For many years, I taught classes helping smokers to quit their habit. One technique I used was to get them to write five reasons why they wanted to stop smoking. I made the assignment a little more difficult by telling them they couldn't cite health concerns.
That might surprise you, but the truth is smokers know the health risks of what they're doing. If they wanted to quit for health reasons, they would have done it long before they wound up sitting in a smoking cessation class.
To help them along in the exercise, I asked people in my classes to complete this sentence: "If I didn't smoke, I could ______."
I remember one person saying if he didn't smoke, he could have been with his mother when she passed away. While she was very ill in the hospital, he had gone outside to take a smoke break; when he returned, she had died.
Another man said he could spend more time with his grandchild because his daughter refused to let him see the child while he was smoking.
Quitting smoking is extremely difficult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 70 percent of smokers want to quit, and about 52 percent attempt to quit each year, although most don't successfully kick the habit.
But people do quit. In fact, there are more former smokers than smokers now. And for those who want to quit, there are plenty of cessation resources.
Over-the-counter nicotine patches and nicotine gum help deal with the physical withdrawal, and services like the California Smokers' Helpline (800-NO-BUTTS) and the American Lung Association (800-LUNGUSA) offer free telephone counseling.
As a respiratory therapist (and former smoker), I can tell you the benefits of quitting are almost immediate.
According to the American Cancer Society, your heart rate and blood pressure drop 20 minutes after quitting. After 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. After as little as two weeks, circulation and lung function improves. For those who quit for one year, their risk of coronary heart disease drops significantly.
Of course, a smoker first needs to decide to take the first step and try to quit. In order to help people stop smoking, on Nov. 14-15, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center and the eight county health centers will be offering free "Quit Kits" -- which will include stress balls, cinnamon sticks and coupons for smoking cessation aids -- to help tobacco-users curb their cravings.
We will be distributing the Quit Kits as part of The Great American Smokeout, a national event started by the American Cancer Society nearly 40 years ago that encourages smokers to quit for at least 24 hours and make a plan to quit forever.
In addition to the Quit Kits, we'll offer free lung screenings or "spirometry" tests Nov. 14-15, in the lobby of the Regional Medical Center and other locations. Check cchealth.org for specific times and locations.
These tests, which usually cost hundreds of dollars, provide quick results and can detect the early onset of lung disease.
For all you smokers out there, we hope you take the 24-hour challenge and begin the journey along the path to becoming a former smoker.
Janyth Bolden is the cardiopulmonary director at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center. Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at email@example.com. For more health information, go to www.cchealth.org.