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Breaking away from the lethal weed

Angela Brown, Central Plains Herald- Leader
Staff photo by Angela Brown...Carol Garnham ponders breaking her smoking habit. Next week marks National Non-Smoking Week.

Staff photo by Angela Brown...Carol Garnham ponders breaking her smoking habit. Next week marks National Non-Smoking Week.

It's the lure of conversation that can draw many to the lethal weed.

The lighting of the match to the cigarette, a warm glow to the face, while gathering and bonding with friends around the fire.

"It's a little break; there's a social piece to it too," said Portage la Prairie resident Carol Garnham, who has been smoking off and on for the past 30 years.

This coming week, from Jan. 16-22, marks National Non-Smoking Week, a time when health care providers focus on increasing education about the dangers of smoking to encourage smokers to break their habit.

On Jan 19, it's "Weedless Wednesday," a day when smokers can try to quit, one day at a time.

Garnham is going to make a stab at not smoking as well.

"It's just one day, and maybe one day will turn into two days," she said.

While she wants to quit smoking again, she said she didn't start off the new year with a mind to butt out. She is just waiting until the time is right for her.

"I never make New Year's resolutions, especially for smoking," said Garnham. "There are too many other things going on to be able to try that at the same time."

But she added "any time is a hard time to quit.

"What's hard about quitting? It's a habit, like anything else people do," said Garnham. "Once you start it and form it, it's hard to break it."

In the latest 2009 Community Health Assessment released to the public in October, studies show 25 per cent of the population of Central Region are smokers. As well, 14 per cent of mothers smoked during pregnancy.

Dr. Denis Fortier, vice-president of medical services with Regional Health Authority - Central Manitoba Inc., often sees patients in his work who are trying to quit smoking.

"The smoking percentages have gone down over the years, unfortunately the percentage of females smoking has gone up," he said of national averages.

In 2009, 18 per cent of Canadians smoked, compared to 25 per cent in 1999, according to Health Canada from a CTUMS (Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring) survey.

Fortier knows how hard it is for smokers to quit.

"Really, this is an addiction to nicotine, and nicotine is a highly addictive drug," he said. "There are two components: the nicotine addiction and the psychological habit of putting something in your mouth and sucking on it."

What disturbs him most about smoking are the many health risks smokers face, including chronic lung disease and lung cancer.

However, he also knows there are effective methods to help smokers quit, although the success rate is not 100 per cent.

Some of the ways people can break the habit are still by going cold turkey, taking nicotine replacement products, such as gum or the patch, as well as taking medications.

'When you test one of these individually, you probably have 20 to 30 per cent success rate ," said Fortier. "If you combine a couple of methods, for instance the nicotine replacement patch or gum and a medication, you increase that somewhere around 50 per cent."

Most people know the dangers of smoking and have access to the tools to help them quit, but why do they still smoke?

"I try to encourage my addicted to smoking patients to become addicted to exercise," said Fortier. "They do have a bit of an addictive personality, so if you can get them addicted to (something) less harmful, so be it."

From her office at Southport, Dianna Meseyton-Neufeld, Healthy Living program facilitator with RHA Central, pulls out a handful of pamphlets about quitting smoking.

For those who need to hear a voice constantly telling them to quit, there is the Smokers Helpline at 1-877-513-5333, or

"You can phone that number any time," Meseyton-Neufeld said. "There is a trained quit-specialist there. They will ask you some questions and if you are ready to quit. They can help you make an individualized quit plan."

"It's nice because it's easily accessible, whenever you are ready to make that call," she said.

Manitoba Lung Association offers a variety of programs to help smokers butt out, too, and provides information on its website.

As well, the RHA Central staff are involved in a tobacco working group to try to find effective ways to help clients reduce or eliminate their smoking habit.

Back at her desk, Garnham, who works for the local RHA, is perplexed why she continues to smoke, while knowing the risks.

And she loathes the smell of smoke that stays with her after she has extinguished a cigarette, a reminder of that unhealthy indulgence.

But Garnham is going to attempt another go at breaking the habit. After all, she has done it before. While she started smoking 30 years ago, she was able to stop smoking for about 15 of those years.

Garnham, who has three children, says her family keeps urging her to quit.

She believes quitting smoking is a case of mind over matter, more than anything else.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

"You have to have a focus to quit smoking," she said. "You have to make a concerted effort, every minute of every day."

She has succeeded before, so plans to try again. Maybe this time for good.

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