FREEDOM FROM SMOKING

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com Bryant Bell holds a handful of broken cigarettes in the lobby of the Owensboro Health Healthpark Wednesday in Owensboro. After smoking for 30 years, Bell has been smoke-free for 20 months.

Breathing difficulties and other health problems were Bryant Bell's warning signs.

Bell, who smoked two packs a day for years, wanted to quit. Not only did the habit affect his health, it took a bite out of his bank account. He estimates smoking cost him at least $300 a month.

In an effort to kiss smoking goodbye, he enrolled in five or six smoking cessation classes. They always ended the same way.

"By the time I got out in the parking lot, I was smoking again," the Owensboro man said.

Then, in February 2018, he tried Owensboro Health's Freedom From Smoking program.

He hasn't smoked since.

Thursday, Nov. 21, is the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, an annual event that encourages smokers to quit.

OH and Green River District Health Department partnered recently to produce a video that will be released Thursday in honor of the Great American Smokeout. The video targets e-cigarette use.

Bell, 61, started smoking in 1982, when he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army.

After decades of smoking, quitting proved to be a challenge. He tried Chantix and Wellbutrin.

Like prior smoking cessation classes, prescription drugs failed, too.

Bell credits his success to the support OH's Freedom From Smoking program offers.

The health system started offering the smoking cessation classes four years ago.

The seven-week program meets once weekly for an hour. Classes are free to the public.

A session recently ended, said Shiloh Fisher, OH health and wellness specialist. The next one begins with an informational program at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the Healthpark. Classes will begin again the following week.

Through the Quitline -- 1-800-QUIT NOW -- participants have access to a free nicotine replacement kit.

"They also offer free coaching if people want it," Fisher said of the Quitline. "They will help you as little or as much as you want."

During OH's Freedom From Smoking classes, Fisher calls participants within 48 hours after they quit smoking. After that, she stays in touch with them weekly.

"They also set up a buddy system in class," she said. " ... That's in case someone doesn't have support at home."

Those personal relationships made all the difference, Bell said, especially during the first 48 hours.

Since he quit smoking, his health has improved.

"Food tastes a lot better," Bell said.

In fact, that's how he rewarded himself for quitting. Part of the money he used to spend on cigarettes pays for regular visits to area restaurants. The experience is far more enjoyable now that his taste buds have recovered.

Fisher, who has been involved with OH's Freedom From Smoking program a couple of years, knows of at least 26 participants who have quit smoking.

For more information about Freedom From Smoking or to enroll in the upcoming class, call Fisher at 270-688-3291 or go to owensborohealth.org/freedom.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com.

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