By Jenn Watt
Published Oct. 11 2016
The average smoker tries to quit 30 times before succeeding. If that number seems high it’s because statistics have changed in recent years capturing the number of people who quietly quit – keeping their attempt a secret.
But rather than make that statistic an obstacle the health unit is using it as a motivator.
“What we’re trying to do now more than we ever did before is normalize the risk of relapse and get people to try again” says Dearbhla Lynch health promoter with the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge Health Unit.
By normalizing the number of tries it takes to quit health promoters hope smokers will keep trying and not become discouraged by failed attempts.
“We know from Google Analytics people search for quit smoking information [online] between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday morning. What we’re thinking is most people are trying again on Monday. Since we’re trying to normalize the idea of relapse we’re trying to encourage people to give it a try on Monday see how far you get and try it again next Monday” she says.
Jack Bush quit smoking 27 years ago and said it took a number of tries before he was successful. Quitting cold turkey wasn’t working for him so his doctor suggested a program run by the Lung Association.
“The program was beautifully designed to hit every smoking trigger and pattern there is — and there are a lot of them. Phone rings light up. Cup of coffee light up. Meal’s over light up. Particular chair light up. Get in the car light up. On and on. Once the program was done I did have cravings but overcame them quite easily. But I haven’t had a craving for years now” he wrote in an email to the paper.
Addressing those triggers is part of a successful quit smoking program which can range from counselling to nicotine mouth spray to medication.
According to the health unit 72 per cent of successful attempts include nicotine replacement therapy; 67 per cent “self help” such as reading flyers using the Internet for tips; 35 per cent prescription drugs; 37 per cent quit contests; and 17 per cent individual counselling.
One of the tools the health unit employs in helping people quit is the STOP (Smoking Treatment for Ontario Patients) program which is a partnership with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. On Oct. 26 there will be a Haliburton County STOP program at 1 p.m. Smokers will be given the resources to quit and at the end of the session will be sent five weeks of nicotine patches for free.
Grant MacDonald said he tried to quit about three times in five years and eventually came to the realization “the time had come to take some action.”
He butted out his last cigarette on Jan. 4 1984.
“I had learned previously that there is no such thing as just having one cigarette or a puff or a cigarello” he wrote to the paper.
He quit cold turkey and took a trip to Mexico for two weeks which helped distract him.
Lynch says there is value in previous quit attempts. As illustrated by MacDonald smokers learn important information even from failed attempts which increase the chances for success next time.
“What we know is that if people make it a day through [not] smoking chances of them making it for a week are higher. If they get to a week the chances they’ll make it through a month are higher. It’s kind of cumulative. The longer you’re in it the more likely you are to stay at it. The chances of staying smoke-free increases over time” she says.
The session on Oct. 26 takes about two hours and includes a questionnaire a presentation and then a one-on-one session with health unit staff. Afterwards nicotine patches will be mailed to participants’ homes. Participants don’t have to quit the day of the session but must be planning to quit within the next 30 days.
For those who cannot make the upcoming session Lynch says it’s worthwhile to call the health unit to let them know what schedule would work better for future sessions.
The health unit is not the only organization in the community able to help with quit attempts. The Family Health Team offers nicotine replacement therapy; and doctors pharmacists and nurses can all prescribe medications that help curb cravings such as Champix and Zyban.
Ontarians have been steadily giving up the habit in the last decades. Lynch says 62 per cent of Ontarians who have ever smoked have quit and that about 16 per cent of people in the province over 12 years old smoke. In 2000 23 per cent of those over 12 years old smoked in Ontario according to the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit.
These statistics represent an incredible amount of effort on the part of smokers who quit.
“It’s a very powerful addiction” Lynch says. “People underestimate how powerful it is.”
Jack Bush agrees. When he was in his smoking cessation class he noticed how many smokers were already trying to find excuses to light up again.
“You absolutely have to commit to giving up” he says.
“I sincerely hope anyone trying to stop succeeds. Those things will kill you.”
The Haliburton County STOP program is taking place Wednesday Oct. 26 at 1 p.m. You need to register to attend so call the health unit at 1-866-888-4577 or 705-457-1391. (If you can’t make the session but want to quit call them anyway. The health unit has plenty of resources and can refer smokers to resources in the community.)