National Non-Smoking Week (January 19 – 25),

In my 30 years of nursing, I have spent a lot of time in acute and intensive care units, where I’ve have seen first hand over and over the devastating effects of smoking. People suffering repeated heart attacks, strokes or dying, largely due to their cigarette use. For everyone involved – patient, family, friends and healthcare workers – there are many emotions, including deep sadness, guilt and even anger, as it was all preventable.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the dangers of smoking, the nature of addictions and the importance of getting help.

However, the ‘tough it out’ ‘ or “it just takes self control” attitude is still very common and needs to be addressed, as it often contributes to a sense of fear, shame, guilt or helplessness on the part of someone trying to quit.

My father, a strong and vibrant man, died at 73 after 50 years of smoking. For years, I had often urged him to try quitting but without success. Once ill, and no longer able to smoke, he was forced to quit. After a few months, I asked him how difficult it had been to stop. I saw great sadness in his eyes as he said,”You know it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I just never thought I could do it.”

I still miss my dad and I know he would still be alive today had he received the help to quit. At the time, I didn’t have enough knowledge to really help him through the process. This, of course, had a huge impact on my interest in smoking cessation. I knew there were many people, like my father, who could have longer and healthier lives if they could just get the help they need.

Since that time, I have worked with both the Canadian Cancer ‘Fresh Start’ and Northern Health’s Nicotine Intervention Counselling Centre (NICC) programs. Through my experiences, I have discovered the sincere desire of people to be free of their smoking addiction.

Smokers that I have worked with speak of concerns for their health, their family’s health, being a poor role model for children and grandchildren, the money they spend and dealing with the fact that they are addicted. They express feelings of failure, guilt, shame, fear and worthlessness. Everyone emphasizes that ongoing support is extremely important in their efforts to successfully stop smoking.

I have had heard so many stories that touch the heart and showcase the ability of people to overcome this harmful addiction.

One young mother was shocked to see her three-year-old daughter playing with her doll, pretending to smoke. She had never thought about what she was modeling to her child. She decided that she needed to get help immediately to quit.

A man who had smoked for 40 years came to a group counseling session because his health was being affected and he wanted to quit. He became an inspiration for the group as he courageously began his process. Everyone felt that if he could try, so could they.

Two teenage girls who attended a stop smoking presentation became very concerned by what they had learned. They immediately decided to quit and were willing to approach their smoking peer group to join them in quitting.

At present, I incorporate my knowledge as a NICC counselor into my daily responsibilities as a nurse educator with the Native Friendship Centre. I try to help those suffering from health problems affected by smoking by providing advice about both their actual illness as well as beating their cigarette addiction.

Through my comprehensive NICC training, I am able to provide one-on-one support for those who are trying to stop smoking. Treatment varies with each client but involves developing personalized plans for quitting, as well as possible nicotine replacement therapy such as the patch and Zyban pill, and regular follow-ups to monitor progress. Being able to make a difference in someone’s life and help them overcome an addiction that they have been trying to fight has been immensely rewarding.

For those who are thinking about quitting and wanting to live a life smoke-free, I offer several pieces of advice that I have gained from my experiences:

Get educated about addictions

Find people who can help support you as much as possible

Consider medications support – it can double your chances of success

Keep trying – quitting smoking is a big lifestyle change and takes time

There are no failures on the road to quitting, just continual learning and practice.

Celebrate each and every success, no matter how small!!

For most people, quitting an addiction to smoking will be one of the hardest things they will ever do. However, it is also the single most important thing they can do to maintain their health, no matter when they quit or their current state of health. Once you’ve stopped, your body will begin to heal immediately and your feelings of accomplishment will be similar to ‘Climbing Everest’… life altering!