July 1 tobacco ban could inspire quitters

Hand holding cigaretteAs UIC transitions to a tobacco-free campus July 1, it’s a good time for smokers to think about quitting or develop strategies for dealing with restrictions on where they can smoke, says Robin Mermelstein.

“Often when more environmental restrictions are placed on smoking, it’s another motivator to think that maybe it’s time to quit and give it a chance,” said Mermelstein, director of the Institute for Health Research and Policy.

“Smokers should go into the ban being prepared.”

UIC’s tobacco-free policy prohibits all forms of tobacco: cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. The Urbana-Champaign campus will become smoke-free in November.

As the ban approaches, several students puffing away outside last week said they won’t quit, they’ll just smoke elsewhere.

“I’ve thought about quitting, but not right now‚” said Gary Shlahtichman, a senior in information and decision sciences. ”I may cut it down a little bit.”

“It can’t really make me stop smoking‚” said MBA student Jay Lee. “We’ll just go off campus.”

“It’s an inconvenience,” agreed classmate Jae Jun.

Employees and students who want help quitting can contact the Tobacco Treatment Center at the Outpatient Care Center, 312-996-1682, or the Illinois Tobacco Quit Line, 1-866-QUIT-YES.

“My approach is to help patients on an individual basis,” said Tobacco Treatment Center director Lori Wilken, “depending on what they’ve tried in the past, medications that they’re taking or what they have in mind.”

“We find a safe and effective approach to quitting smoking.”

Smokers can also find help quitting through web resources such as becomeanex.org, Mermelstein said.

The most effective way to quit often combines behavioral changes as well as pharmacotherapy, such as nicotine replacement options or prescription medication, she said.

People often use pharmacotherapy treatments for at least three months, she said.

“Quitting is a process and it takes time,” said Mermelstein, professor of psychology. “It takes people a little longer before they feel really confident and like they’ve made it, but every day is good. People need to be prepared for it lasting several weeks.”

Students or employees who don’t plan to quit should have nicotine replacement therapies ready, such as nicotine chewing gum, lozenges or patches. They should also have a support system in place of friends who can take a walk with them, for example, when they feel the urge to go outside to smoke.

Still, cutting back could make more people feel ready to quit tobacco completely, Mermelstein said.

“People may realize that they got through eight hours,so maybe they can keep going,” she said. “It can boost confidence.”

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