Third in a three-part series
Bronson Howard gave up smoking when his employer turned the workplace smoke free
By Robyn Davis Sekula
January 25, 2008
Editor's note: This is the last in a series of stories examining how Louisville-area businesspeople have worked to make their lives healthier.
For nearly 15 years, Bronson Howard was a smoker. On stressful days, it wouldn't be uncommon for him to take smoking breaks from his job as a help desk analyst in the information technology department at Clark Memorial Hospital and puff away on two cigarettes, back-to-back, running through as much as a pack and a half in a single day.
"I could always tell when I was at the end of a stressful week because it was so hard to breathe," Howard said.
But when the hospital's campus declared it was going tobacco free on July 1, 2006, Howard decided he, too, would go smoke free.
Howard and his wife, Sandy Howard, a medical assistant at Novamed Pain Management Center of Southern Indiana in New Albany, were trying to have a child and had been told by physicians that it would be easier for her to get pregnant if they gave up smoking.
So Howard took smoking-cessation classes offered at the hospital. His wife also attended, thanks to Clark Memorial's invitation to any household members of an employee.
They both have successfully stamped out cigarettes smoking.
Howard will be the first to tell you it's not easy. But Clark Memorial's program, presented to its employees for the first time in advance of the tobacco-free deadline, made it much easier.
"I was doubtful and skeptical that the classes would help all that much," Howard said. "I thought I would just get the patch, and I wouldn't worry about the 'Kumbaya' and togetherness and stuff.
"But to be honest, it was amazingly helpful," he said. "It helped to see other people who were struggling like me. I had a lot of anxiety about quitting."
On the program's first day, Andi Hannah, coordinator of the Clark County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition, told class members they could quit any time they liked, but she wouldn't actually ask them to quit until the fourth session.
The first step was changing their habits. Hannah recommended that they stop smoking in their homes and switch cigarette brands to those with less taste and nicotine.
Hannah explained that the goal of the switch was to have smokers use a cigarette that would not taste as good to them as their preferred brand. And less nicotine intake would gradually lessen the body's dependence on the drug.
Also, changing brands forces a smoker to think about what they are doing, as most usually go to the same store and ask for the same brand almost automatically.
After that switch, Hannah asked class members to stop altogether, and participants were given nicotine patches, which gradually step down the amount of nicotine in the body, or a new drug called Chantix, a pill that reduces withdrawal symptoms in the brain and lessens the desire to smoke.
Howard used the patch to quit. His last smoke was in April 2006.
Hannah also taught the class how to find something to distract them when they wanted to smoke. For Howard, it was throwing a small rubber ball around an enclosed courtyard near his work area on the Clark Memorial campus. Cravings last five to 10 minutes, he said, and having another activity successfully distracted him.
Then, there was the peer pressure. Howard and his wife quit at the same time, and he didn't want to start smoking again before she did.
"I would never hear the end of it," Howard said.
Hannah noted that it's the group nature of the class that seems to really help.
"Smokers very often at this point in history are feeling marginalized," Hannah said. "They can't do it at work, and (often) are the only one in the family who smokes. They can find out that other people are experiencing the same thing they are.
"If they are missing their cigarettes, or fearful of giving up cigarettes, they may feel a little weird about that," she said. "But then they get to the class and find out that everyone is a little afraid of giving up that companion of 20 years."
Benefits of quitting
Even nearly two years after he quit, Howard still experiences cravings.
"There are certain actions that your body gets used to doing, such as you are in your car and driving to work, and you hear a song that reminds you of the time when you were driving to work and were smoking and listening to that song, and you think, 'I would love to have a cigarette,' " he said.
"Or you are eating out and it's after dinner, when you would normally be smoking. I have noticed these experiences are fewer and farther between now."
Howard has noticed many benefits to quitting. His food tastes better, and he wants to eat more vegetables and healthy foods. He eats less fast food.
He also saves about $2,400 per year. "That's a nice TV or a computer or a nice getaway somewhere," Howard said.
Howard also said he has more energy and fewer sinus problems now. And, above all, he's more confident in his own abilities to succeed at anything in life.
"It's literally been one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life," Howard said. "It's what makes me think I can work out and get healthy. I realize I can do anything I want to do. It's a little bit of willpower."
Job: Help desk analyst in information technology, Clark Memorial Hospital, Jeffersonville
Wife: Sandy Howard
Education: Graduate of Silver Creek High School, 1991
Health habit: Howard gave up smoking cigarettes in April 2006 after 15 years of smoking a pack to a pack-and-a-half each day.
How he did it: Took classes at Clark Memorial Hospital, where he works. Used nicotine patches and learned how to distract himself during cravings.
Benefits: Saves $2,400 annually. Food tastes better. Less sinus trouble.
Clark Memorial Hospital offered smoking cessation classes for employees in advance of a hospital-wide tobacco ban and after it was implemented on the organization's campuses in Southern Indiana last year.
The classes were free for employees and their spouses and included free nicotine patches and other aids to help employees quit the habit. So far, 30 employees have taken the classes, according to Lynne Pendygraft, public relations specialist at Clark Memorial.
Other hospitals and health organizations in the Louisville area offer classes to help area residents kick the habit.
Louisville Metro Health Department. Classes are offered at various locations, days and times. Call 574-STOP or visit www.louisvilleky.gov/health and click on "I want to Stop Smoking" for a full schedule.
Clark Memorial Hospital. Clark Memorial will offer a six-week class beginning Feb. 5 for people who want to quit using chewing tobacco. An anti-smoking class will begin March 13. Both sets of classes are held from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Clark Memorial and are free and open to the public. Call 283-2649 to register. For more information, see www.cleanairforclarkco.com.
YMCA of Southern Indiana. A 13-session class will be offered beginning Jan. 29 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the YMCA of Southern Indiana, 4812 Hamburg Pike in Jeffersonville. Led by certified facilitator Jennifer Harris, the classes will focus on physical, mental, and behavioral aspects of smoking cessation. The cost is $30 per person for YMCA members and $45 for non-members. Call (812) 283-9622, Ext. 19, for more information.