UK Workers Participate in Quit to Win and Celebrate Not Smoking, Cash Prizes

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LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER | MARY MEEHAN | FEBRUARY 27, 2015

Clarence Barton Switzer, Jr. had his first cigarette at the age of 8.

It’s been a smoky 45 years since, but this week he’s celebrating being more than a month of being smoke-free.

“I promised if I got on with UK full time, I’d quit,” said Switzer, a carpenter at the University of Kentucky who has also promised himself to get his GED.

When his status became full time he bolstered his determination with the Quit to Win program offered by UK’s Tobacco-free Campus Initiative and UK HealthCare. From Jan. 16 to Feb. 16 faculty and staff had an opportunity to quit with the support of smoking cessation experts, nicotine replacement products and general all around cheerleading. The progress was monitored by testing the carbon monoxide levels in their lungs before and after the challenge began.

There were 28 participants and 10 made it through the 30 days smoke free. Of the 10, five names were drawn to receive cash prizes, including a $1,000 top prize. Those who didn’t quite make it, maybe had a cigarette or two, were also praised for taking any step to improve their health, said Janie Heath, dean of the UK College of Nursing, who spoke at the awards ceremony earlier this week. Within 24 hours of your last cigarette your risk of a heart disease begins to go down, said Amanda Fallin, assistant research professor in the College of Nursing who ran the program.

Switzer won $500. He’s planning to use the prize money and his ever-improving ability to breathe to invest in some new gear and go turkey hunting.

“I’ll be going after them,” he said, mentioning but then retracting the name of his favorite turkey hunting spot. He wants to keep that a secret.

But the willingness of Switzer and the other participants to go public with their struggles with quitting is an important part of changing the smoking culture on campus that began when UK went smoke-free in 2009.

Switzer can attest it’s tough. He was hooked a long time. Switzer’s father owned a garage and gas station when he was a kid. His dad would always throw his cigarettes out near the garage when he went to pump gas.

“Me and my sister used to snatch them up,” said Switzer. When his father caught on, he put the children on a lift in the garage, gave them a pack of cigarettes each and told them to smoke all they could handle, intending to cure them of the habit. It had the opposite effect on Switzer.

Christine Johnson, who also won $500, doesn’t want to say when she started smoking because at 49, she still doesn’t want her mom to know. But she will say it’s been more than 30 years. A smoking-related health problem that landed her in the hospital for nine days was her reason for quitting — this time.

She’s tried many times before. “I want to stay alive,” said Johnson, human resource manager for the College of Fine Arts. She’s using her $500 prize for a new smoke-free deck on her house.

She’s thrilled to be smoke-free but knows it will be a challenge moving forward. Her boyfriend smokes, she said, and while he has supported her and is smoking outside of the house in the freezing weather, he’s not quite as motivated as she is.

“That’s the thing,” she said, “you can’t make someone do it until they are ready.”

Pam Thompson has tried to quit before and is motivated, like Johnson, by health concerns. Thompson’s best friend has stage four bladder cancer related to smoking. She’s seen how much her friend is suffering and, she said, “I just don’t want to go there.”

Getting support to make a different choice when she feels like smoking has been a big help, she said. And nicotine replacement gum has allowed her to get through some tough spots. Thompson, who does clerical work in the birthing center, won $250 dollars, which she is going to spend on some medical equipment for her ill friend. But she’s already come out ahead. Although she was a little winded from rushing to the UK student center for the awards ceremony, her breathing is noticeably better than it was four weeks ago.

Daniel Cooper, who works at Eastern State Hospital, found his inspiration in his two young sons who often told him how much they didn’t like that he smoked. He said he found it helpful to take one day at a time and commit to not smoking for 24 hours at a time.

While Quit to Win was a month-long effort supported through BeHip, which stands for Behavioral Health Improvement Program, it is available year-round. That’s how Tracy Barlow quit.”I had tried to quit forever. I was desperate, I wanted to quit so bad,” she said. She saw a poster advertising the BeHip program in a doctor’s office and quit in 2013. At 45, she’d smoked since she was 18.

“It was a real struggle,” she said, “You really have to change everything.”

She was motivated by her work as a parking attendant for the Markey Cancer Center too. She said she saw patients suffering through treatments who would walk outside with their IV poles to have a cigarette. And, she said, “a lot of time the cigarette is the reason they are there in the first place.”

It’s part of her job to make people aware of UK’s smoke-free campus policy. But she is an enthusiastic advocate, politely sharing her story and encouraging people to make an appointment with a Markey employee who helps people quit smoking.

In her earliest days of being smoke-free she found that inhaling deeply when she wanted to inhale a cigarette helped her move through the craving.

Now, she said, “everything about me feels different. It’s really changed me. It changes your hair, it changes your complexion. It changes everything.”