeys just in time for Thanksgiving.
But the smoking cessation effort is truly a year-round mission at Randolph and throughout the armed services. Smoking's consequences are many - from missed work days to diseases such as lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema - and have a direct impact on the mission.
"That's why we have a tobacco cessation program," said Lorri Tibbetts, 359th Aerospace-Medicine Squadron Health Promotion Flight chief, who teaches the monthly cessation class at the HAWC. "The military empowers its people to quit; there's so much support for active-duty members."
The tobacco cessation class, which consists of four sessions, provides participants with the tools to break the nicotine habit, including medication, education and support. The November class is under way, but the next monthly class will begin Dec. 14.
The first session focuses on medication education and the harmful effects of smoking. A 359th Medical Operations Squadron provider is on hand so active-duty members can obtain a prescription for medication, but participants must also attend all classes and quit using tobacco products within 30 days.
"Medications are an aid to help people quit, but the overriding factor is the desire to do it," Ms. Tibbetts said. "Medications help with withdrawal symptoms, but they can't completely get rid of them."
The second session addresses "triggers," or the reasons for smoking, and intervention strategies. Triggers range from coping with stress or uncomfortable situations and relaxing or easing tension to boredom, loneliness and frustration.
During the third session, Jennifer Sides, HAWC wellness dietitian, discusses how participants can maintain their weight during the cessation process.
"Nicotine is an appetite suppressant, so many people who are trying to quit smoking gain between five and eight pounds," Ms. Tibbetts said. "There's a shift in habits, so you see people eat more. Gaining that weight can be very stressful for some."
People may also eat more because food tastes better.
"Smoking affects your sense of taste," she said.
Because some people smoke to relax or relieve stress, it's important they find other ways to unwind. In the fourth class, Mitzi Wood, 359th MDOS Family Advocacy Program intervention specialist, takes class participants through relaxation exercises, Ms. Tibbetts said.
"She teaches them techniques that will help them relax and relieve their stress," she said.
Ms. Tibbetts said one of the strategies she teaches smokers is a rewards system. By placing the amount of money they would spend on a pack of cigarettes in a jar each day, or roughly $5, they see their reward grow quickly.
"They can see it all adds up," she said. "The more they save, the more they get out of it."
They may also spend that money on something they enjoy doing, such as 18 holes of golf or playing video games.
Ms. Tibbetts said the class usually attracts 15 to 25 participants, from active-duty personnel and their dependents to retirees and civilians.
"Most have been smoking for quite some time and have made several attempts to quit," she said. "It usually takes seven to 10 tries to finally quit smoking. The key is really wanting to do it. Even if their doctor tells them to stop, it's up to them. If it's all about them, they're ready to quit."
Ms. Tibbetts said smokers have other resources as well, including the American Lung Association Tobacco QuitLine, 1-877-695-7848, which helps callers develop an individualized quit plan, and www.ucanquit2.org, the Web site for the DoD's "Quit Tobacco - Make Everyone Proud" educational campaign for the military.
Randolph has a "very low usage rate" - less than 13 percent - for active-duty members, the lowest rate in Air Education and Training Command, but Ms. Tibbetts said the base's objective is to drop below 12 percent, which is the goal of Healthy People 2010, a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative.
Nationally, she believes smoking is on the decline.
"The awareness is there," she said. "People know the dangers of tobacco use, but it's still not where we want it to be. It's still a personal choice."