For years, we’ve known that cigarette smoking leads to a variety of serious illnesses including emphysema and cancer, as well as significantly reduced lifespans. And yet, we still smoke.

Smoking claims the lives of some 480,000 Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that cigarettes are as addictive as heroin. And as such the smoker needs to use increasing levels of nicotine, an active ingredient in cigarettes, to derive its pleasurable effects and avoid withdrawal symptoms.

And though that addiction to nicotine makes quitting difficult, it's not impossible. A multitude of resources are available to Northwest Indiana smokers who want to kick the habit.

According to statistics from the Lake County Community Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition, 24 percent of adults in Lake County — 87,363 people — smoke.

“As the community is moving toward understanding that smoking is an addictive behavior and that nicotine is an addictive drug, we are following the national direction of referring to smoking cessation as ‘tobacco recovery,’ " says Irene Boone Phillips, program coordinator for the coalition, funded by an Indiana State Department of Health Tobacco Commission grant. "This looks at treatment from an addiction perspective.”

The first step in helping people quit is getting smokers to realize they are addicted, says Laura Arent, coalition tobacco trained specialist and registered diet technician, health coach, and personal trainer at Franciscan Health, the lead entity in the coalition. “A lot of people don’t realize they have an addiction until they experience withdrawals.”

Withdrawal symptoms range from headaches to depression. But, thanks to a variety of nicotine replacement therapies, counseling, and other cessation techniques, help is available to ease withdrawal. “If we can get you through it, you’ll feel so much better,” Arent says.

Counseling, whether used alone or with other smoking cessation aids, provides resources and support for those who would like to quit. The coalition's 1-800-Quit-Now line is a free phone counseling service available to all Indiana residents. Support is also available at quitnowindiana.com and via text through the Text2Quit program for those enrolled in the counseling service. 

Programs include tailored smoking cessation plans, access to Quit Coaches trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, and free two-week nicotine replacement therapy starter kits for uninsured, Medicaid or Medicare participants.

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It takes most people several tries before quitting for good, and many need more than one cessation technique, says Phillips. Through the new Aspire Program, Arent provides in-person counseling and cessation services for Franciscan Health employees, a program Arent hopes to expand into the community. Many participants also use medications such as Chantix and Wellbutrin, which help break addiction by working with the rewards center of the brain.

There also are alternative ways to quit smoking. One, hypnosis, is offered by the Northwest Indiana Hypnosis Center. Contrary to myth, hypnosis won't make anyone do anything they don’t want to do, says center consulting hypnotist John Vurpillat. “I can’t make anyone want to quit. You have to want to quit.”

He says hypnosis helps change the psychological effects of smoking from pleasurable to painful. “We change the client’s view to get them focused on the outcome. What does not smoking look like?”

NWI Hypnosis Center offers a free screening to assess whether hypnosis will work. Vurpillat says most programs consist of three sessions, though some clients quitting after just one. “We had a client who’d smoked for 60 years and another client who smoked three packs a day quit on the first session.”

But, quitting doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” to be successful, says Dr. Kaveh Rahmani, a family practice physician with offices in Crestwood and Tinley Park, Ill. Rahmani asks each patient whether he’s willing to quit in 30 days or to plan a start date for the “30-day program.”

“If someone wants to quit but isn’t ready to commit to 30 days, I try to get that individual to just start cutting down on use. My idea is that if we can reduce the nicotine intake, it will be easier to use some nicotine replacement modalities or even show the patient that they can quit without using any meds.”

Rahmani recommends “putting it out when you get your fix.”

He tells patients to smoke as usual but to put the cigarette out as soon as their craving is satisfied. “If that takes the whole cigarette then that’s OK, but more often than not it will happen shortly after lighting up. In that case, I tell patients to put the cigarette out at that time since they will generally finish the whole thing out of habit rather than necessity. Once their nicotine dependence starts to diminish, they can more successfully use a nicotine replacement modality with less side effects and often better results.”

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