Publish Date: 11/12/2004
Up in Smoke
LONGMONT — Some smokers may regard
the 27th annual Great American Smokeout as a day to dread,
a day of institutionalized
But the goal of the day is not to judge, shame or put down
the 46 million American adults who light up.
Rather, the Smokeout — this year scheduled for Thursday — sends
an important you-can-do-it message.
Smokers from all walks of life have caught this message
and resolved to quit in ways ho-hum and highly creative.
Longmont ex-smoker Carl Helfrich, 73, exemplifies the latter
Instead of buying nicotine gum, patches or lozenges, he
picked up a hat pin for 25 cents when he stopped smoking
eight years ago.
He used the hat pin to poke holes in the filters of his
last carton of cigarettes, he said. The holes diluted the
smoke he inhaled enough for him to wean himself by the last
pack in the carton.
“My wife told me, ‘If you quit, you can spend that money
on Lotto tickets,’” Helfrich said, laughing.
Another Longmont ex-smoker, the Rev. Ralph Hardesty, 77,
recalled watching a football game between Colorado and Nebraska
one Saturday back in the mid-1970s.
Then a University of Colorado employee, he spent the afternoon
smoking cigarettes and a pipe and packing chew in his mouth
as the high-stakes game progressed.
“I smoked and chewed and spit in a bucket all afternoon
long. I could have knocked down a bug at 20 feet,” he said.
But Hardesty lost track of how much nicotine he had dumped
into his system. When he stood up from his comfy chair, he
felt ill with shakes and sweats.
Under the duress of the overdose, he hauled his various
tobacco stashes upstairs to the kitchen sink and turned on
The American Cancer Society offers
numerous tips to help smokers kick the habit, including
brushing your teeth; keeping
oral substitutes such as carrots, pickles, raisins and gum
handy; and saying “no” out loud when struggling with a craving.
Another strategy calls for taking 10 deep breaths and lighting
a match on the last one before slowly exhaling to blow out
the match and putting it in an ashtray.
Besides giving smokers specific tips, the Smokeout has highlighted
the deaths and chronic diseases associated with the habit.
Anti-smoking activism has caused many state and local governments
to ban smoking in workplaces and restaurants, raise taxes
on cigarettes and squelch cigarette advertising.
The city of Longmont instituted such a ban last January.
Starting in January 2005, Boulder County will have a similar
ban in unincorporated areas, making the county 88 percent
protected from secondhand smoke, according to Chuck Stout,
Boulder County Public Health Department director.
Only Erie, Lafayette, Lyons and Nederland remain free of
smoking bans, he said.
On the statewide front, Colorado voters this month approved
Amendment 35 to increase taxes on tobacco products from 20
percent of the retail price to 40 percent, making the habit
costlier than ever.
But the pocketbook hit is nothing compared with the health
The ACS says smoking accounts for in one in three cancer
deaths and one in five deaths from all causes.
The Smokeout provides this information along with the encouragement
that it is never too late to quit or cut back and never too
late to try.
Ex-smoker: Melissa van der Poel
Kicked the habit: Dec. 31, 1999
Five minutes before midnight on New
Year’s Eve 1999, Melissa
van der Poel was running through a mental checklist while
other people raised champagne flutes to the new millennium.
Did she have a stash of nicotine gum handy? What about her
crochet hook, knitting needles and yarn?
It took all of these aids for van
der Poel to break the “amazingly” difficult
hand-to-mouth addiction she had reinforced for 28 years by
smoking two and a half packs of cigarettes a day.
Her smoking saga started in high school, she said, when
young women in her small class splintered into two groups:
cheerleaders and hoods.
Though not quite a hood, she also did not fit the cheerleader
mold. But by smoking cigarettes, she found a quick and easy
ticket in with the hoods.
Little did she know then that sneaking
cigarettes as a high school sophomore to “be cool” would
soon become a fixture of adult life.
“Your whole day is built around smoking,” she said. “This
is the only thing that would make me get out of bed in the
winter in a blizzard — to find an open gas station when I
was out of cigarettes.”
The physical addiction proved powerful.
“It’s that feeling that you’ve got to have a cigarette now,” van
der Poel explained.
Yet so many other part-and-parcel aspects of the habit kept
While working for nonprofit organizations
in Nepal and Africa, she considered cigarettes a great “social
Smoking at the back door, she mixed and mingled with cab
drivers, van der Poel explained.
