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Kicking the Habit: An Interview With a Former Smoker

image for second hand smoke Kelly is a 52-year-old office manager for a law firm on the East coast who gave up cigarettes after 29 years of smoking. Here's how she did it and how she's been virtually smoke-free for over two and a half years.
How long were you a smoker?
Kelly: I started smoking when I was 21 years old and smoked about one to one and a half packs of cigarettes a day.
Had you tried to quit smoking before?
Kelly: I tried to quit twice, many years ago, before any of the smoking cessation aids were available. Each time, I quit cold turkey, but after three months, I was smoking again. At the time, I felt young and healthy and two of my best friends were smokers, so I really wasn't motivated to give it up yet.
What made you decide to try again?
Kelly: I got sick. I came down with a bad bronchial infection and decided it was time to quit. Also, my 50th birthday was approaching.
Tell me how you quit.
Kelly: I quit by using a combination of Zyban and a nicotine patch. Zyban is an antidepressant that has been found to curb cigarette cravings. I took the Zyban for one week before my official quit date, which was the day I threw out the cigarettes and slapped on the patch. My quit day was a Monday and by Sunday, when I was smoking my last cigarette, I was already losing my taste for them. On Monday, I added the patch. The brand I was using came in three levels; I started with the highest level, which I wore for one month, then moved to the intermediate for another month, and the weakest for the last month. By the end of three months, I removed the patch, quit taking the Zyban, and turned 50-as a non smoker. That was two and a half years ago.
Did you make any other lifestyle changes?
Kelly: I started going to the gym, lifting weights and doing the stairclimber , to avoid the weight gain that seems to be inevitable when quitting smoking.
And did you experience any weight gain or other effects?
Kelly: Despite exercising, I did gain about ten pounds, and it's taken me the past two and a half years to get rid of it. I don't go to the gym any more, instead I walk several miles a day for exercise. I didn't have any other side effects.
What type of support did you receive from family and friends?
Kelly: I was pretty determined, so I didn't need to rely too much on other people for support. There are support groups for people using Zyban to quit, but I didn't participate in one. The RN from my doctor's office called me regularly to check on my progress. Also, my daughter gave up desserts while I was quitting, although when she first agreed to it, she thought the process was only one month not three! But she stayed away from sweets for the whole three months.
How difficult was it for you to quit?
Kelly: It was actually very easy. The Zyban really killed my taste for the cigarettes and I stayed out of situations where I would normally smoke. Although I did allow myself to cheat upon occasion, which I think was a big help. For me, knowing that I could have a cigarette if I really wanted one was sort of a psychological safety net. I don't think I could have quit if I could never again have another drag. My doctor said it was okay to have one once in a while, although not while I was on the patch.
And when you have an occasional cigarette, do you miss being a smoker?
Kelly: No. I don't enjoy smoking as I once did, and that first puff is awful on my lungs! My two best friends are still smokers, so I will occasionally have a cigarette when I'm with them, but I just don't have the desire or the taste for it anymore.
What costs were involved with quitting?
Kelly: My insurance company did not cover the Zyban, so the cost of this drug plus the nicotine patches amounted to $500. This monetary investment was another motivator for me. I also saved money from all the cigarettes I was not buying, and I put that money toward a trip to the Caribbean to celebrate my 50th birthday.
Would you recommend this method to other people trying to quit?
Kelly: Absolutely. This combination of medications worked great for me. But of course, you have to be motivated to quit for yourself, which I certainly was.
Editor's note: This method of smoking cessation may not work for everyone. Pharmaceutical aids for smoking cessation tend to work best when complimented by behavioral change strategies.