New Tool Snuffs Out a Smoking Habit

With a smoking habit that began at age 17, Jessica Hanson of Fargo lost count of the number of times she's tried to quit. But today, at age 29, she easily counts the benefits of being smoke-free.

With a smoking habit that began at age 17, Jessica Hanson of Fargo lost count of the number of times she's tried to quit. But today, at age 29, she easily counts the benefits of being smoke-free.

"Within a month, I could climb a flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. I could taste spices in foods. I didn't smell like smoke. I could breathe easier," she says. Then with a laugh: "Even my guinea pig, Arnold, doesn't cough anymore."

Motivated to quit
A clerk/nursing assistant on the oncology unit at MeritCare Hospital, Jessica had seen the devastating effects of lung cancer, but that wasn't enough to prompt her to quit her pack-a-day habit. Nor were the frequent urgings of family and friends. What finally made a difference was a close, honest look at her own health.

"The biggest thing for me was I decided to have gastric bypass (weight-loss) surgery, but I found out I first had to quit smoking," says Jessica. "I realized the two really do go together. If I'm going to lose weight for my health, then I should stop smoking for my health, too."

Talking, laughing – and learning
A year ago, Jessica took a first step by going to MeritCare Tobacco Dependence Program in Fargo. "I didn't know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised," she says. "I sat and visited with Jay and Vickie and learned a ton of information about smoking, how it hooks you, what it does to your body and tools to help you quit. They didn't preach, they didn't judge, it was just an hour of talking and laughing."

Jay Taylor and Vickie Haberman, MeritCare respiratory therapists and trained tobacco counselors, meet with hospitalized patients, clinic patients, MeritCare employees, and now anyone in the community interested in learning more about quitting. The one-on-one session costs $42, with many insurance companies offering reimbursement. "Don't let anyone tell you that stopping smoking is easy. It's not, but we can make it easier," says Jay, a former smoker who speaks from experience. "Today's tools to help people quit are better than ever."

"Now I'm a believer"
For Jessica, the tool that proved most helpful was a new drug called Chantix. "I'd had the prescription for several months before I finally got it filled – I just didn't believe it could work. I thought I would always have the cravings and that's just the way it was," says Jessica. "Now I'm a believer. There's no such thing as a miracle drug to make you stop smoking, but this comes close."

Chantix works by blocking nicotine's feel-good effects on the brain. "After a few days of taking Chantix, I noticed cigarettes tasted nasty and I sure didn't feel better when I smoked them," says Jessica. "By day six, I didn't even want to smoke anymore. And no cravings, either – or irritability." Jessica began taking Chantix in May.

The usual length of time people take Chantix is six months, which is enough time for habits and lifestyle to undergo permanent change. "You learn to spend your time in other ways," says Jessica. "I love videogames, but I also walk more, read more, spend more time outdoors and just enjoy being able to breathe in fresh air. And after my surgery, I even hope to take up running."

For more information about MeritCare Tobacco Dependence Program, please call (701) 234-6460 (800) 437-4010, ext. 6460. Outpatient counseling services are also available at MeritCare Bemidji by calling (218) 333-5111. A referral from a physician is not needed.