Out and About: How I got on top of old smoking

Staring at my 36th birthday, I realized I had been a smoker for more than half of my life.

On my own, I “tried everything” to quit—many times. I needed help.

Then in November, I discovered an advertisement for the Penn Tobacco Use Resource Center, so I called, answered some questions, and learned I was eligible to participate in the ongoing Quit for Health program, a study that examines smokers’ responses to different forms of stop-smoking treatments.

When orientation day came in early December, I expected they might confiscate my cigarettes right there and then, so I made sure to smoke extra on my way there. Nothing was confiscated. This was an information session.

Marlboro men reform

We were a diverse group. One woman rode in on a motorized scooter. There were a couple of formerly rugged Marlboro men. Our ages ranged from maybe early 30s to “remembers the 1930s.” We went from thin to stout, and we represented most of the shades people come in.

Off to HUP the following week for a basic medical exam. Then we received an envelope that would reveal our nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) fate: Would it be the patch or the nasal spray? The envelope was opened and…I was a patch.

The lot of us were divided into two spray groups and two patch groups. Then the researchers bid us adieu until January, when we would begin to meet weekly and taper our smoking.

On the way to our first group meeting, I met a guy in the elevator who forgot about the tapering part, and had not had a cigarette since the night before. He almost cried when I told him he didn’t have to do that just yet. He also almost left to buy a pack of cigarettes, but hung in for the meeting.

During the next two weeks, we wrote down each time we had a cigarette, to learn more about our habit. I learned I smoked a lot while driving. While I had many occasions to laugh at myself during this time, the folks on the Schuylkill were less than amused. (Do NOT write and drive.)

Quit day arrives

After the tapering, we were given real NRT— no placebos! In my group of six, all but one of us quit smoking. Quitting is hard and nicotine replacement therapy is no panacea. Two in the group said they’ve smoked a cigarette since quitting, but they got right back on track.

The group sessions were invaluable. We held each other up and cheered each other on through the worst part of the quitting. When one of us felt our family just wasn’t giving the necessary support, the rest of us jumped in with praise because we knew how important reinforcement is.


When one of us kept making excuses, the rest of us challenged those thoughts, which spurred a discussion about commitment, perseverance and honesty. I lived through the death of a very close loved one just two days before our quit date, and I believe the group support helped me to quit smoking on schedule on Jan. 23. I felt respected and understood through this entire process by everyone involved.

The study medication and counseling are free, and you get your choice of gift certificates. (I picked Home Depot—I want fresh paint on the walls of my house now that no one smokes in there.)

I asked Caryn Lerman, Ph.D, lead investigator in the study and Director of the Tobacco Use Research Center, to summarize the goal of this study. “We aim to identify the type of treatment that is most effective for individual smokers,” she said. “If this research is successful, in the future, health care providers may be able to tell a smoker which particular treatment is likely to be most effective in helping him or her quit.”

For information, 1-877-513-QUIT or www.med.upenn.edu/tturc. Questions to Q4Health@mail.med.upenn.edu. The next orientation begins in September, following eligibility screening.

Originally published on May 9, 2002