King James was right ... tobacco habit is harmful, dangerous

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
It was described in the 17th century by England's King James the First as "... for eyes disgusting habit, offensive for nose, harmful for brains and dangerous for lungs," yet it didn't stop the past time of smoking tobacco from spreading across Europe and the Americas. 

Today, many medical professionals are probably thinking, "why didn't we listen to King James?" as more than 45 million Americans smoke despite being inundated with health warnings. 

The American Lung Association has even identified cigarette smoking as the most important source of preventable morbidity (disease and illness) and premature mortality (death) worldwide. Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 438,000 American lives each year, according to ALA statistics, including those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and victims of "secondhand" exposure to tobacco's carcinogens. 

Because of the large amount of nicotine found in tobacco products, chewing or smoking tobacco is extremely addictive not unlike heroin, cocaine or alcohol, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

As we approach the annual Great American Smokeout, a nation-wide initiative to get people to give up smoking, officials with Offutt's Health and Wellness Center want people to know that they offer a variety of tobacco cessation options. This year's event is Nov. 20. 

"The purpose of the (Great American Smokeout) is to help people quit smoking and using tobacco products for at least one day with the hope that they'll quit completely," said Vicki Bautista, HAWC health education program manager. 

"Not only does the event challenge people to stop using tobacco, it helps to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and the many effective ways available to quit permanently," she added. 

One HAWC program, Freshstart, is made up of three sessions adapted from the American Cancer Society's smoking cessation program. 

"It's designed to help participants stop using tobacco by providing them with the essential information and strategies needed to be successful," Ms. Bautista said. All Offutt community members can take advantage of this program. 

Another program is Freedom From Smoking. This online program is provided by the American Lung Association and is made up of seven, self-paced modules covering a variety of topics to help people in their attempt to quit. These modules include understanding your tobacco habit, plans to cope with your trigger situations and long term strategies for maintaining a tobacco free lifestyle. This program is also open to all Offutt members. 

In addition to these programs, Ms. Bautista recommends tobacco users who are considering kicking the habit visit www.ucanquit2.org, home of the Quit Tobacco Make Everyone Proud campaign. 

The educational campaign, sponsored by the Department of Defense is designed to help military members quit tobacco for themselves and for the people they love, she said. 

One Offutt member who benefitted greatly from the various programs and information offered at the HAWC is Staff Sgt. Christine Kearney-Kurt, an E-4B technical control instructor with the 338th Combat Training Squadron. 

Sergeant Kearney-Kurt started smoking in 2000, quit four years later when she became pregnant and started up again "over a beer" about two years after becoming a mom. 

"The hardest part of quitting was that I actually enjoyed smoking," the sergeant said. 

"Giving up something that I like is harder than if it was something I didn't like ... not to mention, a lot of people that I know that smoke didn't support my decision to quit and tried to tempt me." 

Sergeant Kearney-Kurt used to smoke to escape whatever she was doing or between tasks. "Around every hour to hour and a half I'd feel the need to go smoke," she said. 

Once she decided to quit she visited the HAWC. 

"Part of the tobacco cessation course tells us to talk with our co-workers, friends and family and tell them about the things that we need them to do to help us quit," Sergeant Kearney-Kurt said. "One of my co-workers, Tech. Sgt. James Westerdale, helped me the most ... I told him I needed him to be very strict with me ... he told me if he found out that I smoked, not only would he be very disappointed in me but he'd kick my butt. He's a pretty big guy so I didn't want to test the validity of his threat." 

It's been about eight months since Sergeant Kearney-Kurt has smoked but that doesn't mean it isn't a struggle for her. 

"Now I most crave a cigarette in social situations. To stop from bumming a smoke and lighting up, I remind myself that I have come so far and don't want to start over," she said. "I need to fully accept that my new routine doesn't include smoking and to break my new routine now would be more work in the long run." 

What would she say to folks who have made the decision to quit, smokers who haven't and anyone who recently started to light up? 

"Congratulations to people who have decided to quit using tobacco ... sign up for the tobacco cessation course at the HAWC. It gives you all the tools you need to quit. Once you start, stick to it and don't give in to the pressures around you ... suck it up and move on," she said. "If you smoke and haven't decided to quit, call my office and talk to Sergeant Westerdale ... you'll quit after that. Plus, think of your health and the money you'll save if you quit. 

"If you've recently started smoking, you should quit while you are ahead. You're better off without the tobacco," she said. 

(More information about tobacco cessation is available at www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/, www.ucanquit2.org  and www.cdc.gov/tobacco/ .)