Going smoke-free for better health

October 25, 2010 By Steven Hanks, M.D., MMM, FACP, FFSMB

As the son of a smoker who died from lung cancer and an emergency and internal medicine physician at The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HCC), I've seen first-hand that smoking kills.

Smoking is the root cause of many illnesses – all kinds of cancers, as well as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, stroke, and vascular disease.

In the interest of good health for patients, staff and visitors, HCC and hospitals statewide are taking part in a joint effort through the Connecticut Hospital Association (CHA) to spread smoking bans to our campuses. As of Nov. 1, HCC's campuses will be smoke-free. This will mean no smoking at both the New Britain General and Bradley Memorial campuses – including outside the hospital's buildings, parking areas and garages. For years, the hospital itself has been smoke-free.

This statewide initiative has its roots at The Hospital of Central Connecticut, which initially proposed the idea to the CHA. Last November, the association announced the current campaign for all hospital campuses to be smoke-free by November 2010.

Having a smoke-free campus can present a challenge to smokers. Nicotine is highly addictive and quitting often difficult. Many continue to smoke, believing it's not worth the effort to quit because the damage has been done. The good news: With time, much damage from smoking can be reversed. Overall, people who kick the habit live longer than those who don't.

Psychologists have identified four “stages of change” anyone trying to alter a habit or behavior goes through. Understanding these changes can be helpful for smokers who want to quit.

• Contemplation. At this stage, you're thinking about quitting. You'll be more likely to stop smoking successfully if you worry you could get a smoking-related disease and if you believe benefits of quitting outweigh those of smoking.
• Preparation. Set a date you'll quit smoking, telling friends and family of your quit day, and preparing for it by stocking up on things like sugarless gum and signing up for a support group.
• Action. This stage starts on your quit day and lasts six months. The biggest challenge is withdrawal, with physical symptoms that may be relieved by nicotine gum or patches. Psychological withdrawal can be more difficult.
• Maintenance. This lasts six months to five years after your quit date. Don't give up if you slip and have a cigarette. Instead, review benefits of quitting and renew your commitment to quitting permanently.

Quitting is the most important step a smoker can take to extend and enhance one's quality of life. If you're a smoker trying to quit, HCC offers Quitting Time, a smoking cessation program that includes a seven-week group program for adults; a six-week program for teens; individual counseling; and a self-help manual. For more information, please call 860.224.5900 ext. 2653.

Steven D. Hanks, M.D., is Executive Vice President & Chief Medical Officer of The Hospital of Central Connecticut.