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Quitting coach a 'confidence builder' for Tooele smoker

Published March 22, 2012 11:04 am

Public health • Calls to quit line rise in wake of tobacco tax and ad campaign.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Zo Finney was a "pack-a-day" smoker for 28 years before her husband slapped a nicotine patch on her back and asked her to join him in quitting.

It wasn't her first attempt, but this one stuck.

Her husband, William Finney, applied the peer pressure, the patch curbed her cravings, and quitting coaches at Utah's Tobacco Quit Line gave her the encouragement she needed when she felt herself slipping.

The 45-year-old Tooele woman is among a growing number of Utahns who have turned to the quit line — 1-800-QUIT-NOW — for help. Calls have increased steadily since the quit line's inception nearly a decade ago.

But last January, nearly 1,100 tobacco users phoned for help — a 70 percent increase over the average number of inquiries the past three Januaries.

"That's our big month, because it's when everyone makes their New Year's resolution to quit," said David Neville with the Utah Department of Health's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program.

The spike could be related to a tobacco tax hike, which appears to have driven a decline in cigarette sales. A new ad campaign also may have contributed.

Featuring a frumpy but likable cartoon character, "Kurtz," the TV, radio and Internet ads are a far cry from the scare tactics used by most substance-abuse campaigns.

"We wanted something warm and friendly, an empathetic voice that says, 'Don't beat yourself up. It took you a long time to learn to smoke. It'll take you a long time to quit,' " said Neville.

There are more ex-smokers in Utah than current smokers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Most quit cold turkey after five or six tries, with fewer than 10 percent using the quit line, Neville acknowledged. But he says "the ads also create a social norm that it's OK to quit."

Finney started smoking at 13.

She was able to stop when she became pregnant with her two now-adult children. "But inevitably I'd start again and make up some stupid excuse like, 'I need to lose a little weight,' " she said.

Finney works for the health department's immunization program, where colleagues had urged her to give up cigarettes.

The quit line "was the only entity I knew of that had information on how to do it," she said. "I needed a little extra confidence builder and support."

The service is free and open to all Utah residents.

Finney was assigned a coach who checked on her progress every week for about a month.

"The first week was the toughest, for sure," she said, noting her desire to light up was strongest in the morning, after meals and following a stressful day at work. "I forced myself to take walks, drink lots of water and chew lots of gum."

Now smoke-free, Finney has more energy and says, "Food tastes better, and I can smell." And after years of renting apartments, she and her husband recently bought a home in Tooele — "a prize," made affordable with money the couple saved on cigarettes, nearly $2,000 a year, she says.

Smoking has damaged Finney's health, triggering a form of psoriasis that attacks the palms of her hands and soles of her feet.

"I tell people, 'Don't start, because this can happen, and when you quit, you're going to get fat,' " she said. "But quitting is possible, and there's no better time than now." —

Need quitting help?

O In addition to a quit line, the Utah Department of Health has an online resource, UtahQuitNet.com, featuring free chat rooms, expert forums and tutorials. It's free and confidential.

Or, for inspiration, watch the "Kurtz" ads at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3oN6g1K358.