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Southwest District Health Unit provides people a chance to quit tobacco

The Southwest District Health Unit puts together tobacco "quit kits" for those who want to stop smoking or chewing tobacco. (Press Photo by Sydney Mook)

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it can take a person multiple attempts to stop smoking before they finally kick the habit for good.

But most people cannot quit smoking on their own.

The Southwest District Unit's Tobacco Prevention and Control program tries to help southwest North Dakotans to put their cigarettes out for good.

Jennifer Schaeffer, Southwestern District Health Unit tobacco treatment coordinator, and her small team put together free "quit kits" to help people from eight counties in southwest North Dakota who are striving to quit using tobacco.

Schaeffer, the unit's only treatment specialist, counsels about 10 people a month on how to begin to quit smoking or chewing tobacco at the office in Dickinson.

"We're really happy to be able to provide this to the public," she said. "... I just think it's really, really important and something that we want to continue."

If a person decides they would like to quit smoking or chewing tobacco, Schaeffer said they can call the health unit or can just drop by to begin their cessation program. During their first visit, they will fill out various paperwork and talk about their journey with tobacco addiction. She said they will also discuss what the best course of action may be for each individual.

The person then receives a "quit kit," which includes various items that can help a person begin to stop tobacco use, including pamphlets and books about cessation, different types of sugar-free candies and lollipops, sugar-free mints and gum, sunflower seeds and a stress ball shaped like a healthy red blood cell with the four D's of tobacco cessation: deep breathing, drink water, delay and do something else. The kit also includes a non-nicotine tobaccoless cigarette puffer that contains citrus flavoring and non-nicotine tobaccoless chew.

"We're trying to give them alternatives of 'What can you do besides smoking or chewing?'" she said. "When they do quit smoking, they need to continue to tell themselves to deep breathe, to take those breaks, but without tobacco."

The program provides a month's worth of cessation products that include nicotine patches, gum and lozenges whenever they are ready to get it. Schaeffer said, on their own, the products can often cost up to $60 per box and would only last about two weeks if the supply was purchased at a pharmacy.

Schaeffer said people can also contact ND Quits for additional help to stop smoking. The group will provide an additional two months of product for free to those that are uninsured or underinsured in North Dakota.

"Three months is really what we recommend that they think about using medication (product)," she said. "That gives their body a chance to heal and form different habits. ... Some people may be on product for a year, but that doesn't mean they're weak. It just means their body isn't ready to be off that medication yet."

ND Quits provides over-the-phone and online support to those who want to quit smoking. The program works similarly to the health unit's, but works with people who often cannot make it to their district health unit or with those who do not quite feel ready to talk with someone about their addiction face-to-face.

Neil Charvat, ND Quits program coordinator, said while they do not always work directly with the Southwestern District Health Unit, they will often direct people to local programs if the person asks. He said it takes a lot of courage to be able to walk into a clinic to get help.

"I would say if you're walking into a clinic like Southwest, then you're pretty committed to quit," he said. "And that takes a lot of courage."

Schaeffer said most people visit with her about once a week over a five-week period, but that can be shorter or longer depending on the person's situation. She said that she may even see someone again after that time period because she said it can take an average of seven attempts before a person gives up tobacco use for good.

"This is like a marathon," she said. "It isn't a sprint."

Schaeffer said constant support is key to someone being able to successfully give up tobacco.

"It's shown and proven that the more support that you give to a person while they're in that process, the better their outcome is going to be to stay off that tobacco," she said.

Schaffer added people don't necessarily have to come to Dickinson to get help. She said health unit workers can travel to people if they need or they can also work with companies who want to provide an option to help people quit tobacco without having to miss work.

Schaffer said occasionally she'll run into people who have gone through the program and that they often express gratitude for the help they get from the program.

"They (people who have quit smoking through the program) are very thankful or you might see them later and they'll say, 'I'm still smoke free' or 'I'm doing better, I've only had one cigarette.' and we say 'Good job. Hang in there, stick with it.'"

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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