MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
A few curious shoppers paced around the booth hesitantly; probing its pamphlets and colorful posters for answers they had probably been trying to find for days, months or even years. Nicotine this, cancer that; just another smoking awareness booth right?
When they learned that all they had to do was make a pledge, without any gimmicks or cheesy sales pitches, they moved in for closer examination.
The few people manning the booth wore shirts that read “Help create a world with less cancer and more birthdays.”
A simple yet profound message, challenging smokers and non-smokers alike to help themselves and all those who they come in contact with: to not smoke cigarettes for 24 hours, hoping their decision to not smoke will last forever.
The American Cancer Society held its first Great American Smokeout in 1977. The Smokeout is now an annual event held on the third Thursday of November in locations across the nation, encouraging millions of Americans to stop smoking.
Two informational kiosks were set-up aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, one at the Marine Corps Exchange and the other near the Hadnot Point Annex, where more than 180 Marines, sailors and Department of Defense personnel made their pledges to quit smoking for at least 24 hours.
“It’s the 35th year of the Great American Smokeout and this year’s motto is to ‘Help create a world with less cancer and more birthdays,’” said Melissa Slater, head of the Health Promotion Branch. “It’s the day we encourage people to put a plan in place to stop smoking. We also provide them with tobacco class cessation information.”
John Swett Jr., a health educator and Tobacco Cessation Program coordinator with the Health Promotion & Wellness, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, said the goal is to get an individual to give up their tobacco products for at least a single day. From there, they can focus on one day at a time instead of five or 10 years from now.
“Think about today, and get through today. Tomorrow, get through tomorrow and keep it going on a day to day basis,” said Swett.
Swett added that they also provide counseling with therapy to help a quitter be successful.
“The population of the Navy and Marine Corps combined is about 450,000 people,” said Swett. “Tobacco causes disease that kills more than 450,000 people every year. That means, every year, tobacco wipes out the Navy and Marine Corps equivalent.”
For service members who use tobacco as a stress reliever throughout the work day, Swett said tobacco has the opposite effect on the body, because despite popular belief, nicotine is a stimulant.
“It’s causing an increased workload on the major organs in your body,” said Swett. “There are so many restrictions on where tobacco can be used, that the place people go to smoke is the actual stress reliever. The smoke pit. They assume it’s the tobacco relieving the stress, but it’s actually getting away from the stressful environment.”
James Askins, the department head for Health Promotion & Wellness, Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, said quitting can be difficult because when people get addicted; their body becomes dependent on the chemicals.
“They get addicted to the nicotine and their body gets used to having it,” said Askins. “When you do something 10 to 15 times a day for so many years, it becomes natural and it’s hard to stop that behavior. Tobacco does a lot of negative things for a lot of people.”
Askins added that they try to help people realize that they can do without it and not only does it help save thousands of dollars a year, their health improves dramatically.
“Most of the time, people don’t think about quitting until they get diagnosed with something,” said Askins. “We can give them the tools to quit, but it’s just tools. It takes several attempts, but people can do it. There are millions of people that have done it already. They just have to be willing to do it and use the techniques and programs in order to be successful.”
That is what the Great American Smokeout is about: success, and taking the process one day at a time to reach the ultimate goal of quitting. In this case, quitters do win.
Free tobacco cessation classes are now forming for all active duty, retirees and their family members in 2011. The first classes will be held 7 p.m. from Jan. 4 to 25, at building 4. For more information about the classes call Health Promotion at 451-3712.
For more information on the effects of nicotine and quitting tips, visit the website ucanquit2.org.