MARQUETTE - Ashley and Dan McCracken have been smoke-free for just over two months - and although it's been hard, it's improved their lives in more way than one.
Between the two of them, they have smoked for a total of about 22 years. The couple quit together on New Year's Day as part of a plan to improve their overall health.
Dan McCracken quit smoking about 10 years ago after his father, an avid smoker, died at age 51 from lung cancer. He fell back into the habit last summer.
Ashley McCracken watches as her husband Dan plays guitar. The couple quit smoking together on New Year's Day and he has found that playing guitar is a good way to overcome his nicotine cravings. (Journal photo by Julia Woehrer)
"All it takes is one," he said. "I figured I'd try one and I was within minutes hooked. It wasn't even overnight or anything; I wanted another one right away."
He began smoking about two packs a day and noticed the detrimental effects on his health return almost immediately. Smoking, paired with asthma affected both his career as a musician and his quality of life.
"I was coughing to the point where I'd black out and wake up a few minutes later, just because I'd lose oxygen," he said.
"It's not unusual for it to take multiple attempts
- Shawn Hatch, director
MGHS behavioral Health clinical services
His wife, Ashley McCracken, tried quitting multiple times before, but had not been successful at it until now.
"It's easier now, because I have somebody to do it with," she said.
Together, they set the day when they would quit - Jan. 1 - and both smoked their last cigarettes on New Year's Eve. Knowing their quitting day ahead of time helped the couple to prepare for the change.
"I work at a nursing home, I wouldn't smoke at all at work for a whole month before quitting smoking ... and it worked for me. I'd never done that before anytime I quit. Usually halfway through the day I'd let up, because I'd just be like, forget it," she said.
To get through the initial cravings, they each found their own ways to distract themselves. Ashley McCracken crocheted baby blankets for friends while her husband turned to playing his guitar.
In addition to their health, money was a huge factor in their plan to quit smoking.
"It's $20 day for a couple to smoke as much as we did and most people can't find jobs, much less spend $20 a day on cigarettes ... we've saved a lot of money, we've paid a lot more bills just in quitting smoking," he said.
The couple has seen their health improve greatly in the past two months. They have found it easier to exercise and breathe and their coughing has subsided.
"It's easier just to sleep even," she said.
According to the World Health Organization's Tobacco Atlas, over 15 billion cigarettes are smoked throughout the world every day and cigarette use throughout the world is on the rise as population increases, even if the percentage of smokers decreases.
"The consumption of tobacco has reached the proportions of a global epidemic," according to the publication.
Smoking can cause a multitude of health problems, including heart attacks, cancer, osteoporosis, a loss of taste, gum disease, addiction, leukemia, infertility and asthma; it can also put pregnant women and their fetus at high risk for premature birth and ectopic pregnancy, according to the atlas.
As information on the effects of smoking have become more widely available and as smoking bans are becoming more prevalent, people may be finding more reasons to quit than in the past. More than 40 percent of previous smokers have quit in the United States, according to the atlas.
Shawn Hatch, director of clinical services for behavioral health at MGHS, said there are a variety of ways to quit smoking and the success of each varies from person to person. Often, a combination of methods are used.
"It really boils down to what the person wants to try," Hatch said.
Nicotine replacement therapy takes many forms and is a way to taper off nicotine use without a cigarette. It is supplied to the body through a patch put on the skin, gum, a tablet, nasal spray or through an inhaler. Non-nicotine prescription medications are also available and work in a different way.
"It works on those receptor sites in the brain where nicotine would normally go to and, therefore, decrease cravings and helps people to get through that initial phase of not smoking," Hatch said.
Hatch encourages those who want to quit to keep trying and inform their friends and family that they are trying to kick the habit.
"It's not unusual for it to take multiple attempts to quit," she said.
Some are afraid of telling others they plan to quit, because of the fear of not reaching their goal. However, having support is important, so it is best to overcome that fear, Hatch said.
For a smoker, changing their behavior and lifestyle routines may help them quit. Exercise, even simple walking, can help with anxiety and improve mood.
"Change patterns and routines that you always put together with smoking," she said.
This can include stopping soda consumption for a while if it is usually paired with a cigarette. Smoking while in the car is another common habit for smokers, especially since smoking is being banned in more and more places and the car is sometimes one of the few locations left for a person to smoke.
Hatch suggests taking an alternate route to work or spending less time in the car to break the connection of smoking while driving. Getting the interior of the car cleaned or using air fresheners can help remove the smell of smoke in the car and may help with the process, she said.
"The idea is to just build in as many things that are different," Hatch said.
Support groups are another option as well as online resources, she said.
For more information on quitting visit the American Cancer Society's Web site at www.cancer.org and search for their "Guide to Quitting Smoking."
Julia Woehrer can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 256. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.