Kick the habit; don't be a butt-head

16 Sep 2005 | Sgt. Jose E. Guillen

A study conducted by the California Department of Health shows that all U.S. service members are likely to smoke more than civilians, and one in four Marines smokes - the highest rate in the military.

Considering the Marines reign with the most smokers and in an effort to help Marines, Sailors and family members kick back the habit, tobacco cessation programs can be found on most Marine Corps installations including the Combat Center.

The Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital continues to offer the Tobacco Cessation Program, a curriculum that is available for all base personnel and family members enrolled in TRICARE. On-base personnel who aren't enrolled TRICARE can receive administrative support, but will not be able to receive free medication.

"Active duty, retirees and family members who have TRICARE can receive nicotine patches and Zyban for free only if they attend the class each week," said medical assistant Martha Hunt, health promotions coordinator, who has run the program since 2000. "Civilians or those without TRICARE must get patches and Zyban through their own insurance carrier."

Zyban is a prescribed smoking cessation medicine containing bupropion, which is a non-nicotine prescription used both for smoking cessation and treating depression, according to the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention Web site. Zyban is also an alternative source of nicotine that affects the neurological level to reduce any nicotine craves in any form, according to the University of Bristol's School of Chemistry Web site.

While it may be no easy task to stop a disease-causing habit overnight, the hospital's program offers a four-weeklong segment as a stepping-stone into a smoke-free life. Although smokers are required to attend an hour long class a week, Hunt said that making the effort to come in makes for a better success rate.

"The classes run four Tuesdays in a row and for one hour," said Hunt. "We help patients find what works best. Every smoker and dipper is different, and everyone trying to quit will find different coping skills that work for him or her. We offer viable options to the person wishing to quit and help them decide what will work best for their lives."

Institutions designed to help people end tobacco-using habits may follow a shorter or extended program. Hunt said a four-week course proves just as successful or better than longer syllabuses. By maintaining a month long agenda, the hospital provides 10 classes a year instead of six or less a year - allowing more opportunities for those wishing to stop smoking.

After successfully enrolling and attending the mandatory first day of class, patients should expect to receive eight weeks worth of patches and Zyban. Hunt said that providing medication twice the amount of the course has proven to show an elevated success rate.

"Knowledge is power whether learning how to do your job or how to give up tobacco," said Hunt. "The more information you have on anything will make you more successful at that task."

"Since July 2000, more than 1,000 Marines, Sailors, retirees and family members have enrolled in the tobacco cessation classes offered by the Naval Hospital," added Hunt.

For clarification, persons willing to drop their smoking habit should not worry about lectures on risks of using tobacco, but rather honing in on why and how a person may become addicted.

"We don't dwell on the health risks of tobacco because everyone already knows tobacco is bad for the body, so we focus on explaining why your body is locked into the nicotine addiction, and how to change your coping skills for stress," said Hunt.

Some common stress factors for smokers while transitioning from cigarettes to patches or Zyban is weight gain, which can be emotionally and physically difficult for some.

"Tobacco becomes a coping mechanism for stress and boredom and eventually leads to reaching for a cigarette without thinking twice about it," said Hunt. "When a person stops smoking, they may gain a few extra pounds, but statistically, active duty only put on three to six pounds."

While Hunt and other medical representatives can bombard a smoker with the negatives of smoking, it takes perseverance by the individual to totally end a habit rather than stopping one and starting another, like switching smoking for dipping tobacco.

"From my experience teaching the class, the real issue is whether or not the individual wishes to change their coping skills for stress and boredom. If you can't change how you react to stress or boredom, you will never successfully give up tobacco," said Hunt.

"We can only give them the tools, so it's up to him or her if they want to live long enough to see their kids and grandkids grow up and enjoy a long healthy life," added Hunt.

Quitting tobacco use may seem like an impossible challenge because it makes for a change in routine, but Hunts' advice is that anything to seek self-improvement can only better a person.

"Whether it is tobacco cessation, nutrition, diabetes control or any other health issue, you have to be ready to change, and we promise we'll do our best to help you get ready for that change," said Hunt. "But once you make the move to healthier habits, you will feel better emotionally as well as physically."

Health risks and other smoking facts

- The chemicals in tobacco smoke cause emphysema. Emphysema makes people breathe faster and wheeze.
- Lung tissue is destroyed and the lungs develop large holes that blow up like balloons.
- Smoking makes it difficult to breathe.
- Smoking produces a disease of the alveoli, the small air sacs inside the lungs that exchange oxygen for carbon dioxide. This makes oxygen exchange difficult because of tar buildup.
- Carcinogens are in tobacco smoke and cause cancer in lungs, mouth, gullet and bladder. Nine out of 10 people who die of lung cancer are heavy smokers.
- Bronchitis is mostly a smoker's disease. Lung passages are swollen and sore because the smoke irritates them. Prior to smoking, tiny hairs called cilia kept these passages clear, but are now filled with mucus and tar (often cleared by heavy coughing).
- Smokers get chronic bronchitis because the cilia aren't working.
- Non-smokers get acute bronchitis. Bronchitis is caused by infections, which makes the body produce more mucus, so non-smokers' cilia can remove the mucus and the bronchitis goes away.
- Tobacco smoke causes sore eyes, sore throat and headaches. It can irritate babies and worsen hay fever and asthma.
- Pregnant mothers who smoke have a smaller baby, which means the child may be weaker.
- Smoking compels fat to be deposited on artery walls, of which those artery walls are later narrowed by nicotine - leading to chest pains and heart attacks.

Some statistics about smokers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 46 million Americans smoked in 2001, which is equivalent to 22.8 percent all adults - nearly one of every four people. The average California tobacco user smoked approximately 41 packs in 2000 or 820 cigarettes.

- Heart disease is three times more common amongst smokers.
- If a person averages four packs of cigarettes a week at the July 2005 average California retail price of $4.23 a pack, that smoker will spend $879.84 a year on cigarettes.

For more information on quitting smoking or information on health risks caused from first and second hand smoke, visit the Department of Health and Human Services-CDC at or logon to; or call the Naval Hospital's Health Promotions at 830-2814 to enroll for the next tobacco cessation class.

Other programs offered at the hospital, are diabetes education, nutrition and cholesterol classes, asthma classes, sibling preparation, new parent classes and much more.
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