Fort Drum MEDDAC staff helps community members kick the habit


Mike StrasserYou Can Quit graphic.jpg

Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs


FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 30, 2019) – November is Smoking Cessation Month, and what a difference a month can make for people who commit to quit.

According to the American Cancer Society, some of the benefits of ending the addiction to nicotine and tobacco products are immediate. Sense of smell returns to normal, teeth and fingernails stop yellowing, and food begins tasting better.

The health benefits are even more significant. The body resumes a normal carbon monoxide level 12 hours after quitting. Circulation improves and lung function begins to increase after two weeks. After a month, coughing and shortness of breath begin to decrease, as the lungs begin to regain their normal functions.

Danielle Bretz, with Army Public Health Nursing, said that breaking the habit is difficult but the U.S. Army Medical Department Activity at Fort Drum offers community members the support if they are willing to try.

“When people ask for help, they know it’s going to be very hard to quit and that it even may take multiple attempts to quit,” she said. “We understand that very few people can actually put it down, walk away and never go back to it after their first attempt. But we encourage people to try, and we want to help them succeed.”

The Army Public Health Nursing staff offers a free Tobacco Cessation class for all active-duty service members, TRICARE beneficiaries and Department of the Army employees who work at Fort Drum. The class meets every other Thursday at the Fort Drum Army Wellness Center on Fifth Armored Division Drive.

While the program has traditionally been labeled as tobacco cessation, it recognizes all forms of tobacco and nicotine dependency, to include smoking, dipping, chewing and vaping.

Those who register for the two-hour class will learn the health benefits of tobacco cessation and review some of the medicines available to help curb the habit and how they work.

Bretz said that cessation affects a person both chemically – as the body reacts to nicotine withdrawal – and behaviorally – dealing with cravings, stress and other triggers.

“I hear from a lot of people who like to smoke with their morning coffee,” she said. “Or, they’re driving – not in any bad traffic or stressful situation – but just the drive triggers an urge to smoke.”

Bretz said that associating with friends or colleagues who smoke can also be a detriment to quitting, for fear of no longer belonging to that social network. She said that the program offers other ways of interacting with people who smoke.

“We discuss these things so people become aware of what is driving this urge to reach for whatever tobacco product they use,” Bretz said. “We also touch on ways to manage that trigger. It could be a way of distracting yourself, avoiding certain situations or finding substitutions.”

When all else fails, Bretz recommends digging deep from within.

“I try to emphasize in class the use of willpower,” she said. “Sometimes that’s just the last tool in the toolbox that ends up working.”

She said that after completing the class, attendees can meet with their health care provider for follow-up treatment.

“That way, they can get individualized support based on their medical record, what medicines they can safely take and, if that person has tried to quit before, what medications they took before,” she said.

Bretz said that she also checks in with attendees over a six-month period to review their progress.

“That can be either a phone call or, if they want, they can come back in to see me,” she said. “I’m always available to talk one-on-one.”

Bretz said that she has never deployed or experienced a training exercise, so she asks Soldiers who participate in the class to describe the barriers that keep them from quitting, or what caused them to renew the habit.

“I get a lot of Soldiers who say, ‘Well, I went to the field …’ as a way of explaining why they started again,” she said. “The way they describe it, there’s a lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’ When they’re bored, that’s what they will do to kill time.”

Bretz said that Soldiers also cite high stress levels that trigger the urge to use nicotine products. However, the impact that nicotine addiction has on their performance can also motivate Soldiers to quit.

“I’ve had Soldiers who come in because they want to improve their PT, and they can actually feel how smoking is affecting that,” Bretz said. “I guess when they were younger it didn’t have as much effect when they were running or in their workout, but now they realize this is not good.”

The class also covers electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), which include e-cigarettes and vaping products.

“Certainly with the recent outbreak of lung illnesses related to vaping, we want to review current statistics and let people know that this is not a safer product to use,” she said. “We call it ‘different product, different risks.’”

She said that they discourage people from seeing these products as viable cessation devices, because there is no medical evidence that this is true.

The Army Public Health Center issued a public health alert on Sept. 10, warning that those who use e-cigarettes and vaping products are susceptible to lung illnesses and that people who experience any symptoms should immediately report them to their health care provider. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, fatigue or fever.

As of Oct. 15, nearly 1,500 lung injury cases associated with the use of these products have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from across the U.S. Thirty-three deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. The CDC confirmed that THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) was present in most of the samples tested by FDA, and most patients reported a history of using THC-containing products. THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

In light of these revelations, the Army and Air Force Exchange Service removed vaping-related products from its store shelves on Sept. 30.

“The message we are trying to get out is that whether you smoke, dip, chew, vape or whatever, we are here for you,” Bretz said. “This is a free resource anytime you are ready to start the process, and we will support you whatever way we can.”

The Tobacco Cessation Class is scheduled for 1 p.m. every other Thursday at the Army Wellness Center. To register, call Army Public Health Nursing at (315) 772-6404.

The Fort Drum Army Public Health Nursing staff will promote the Tobacco Cessation program during the Great American Smoke Out on Nov. 21. They will be at Clark Hall from 8 to 10:30 a.m. and at the Exchange food court from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.


Fast facts (Source: CDC)

* Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S.

* Each year, nearly half a million Americans die prematurely of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.

* Each year, the U.S. spends nearly $170 billion on medical care to treat smoking-related disease in adults.

* More Americans are addicted to nicotine than any to any other drug.

* Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, with roughly 70 that are cancer-causing.

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