Want to stop smoking? A successful program meets at St. Anthony to help smokers kick the habit. Photo courtesy Scott Turner

Tobacco smoke and tobacco products are the largest cause of illness, disease and preventable death in the country, so Dr. Patrick Hogan decided to do something about it.

As a neurologist, Hogan, founder and medical advisor of the Freedom From Tobacco program, saw that smoking had more to do with the brain than many people realized.  So he started a method to not only help people stop smoking, but arm them with the tools they would need to stop for good. That was in 1992.

Since that time he has continued to provide support to a group that meets Thursday nights at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma. When he started the group, he said there was a push to eliminate smoking in society, but no real support for smokers who wanted to quit.

“People were being told to stop smoking, but were not given the tools,” he said.

“Through all that time we were trying to make it more difficult to smoke, and telling them not to smoke, but not giving them a good way to stop.”

A new support group meets at St. Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor.  The group, which just began meeting May 19, meets Tuesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Jane Thompson Russel Cancer Care Center in the Milgard Pavilion.

“I’m really hoping the group will reach people on the Key Peninsula, and into Port Orchard and Kitsap County,” said Heidi Henson, a psychotherapist who facilitates the group meetings at St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma.

By combining a support group with education and medication, she said those who really want to quit can be successful.

Stephen Carlson was a smoker for 50 years, and joined the group about three years ago.

“It was getting kind of expensive and of course it was getting a bunch of bad press too,” Carlson said. “It was getting harder and harder to find a place where you can smoke. When I was a kid we were out behind the barn smoking, now when I’m an adult I’m out behind the barn smoking, and I started kind of going ‘what the hell is going on here?’”

He took the prescription Wellbutrin, attended the support group, and hasn’t smoked in three and a half years, he said.

“I started going to one of the support groups every week, one thing led to another and within a month I quit smoking, and so I kept going to the meetings,” he said. “Support groups, what it really does for your psyche I don’t know, but I kept going.”

Freedom From Tobacco support group will meets Tuesdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Jane Thompson Russel Cancer Center in Milgard Pavilion at St. Anthony Hospital. For more information call Heidi Henson at 253-223-7583.

What it does for the psyche is exactly why it works, according to Henson.

“We found an extremely high success rate if they follow the formula and come to group while they work on a quit plan and practicing, and then from the final quit date if they attend for one year after, they don’t relapse,” she said.  “Recommitting once a week keeps it number one on your list.”

By having that positive reinforcement and support from peers who know exactly what the others are feeling and experiencing, the group member walks out feeling positive about what they are trying to accomplish.

However, Henson said it is important to note that part of quitting is practicing quitting.
“It involves relapse for a majority of the people,” she said. “When you aren’t getting support it leads to more use.”

Without the support, the person feels negative emotions about the relapse, she said.
“It steels your self esteem, they feel guilty and as if there is something wrong with them and they should have more will power,” she said. “This spirals to a person who doesn’t feel worthy of living a full life.

“The most exciting thing is when they get off of tobacco. I get to see in front of me that they become the person they were meant to be.”

Hogan would like to take the model to other locations and branch out as much as possible, he said.

“We do need more medical help from someone who could come by and give medical advice,” Hogan said. “It is tremendously gratifying to see them finally get control of the addiction. The greatest loss of freedom is to have an addiction.”

Even if smokers have tried to quit before and have not been successful, Hogan said joining the support group at St. Anthony Hospital will provide the tools for success.

“Never stop trying,” he said. “The only people who fail are those who have stopped trying. The idea is persistence. We have people who come for two years and relapse, the idea is never stop trying and eventually anyone can be successful.”