"I’m quitting today again," said Monica Hall as she stood in front of the Great American Smokeout information table today in the Upgard Student Center at Tacoma Community College.
She was wearing a nicotine patch she had obtained free by calling the American Cancer Society Quit Line.
"They work really great," the 43-year-old student and mother said, adding that her teenage children are "constantly on me" about quitting smoking. Quiting isn’t easy for some who has smoked for 21 years, she said.
But she was determined.
"I want to be a great role model," she said.
Sitting behind the table was William Quaife, 44, also a TCC student and a Smokeout volunteer. He admitted he still smokes and knows the dangers after more than 30 years puffing away.
He plans to quit someday but not today. "It’s on my list," he said.
The 32nd annual quit-smoking event got under way today, and there was help for cigarette smokers in Pierce County who wanted to join in.
Taking part sounds simple: give up smoking for the day. The goal is that one day may lead to two and then three and finally an end to an addiction that claims the lives of 47 million people nationwide or a little more than one in five adults and teenagers.
The good news in Pierce County, said George Hermosillo with the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program, is that 55 percent of adults in the county have never smoked.
Another 25 percent, he said, or some 141,000 adults are former smokers in the sense that they have quit smoking forever.
But there are still around 112,000 adult smokers in the county – and many more join their ranks each year, he added. This works out to 20.8 percent adult smoking prevalence rate in 2006 – down from 22.4 percent in 2003, with the highest rate of 36% being among the age group of 18-29.
The unhealthy fact, he said is approximately half of those who smoke will die prematurely with tobacco-related diseases. On average 1,000 deaths in Pierce County are attributed to smoking each year – due to lung cancer, heart diseases, stroke, respiratory illness – among other diseases, he said.
Quitting isn’t easy, Hermosillo acknowledges.
A public service television advertisement from the Washington State Department of Health airing this week on local stations shows a woman staring from a second floor apartment down to the street where a man is smoking and then tosses a half-smoked butt away. Suddenly, the woman crashes through the glass window, drops onto the roof of a car below like a rag doll and jumps up to grab the still burning butt. She takes a puff. The walk- off line: We know it’s hard.
But there is help out there today, Hermosillo said. The Health Department teamed with MultiCare Health System to provide volunteers for smokers trying to quit or thinking about it to talk to.
From Western State Hospital in Steilacoom to Tacoma Community College and area MultiCare hospitals and clinics, the volunteers handed out quit-smoking kits and information on the health risks associated with smoking and support groups.
At TCC, respiratory care program student Karen Garcia, 33, was in charge of the two real, preserved lungs hanging from an air pipe. One was a smoker’s black and leathery lung; the other from a non-smoker pink and sponge-like lung.
She explained the difference to students and then asked if they wanted to touch them. She even offered a nylon glove. There weren’t a lot of takers.
"Some people get a little grossed out," she said.
When she held up the jar of cigarette tar collected and a jar labeled Clem’s Phlegm, students backed away.
"I didn’t know (cigarettes) did that much damage," Sarah Kaskins, 18, of Puyallup said. She said she had quit a couple months ago for other reasons: the threat of wrinkles on her face, bad breath, social stigma.
Brandon Campbell, 18, of Edgewood, who has asthma, said he doesn’t smoke and never will. But he said he has been trying to get his mother to quit for years. Perhaps she needs to see the lung, he said.
At Tacoma General Hospital, the Smokeout table sponsored by MultiCare’s Center for Better Living was set up in the middle of the cafeteria. The lunch-time crowd was heavy and the table was busy.
Besides handing out goodie bags, posters, pamphlets and pens, volunteers were signing up anyone who wanted to quit that day.
Among them was Jacob Morris, 18, a hospital valet who had been smoking for about a year but said he couldn’t quit.
"Cold turkey didn’t work out," he said. "I guess I just needed some help. I’m addicted."
In his goodie bag was a $30-off coupon for an oral drug called Chantik made by Pfizer. A company representative was there to discuss the short-term drug that she said was showing good results. Cost: about $120 per month.
Gail Downs, a supervisor for nutrition at Tacoma General, said the Smokeout gave her a chance to quit again. She had attended a support class for two years and was able to quit but then when her grandchild died 18 months ago she started again.
Smoking, she said, was attached to her "comfort things" but in the last couple of support classes she said she came to realize she didn’t like smoking.
For Terry Westling, of Tacoma, oral cancer helped prompted her to stop smoking last August with the help of a support group. She remembers throwing her last four cigarettes out the window of her car on Aug. 8, 2007. She said she is doing fine physically and hasn’t smoked since.
She now volunteers with the support group that meets Thursday evening at St. Joseph’s Medical Center. She volunteered for the Smokeout at Tacoma General, too
"You have to be there for other people," she said. "I needed the support group."
TOBACCO CESSATION & PREVENTION RESOURCES
Tacoma Pierce County Health Department
QuitSmart Classes: 1-800-485-0205
QuitTobacco FREE Support Groups: 253-403-1144
MultiCare Helpline: 253-223-7538
Tobacco Cessation Program: 253-459-6702
Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department:253.798.6001
Clean Air for kids: Asthma Prevention 253.798.2954
Puget Sound ESD: School-based Resources 1.800.664.4549
Washington State Quit Line
Toll-Free: 1-800 QUIT NOW
Spanish: 1-877 NO FUME
How to Get Involved
Tobacco Advisory Board of Pierce County – 1st Friday of the month, Allenmore Hospital, basement classroom, 9 to 11 a.m.