If the Great American Smokeout isn’t enough incentive to get members of the Cornell community to quit, then maybe the weather is. With the new state legislature banning smoking in public places and the first tastes of winter weather hitting the area, many smokers may decide that now is the perfect time to kick the habit. If they do, the staff at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services is ready with a variety of offerings — and a lot of advice — to help make the transition easier.
Last year, Gannett conducted a web survey at both Cornell and the University of Iowa to determine how prevalent tobacco use was among students. According to Jan Talbot, a health educator at Gannett, the survey showed that “about 76 percent of the students [at Cornell] were nonsmokers, were ex-smokers or had just had one cigarette in their lifetime” to experiment. Furthermore, regular smokers — those who smoke seven or more cigarettes a week — account for only 5 percent of Cornell students.
The majority of smokers at Cornell are occasional smokers, those who smoke no more than six cigarettes a week. The students in this group, which accounts for 19 percent of the student body, smoke “mostly on the weekends when they’re socializing, or at a party when they’re drinking,” Talbot said, adding that they may also smoke to relieve stress.
Talbot expressed surprise at the mentality of occasional smokers. “They don’t think of themselves as smokers at all,” she explained. “They somehow think that they’re not going to be exposing themselves to the health hazards that ‘real’ smokers have.”
These health hazards — which all smokers face regardless of how much they smoke — include an increased risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as several short-term health effects. According to the American Cancer Society website, smokers often “suffer from shortness of breath, nagging coughing or tiring easily during strenuous physical activity. Smoking also diminishes the ability to smell and taste and causes premature aging of skin.” Lisa Stankus, a nurse practitioner at Gannett, gave a similar list of symptoms, saying that students who smoke often complain of “respiratory infections, bronchitis, asthma exacerbation, decreased tolerance for exercise and headaches.”
“College students know the health hazards,” Talbot explained. “What they don’t know is, if you want to stop, how do you go about doing that?” For students who are interested in quitting, Gannett offers several services ranging from speaking to a clinician about the quitting process to nicotine replacement patches and prescription drugs. One of the items available is the “Quit Kit.” The kit is available free of charge, and offers a variety of items designed to replace the action of smoking by keeping your hands and mouth busy. It contains sunflower seeds, gum, mints, rubber bands, coffee stirrers, a pen, a nail file and several brochures on the benefits of quitting and how to do so.
For many students, the plan is to quit when they graduate, but “then graduation comes and they’re applying for jobs and they’re still smoking,” Talbot explained. This is in part because smokers may have to overcome a lot of obstacles when they try to quit. For many, smoking gives them an opportunity to take a break from their hectic lives. “A lot of times what’s a challenge when they quit is finding that replacement for a break,” Talbot said. She suggested that students try to substitute a healthier habit for their break, like running or listening to music.
Many students also say that they smoke because they’re stressed. However, Talbot explained that this is self-defeating. “When that effect wears off, when the nicotine wears off … it reverses and you become more stressed. It’s a short term fix for a longer term problem,” she said. Students may also fear that they will gain weight when they quit smoking, which according to Talbot is “probably a myth.” Smokers may gain a few pounds when they first quit, but they usually lose it again as they become used to being tobacco free.
For Daniel Mulhall ’06, quitting cold turkey was no problem. “But, I wouldn’t say I was addicted,” Mulhall, a self-described light-smoker, explained. When asked what his motivation for quitting was, Mulhall replied, “Cigarette prices are too high, and it gets to the point where you need like a pack a day. I don’t have that kind of money.”
However, other smokers find quitting much more difficult than they expect it to be. According to one Cornell student who wished to remain anonymous, “It’s not that easy to quit like that.” This student, who currently smokes, had tried quitting in the past. When asked how it went he simply replied, “Not too well.”
“It’s okay if you fail once,” Stankus explained. “The important thing is that you’re trying. That’s not viewed as failure.”
Gannett has not planned any special activities to coincide with the Great American Smokeout, but it fully supports the spirit of the event. Howevever, Talbot recognizes that the timing may not be the best for college students. “[November] is a hard time for students to quit,” she explained. End of the semester stress may make it harder for people to kick the habit. In January, she explained, there is less stress and people are working on New Year’s resolutions. “I think sometimes it’s easier for people to quit under those circumstances,” Talbot said.
Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett, emphasized that the staff at Gannett is there to help whenever smokers decide that they’re ready to quit. “We would welcome anyone on November 20 to come to the health center and learn more about quitting smoking, initiate tobacco cessation, get a quit kit and get information,” Stankus said.
“But we’ll still be here in January,” Talbot added.
Archived article by Courtney Potts