Eventually, though, the preponderance of health-risk evidence
and her need to live a healthier life made her ready that
night almost five years ago.
“And you have to be ready. Don’t let somebody nag you into
it,” she advised. “You won’t be successful.”
Ex-smoker: Janet Elrod
Occupation: Retired special education supervisor
Kicked the habit: 1993
When Janet Elrod smoked her first cigarette at age 16, dancing
stick figures advertised Lucky Strikes and a singing woman
praised Kents, she said.
It was the late 1950s, and ad campaigns seemed like innocent
pitches free of sex appeal and vice.
Smoking in those days was much more a part of the culture,
“During the lunch hour during high school, you’d go to the
Coke shop and have a hamburger, a coke and a smoke,” Elrod
said of her upstate New York adolescence.
She first quit in 1965 after bearing her second child, but
not for the right reasons.
Her doctor had ordered the “skinny” new
mother to gain weight. She figured snuffing her cigarette
habit would do the trick
because smoking can suppress the appetite.
After six months of smoke-free living, she had gained no
weight and lit up again.
All other attempts proved unsuccessful until 1993, when
her doctor refused to perform an operation unless she quit
two weeks before the surgery.
“I just got up in the morning two weeks before then and
I was done,” she said. “I had to.”
After the operation, she took it day by day, nibbling on
black licorice when the cravings hit.
Besides writing off bars for a while, she got busy right
after eating dinner at home.
“I had to learn as soon as we were finished to get up and
wash those dishes, not just sit there (as I did) when I used
to smoke,” she said.
Ex-smoker: Patrick Shea
Occupation: Network technician
Kicked the habit: June 8, 1970
Some of Patrick Shea’s earliest memories
as a boy growing up in New York City center around trips
to the cigarette
vending machine with his father.
A pack of Camels cost 22 cents then. When Shea plunked a
quarter in for his dad, the vending machine dispensed the
pack of cigarettes and three cents in change.
But Shea’s decision to smoke at age
14 had more to do with peer pressure than parent modeling,
Despite feeling nauseated and dizzy
during those first drags, he “muddled through” the negative
physical responses to smoke like the cool older kids, he
Shea now considers the ill feelings red flags at the gates
of a gripping addiction that took him nearly 10 years to
The anything-goes environment at
the time didn’t help, he
From the real people in his life — his father and his buddies — to
TV game show contestants, lighting up was a way of life for
Then one summer day while stationed along the demilitarized
zone between North and South Korea, the 23-year-old U.S.
Army soldier experienced a life-changing epiphany.
Shea was storming up a hill with his comrades during a war-game
exercise when he collapsed with his rifle and full pack.
“I couldn’t breathe,” he recalled. “I just couldn’t get
any air. That’s when I thought, ‘This is about enough.’”
Once back at the barracks, he began
devising a plan, which he formalized by drawing a square
around the “8” on the June
page of that year’s Playboy Bunny calendar.
Then he wrote “Stop smoking” beside
He keeps that calendar from 1970 as a memento to the milestone.
“It gets a little easier every day — a little bit, just
a very little bit easier,” Shea added. “But if you quit,
remember that first cigarette will get you every time. It’s
something you’ve got to keep after.”
Ex-smoker: Chuck Stout
Occupation: Director, Boulder County Public Health
Kicked the habit: 1981
Chuck Stout was fighting the good fight against his cigarette
addiction when a job offer came in from a San Rafael heroin
addiction treatment center.
There, the young public health director found himself enveloped
in smoke while leading the group therapy circles.
Heroin addicts, he explained, are notorious for chain-smoking
and gulping coffee when they go into recovery.
But the smoky atmosphere set him
back in the classic “If
you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” scenario.
“It took me 15 times to quit. It’s the hardest addiction
there is,” he said. “The joke was, really, that you didn’t
quit smoking. You quit buying.”
In college and later in Ghana with the Peace Corps, he still
managed to kick the habit for months at a time.
The problem was that “everyone” smoked and it eventually
proved too tempting to say, “No, thank you,” he explained.
Even in an underdeveloped nation like Ghana, where cigarettes
were too expensive to buy in packs, men would customarily
drink palm wine together and send a boy to buy a single cigarette
“People who didn’t smoke would smoke one or two,” he explained. “We
saw it back then as a stress reliever and something to share.”
Deep down, everyone knew it was not a healthful habit, Stout
That was especially true after 1964, he said, when the surgeon
general issued the first warning about the health hazards
But addiction has a funny way of feeding denial.
