Doctor quits 301 times

by Glen Korstrom
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 18/98) - Ross Wheeler was a fresh-faced 13-year-old when he started on a course he regrets and is still trying to correct.

That was when he smoked his first cigarette.

Trying to bring to life the mythology of ruggedness and maturity, Wheeler smoked with friends at school in Ontario.

Now a doctor working at Northern Addiction Services, the 26-year Yellowknife resident is still trying to quit for good.

"I've quit cold turkey 300 times," he says in a deep Leonard Cohenesque voice. "I know you can do it. It's staying stopped that's hard."

Last week Wheeler took part in a Lung Association workshop to help smokers quit.

Ten Yellowknifers attended the week-long workshop at the centre. Now the session is over, the participants can initiate their own sessions to help others.

"We call the 10 people in the program facilitators," said Kelly White, tobacco reduction co-ordinator for the Alberta Lung Association. "Whether they run a program on their own is entirely up to them."

Pamela Chatry, the workshop trainer, said that using several different methods at the same time makes for the best chance of success.

The program gets people to quit partly by getting them to focus on patterns, or associations of cigarettes with other things.

"We learn to smoke," she said. "We associate smoking with friends, food, pubs or pleasurable activities."

Sometimes, Chatry said, former smokers have to go through a period when they avoid friends who smoke and who are quick to offer cigarettes.

It helps to advertise that you have quit smoking, she said.

Often friends add encouragement and going back to cigarettes could bring a loss of face. But other people want the accomplishment to be theirs alone and don't tell anyone until they have gone a set time period, such as one month.

Wheeler has now gone six months without smoking. He said it is the first time he has resisted a puff for longer than six days.

He is using a variety of different measures, including the nicotine patch, and has tried nicotine gum.

Other former smokers praise acupuncture. But even when people try to quit, they can expect to endure at least a couple weeks of withdrawal symptoms.

Many former smokers remember anxiety, headaches, tremors, sleeping problems, an increase in appetite, difficulty concentrating or stomach cramps.

The only encouraging response is to realize that the symptoms diminish with time and should be gone within a few weeks.

Addiction Centre director Don Irwin said smoking is similar to other obsessive behaviors, including alcohol, other drugs, eating and sex.

For the workshop, the centre flew Lung Association staff to Yellowknife to share knowledge and addiction-breaking strategies.