Lynn Andrews had her first cigarette at age 13, and she would continue smoking every day for the next 54 years. By the time Andrews was in her sixties, she coughed frequently, found it hard to breathe while climbing stairs, and constantly experienced compounding pain in her legs from her rheumatoid arthritis.
Andrews decided she’d had enough. She knew her smoking habit aggravated her health problems, so she researched the chemicals in cigarettes. “I realized; I’m killing myself. Like suicide. I got mad and said, ‘I’m not going to smoke anymore.’ I didn’t even want cigarettes anymore. They didn’t even taste good. But I kept smoking,” Andrews said. Her sister told her about RHA’s Courage to Quit® smoking cessation program. Andrews enrolled in 2021, at age 67.
Quitting was not easy. Andrews relied on cigarettes for stress relief. Almost everyone around her smoked, so she was always tempted to join. But on Jan. 6, 2022, Andrews had her final cigarette. “I wouldn’t have made it without the program,” said Andrews.
She particularly enjoyed learning the psychology behind smoking. “I learned that smoking itself causes stress – running out of cigarettes, where to buy cigarettes, craving a cigarette when you can’t have one,” Andrews said. “Smoking was a crutch which precluded me from learning healthy and useful coping skills. In Courage to Quit, I learned about triggers and how to identify them and what to do about them.”
Since its inception in 2016, more than 900 people have enrolled in Courage to Quit. The program has doubled in size since meetings went virtual during the pandemic and is expected to continue growing. Most program participants join at no cost through insurance or local behavioral health clinics. (See here for a list of programs in your area).
Participants who successfully quit smoking through Courage to Quit often stay involved in the classes to fortify their new habits and help others in their smoke-free journey. Andrews says that since she quit smoking, her leg pain from rheumatoid arthritis is gone and her breathing is much better.
Big Tobacco continues to threaten communities nationwide. The FDA reports that there are more than 18.5 million menthol cigarette smokers in the U.S., with high rates among youth, young adults, and minority racial and ethnic groups. While cigarette smoking rates of traditional cigarettes in Chicago are at a historic low, “the most recent data show that in the past 5 years, vaping among Chicago’s school-aged children increased by 56%,” said RHA President and CEO Joel Africk. RHA is currently working to add e-cigarettes to the ‘Smoke-free Illinois Act’, restrict the sales of flavored tobacco products marketed to youth, and increase programming to protect our youth from the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes.
Courage to Quit smoking cessation program is an initiative of Respiratory Health Association and created in collaboration with Andrea King, PhD, of the UChicago Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Neuroscience. The flexible, join-anytime, attend-when-you-can, virtual treatment program combines counseling, education, and support with evidence-based nicotine replacement medications to help ease tobacco withdrawal. Please visit our website to find a Courage to Quit program near you.