“We used to joke that nobody over the age of reason knew
that smoking was bad for you,” Stout said.
Ultimately, it took the birth of
his first child in 1981 before Stout finally kicked the
daily habit — even though
he still sometimes “waxes nostalgic” for it.
By then, the ill effects of secondhand smoke had become
clear and the public had begun correlating smoking with heart
disease and stroke, not just lung cancer.
More recently, smoke-free laws have also given easily tempted
ex-smokers some reprieve.
“With a lot of health issues, I’ll say, ‘I need you to know
that it’s disgusting, but not dangerous — like not wearing
hairnets (in a restaurant),’” said Stout, who started smoking
at age 15. “But tobacco is one of those things that’s both.”
Ex-smoker: Gale Hodgkin
Occupation: Retired engineer
Kicked the habit: Jan. 1, 1963
Picturing himself as a Nebraska country kid smoking corn
silks in the early 1930s makes Gale Hodgkin chuckle now.
But the octogenarian knows how that
led to the real stuff — tobacco — when
he was just 11 years old.
In no time, his addiction had him scavenging butts off the
sidewalk to consolidate and reroll, he said.
Other times, when he had change in his pocket, he would
spend 10 cents on a pack of Sensation brand cigarettes.
On some level, he suspected the habit was dangerous.
Every time his Grandpa Hodgkin drank coffee, he had to squeeze
his left cheek in to close the gap where mouth cancer, caused
by chewing tobacco, had necessitated surgery, he recalled.
“And other people were coughing a lot and seemed to have
more colds,” Hodgkin continued. “I didn’t think it took a
genius to connect the two.”
So, although he had tried quitting
before, it wasn’t until
he made a pact with his wife, who also wanted to stop smoking,
that he was able to quit.
“We decided that we would go to that New Year’s Eve party
(in 1962) and just be our normal selves. But we would wake
up New Year’s Day knowing that we would no longer smoke,” he
“The fact that she was watching me as close as I was watching
her helped,” he said, laughing.
Coming home to a smoke-free house also helped in the first
few years, he said. And his three small children got him
through the inevitable stretches of feeling cranky.
“They would say, ‘How come you’re not smiling today, Dad?’” he
That both cheered him up and cheered him on, Hodgkin explained.
But like so many ex-smokers say, the success ultimately
came from within.
“You have to fight just as hard for it as you’ve ever fought
for anything,” Hodgkin said. “In my mind you are, in fact,
fighting for your life. That may be why I’ve lived so long.”
• 20 minutes after quitting:
Your blood pressure drops to a level close to that before
the last cigarette. The temperature
of your hands and feet increases to normal.
• 8 hours after quitting: The
carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
• 24 hours after quitting:
Your chance of a heart attack decreases.
• Two weeks to three months
after quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung
function increases up to 30 percent.
• One to nine months after
quitting: Coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness
of breath decrease; cilia
(tiny hairlike structures that move mucus out of the lungs)
regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability
to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce infection.
• One year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary
heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
• Five years after quitting:
Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker five-15
years after quitting.
• 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate
is about half that of a continuing smoker’s. The risk of
cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and
• 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart
disease is that of a nonsmoker’s.
Source: American Cancer Society
• Step 1: Think about why you
want to quit and write those reasons down. Refer to this
list when you are feeling
a craving for tobacco.
• Step 2: Talk to your primary-care
provider about the addictive nature of nicotine and if
a drug therapy is
right for you.
• Step 3: Call the Colorado
Quitline (800-639-QUIT) to speak to a trained counselor,
receive information on drug
therapies and request self-help quitting materials. Or log
on to the Colorado QuitNet (www.co.quitnet.com) for expert
advice, quitting tips and peer support.
• Step 4: Call the Tobacco
Education and Prevention Partnership (TEPP) at 303-413-7567
to obtain a free Quit
Kit and information on Boulder County Quit Smoking Classes.
• Step 5: Tell your friends,
family members and co-workers about your desire to quit
smoking on the Great American Smokeout.
•Step 6: Quit smoking Thursday.
Source: Boulder County Public Health
For more information
• Visit Colorado Quitline at www.co.quitnet.com or
• Drop in on a Nicotine Anonymous
meeting in Longmont or Boulder, 303-582-3153.
• Get a free quit-smoking consultation
at Tobacco Education and Prevention Partners of Boulder