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HAWC helps quitters fortify defenses against tobacco

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Quitters never win, but Staff Sgt. Justin Bernal is actually winning by giving up. The 50th Force Support Squadron customer support NCO in charge began his war against tobacco in March.

What began as a curiosity in the middle of 2007 turned into an on-and-off-again relationship. While at a survival, evasion, resistance and escape training on Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Bernal witnessed an NCO using dipping tobacco, a finely ground, moistened, smokeless tobacco product. He used to smoke cigarettes, but had already quit. He asked if he could try dipping, and thus began his tobacco dilemma again. He would use the product every day after a meal or while driving to work in the morning.

"I tried it and I liked the buzz," Bernal said. "It's the same feeling as smoking. It's just a little more powerful than a cigarette; the feeling is a lot stronger. It's very addictive."

Nicotine is the psychoactive drug in tobacco products that produces dependence. It is the most common form of chemical dependence in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quitting smoking is difficult and may require multiple attempts. Users often relapse because of stress, weight gain or withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and increased appetite.

To fortify his defenses against tobacco, Bernal enlisted the Schriever Health and Wellness Center in his campaign. Since then, he hasn't touched any tobacco products.

"The tobacco cessation program provides support and information for tobacco users, regardless of their quitting methods," said Staff Sgt. Vanessa Arthur, HAWC NCO in charge. "Tobacco users attend the one-hour class once a week for four weeks."

Participants receive information on how tobacco use can lead to nicotine dependence and serious health problems. It may cause various types of cancer, such as oral, stomach and pancreatic; heart diseases including aortic aneurysm, atherosclerosis; pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, emphysema and more.

Though tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, the adverse health effects from cigarette smoking still account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one out of every five deaths each year.

With the HAWC's tobacco cessation class, the quitters are empowered to take action on their way to live tobacco-free lifestyle. The staff will sit down and talk to participants about various plans of quitting. They may refer people to one of the providers involved with the cessation program who are able to provide medications.

"It provides the help and encouragement quitters need," Arthur said. "It also gives quitters many techniques to deal with stress, withdrawal, weight gain, slips, relapses, setting goals and ambivalence."

The class also gives information about addiction, behavior and stress management, fitness, nutrition and other prevention.

"They give all the tools you need to quit," Bernal said. "It's just on you if you really want to give up [tobacco]. These tools will not mean anything unless you use them."

Bernal did want to quit. While other people have various reasons to quit, he gave up dipping because it is unappealing, it costs money and he wanted to live a healthier lifestyle.

"The tobacco cessation program has all the tools to assist you for quitting," Bernal said. "The staff gives you a lot of recommendations. They are very helpful and provide you with useful information."

Being nicotine-free for two months, Bernal still feels the urge to use tobacco. It is a constant battle he has to combat every day. However, the HAWC is always there to provide help.

For more information on the tobacco cessation program, call the HAWC at 567-4292. (Some information courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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