June 10, 2016 | The year 1982 was a turning point for Michele Lovett. Her parents divorced, and the 16 year old found herself with a new group of friends. Her teenage routine now included weekend trips to the mall, where they could smoke cigarettes undetected by their parents.
It didn’t take long for her weekend habit to grow into a full-blown addiction. “By 18, I was no longer a weekend smoker; I was a smoker,” she said.
Priscilla Gray picked up her first cigarette even earlier, starting the habit when she was about 13. “I’m the baby of three kids. I clearly remember us saying it’s OK to smoke because there will be a cure for cancer long before we get it,” she said.
These addictions, which lasted decades, were finally broken with the help of Freedom From Smoking, a tobacco cessation program offered at no charge by the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
Developed in 1980 by the American Lung Association (ALA), Freedom From Smoking has helped more than 1 million Americans end their nicotine addiction. The program focuses on one-on-one support in small group sessions led by ALA-trained facilitators.
“No one is expected to quit smoking on day one of the program,” said Patricia Franklin, an advanced practice registered nurse, Freedom From Smoking facilitator and certified tobacco cessation therapist.
The program’s sessions last seven weeks and consist of 90-minute weekly meetings. The fourth week — known as “quit week” — has two sessions. That is the week participants are encouraged to start their smoke-free life.
“Not everyone can quit on week four, and that’s OK. It’s an extremely hard habit to break. The group members encourage each other and provide the support they need to make it to ‘quit day,’ even if it takes longer than they hoped,” Franklin said.
Since kicking off the program in September 2014, the UAMS Cancer Institute has offered 11 Freedom From Smoking sessions. The program is open to any adult who is ready to quit smoking.
Gray “graduated” from the first group and hasn’t touched a cigarette since her quit day of Sept. 17, 2014. “I had a buddy in the program who helped me. We pulled each other through,” said Gray, a clinical research monitor for the UAMS Myeloma Institute.
This wasn’t Gray’s first time to quit. When she was 28, she kicked the habit, primarily because she didn’t like the image of smokers, she said. She even started an extreme exercise regimen of either biking, running or swimming every day.
Nine years later, when stress got the best of her, she tried one cigarette. “That was all it took,” she said. She continued to smoke for about 20 years before signing up for UAMS’ inaugural Freedom From Smoking class.
“When I started, I didn’t have any idea what the program consisted of. I found out it is just the right balance of support, information and motivation,” Gray said.
She raves about Franklin, calling the group leader both inspirational and gentle. “Pat never gives up on us. She continues to check on group members after they’ve finished the program and lets us know we can always come back if we need a boost of support.”
Freedom From Smoking uses materials created by the ALA and gives members a step-by-step plan on how to quit, rather than focusing on why they should quit. “Most people know the health consequences of smoking. They just can’t figure out how to go from a pack a day to nothing. We give them a realistic path to follow,” Franklin said.
Members hear from a series of guest speakers, including a dietitian who discusses how to avoid weight gain and an advanced practice registered nurse who addresses chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Graduates of the program — including Lovett and Gray — come back to share their personal quit stories. A pharmacist also attends every session to offer information on nicotine replacement therapies, such a gum or lozenges. Members who choose to use nicotine replacement can get a prescription by making an appointment with Franklin in her Cancer Institute clinic.
According to the ALA, cigarette smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death worldwide and the cause of 90 percent of lung cancer cases. Other diseases caused by smoking include COPD, coronary heart disease, stroke and numerous other types of cancer.
Smoking also is an expensive and time-consuming habit that Lovett was glad to leave behind. After multiple attempts to quit over her 33 years as a smoker, she finally found success in the program on Feb. 4, 2015. After that, she started saving her daily cigarette money and within a year had enough to pay for two trips to visit her grandchildren, an upcoming cruise and a new bed.
She also regained the two and a half hours she spent smoking every day and can now enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and managing her landscaping business.
“It’s amazing how much better I feel. I used to cough so much I was embarrassed to go out. Now, I can climb Petit Jean Mountain. It makes me feel proud,” said Lovett, who also works as a landscape technician in the UAMS Department of Engineering and Operations.
In addition to Franklin, UAMS has three additional certified tobacco treatment specialists: Matthew Steliga, M.D., thoracic surgeon and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Surgery; Claudia Barone, Ed.D., A.P.R.N., professor in the UAMS College of Nursing; and Erna Boone, Dr. P.H., chair of the Department of Respiratory and Surgical Technologies in the UAMS College of Health Professions.
To achieve the certification, participants must complete a five-day intensive training. Freedom From Smoking facilitators undergo a separate two-day training.
For information about upcoming Freedom From Smoking sessions, contact Franklin at 501-944-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org.