Landa Williams smoked her first cigarette at age 19. She was referred to UCSF Medical Center’s Tobacco Education Center where she enrolled in a Smoking Cessation Class. She was skeptical about the class but since graduating, she's been smoke free. We asked Williams about overcoming her smoking addiction.
Why did you join the UCSF Medical Center's Smoking Cessation Classes?
Both my general practitioner and another doctor I'd seen for my asthma told me I needed to quit smoking to improve my health. I decided to see a behavioral psychologist, but after several sessions, I still hadn't quit the habit. The psychologist recommended that I join the UCSF Medical Center Smoking Cessation Class.
At first, I thought, how ridiculous. I already knew that smoking was bad for me. How was this class going to help? But I decided to give it a try. I didn't think that smoking was as bad of an addiction as alcohol or other drugs. But I learned from the class that I was having withdrawal symptoms; I was addicted to smoking.
How long had you been a smoker? Had you tried to quit before taking this class?
I smoked my first cigarette when I was 19, during the summer before I went to college. I'm 48 now. I've tried to quit before, but slipped up each time. I relied on tactile substitutes, like Good & Plenty candies, to distract me from the urge to smoke. Nothing worked. I kept telling myself that each pack would be my last. This went on for nearly three decades.
What was your quit goal, and how did this class help you achieve it?
Most people set a quit date for the end of the four-week class. I didn't think I could do it, but I thought, what if I try not to smoke now, during this class, and see what happens? So I set January 24, 2011, as my quit date, and I stopped smoking, cold turkey. I haven't smoked since and it's been seven months.
Why do you think the class help you succeed in quitting?
I knew that smoking was bad for me, but through the class I learned how, specifically, nicotine affected me biologically. The group setting helped me understand that others were going through the same quitting process. I realized that it was gravely important for me to quit. I learned that nicotine replacement therapies, like nicotine gum and patch, aren't as harmful as actually smoking a cigarette. Most importantly, all this knowledge was given to me in a supportive way that wasn't threatening or condescending.
I also built camaraderie with others in the class. Being able to talk about what was bothering me — good or bad — before the urge to smoke a cigarette, and sharing that information with the rest of the group helped me immensely. I want others who've taken this class to succeed just as I have.
How has the relapse prevention support group helped you since taking the class?
The habit of smoking is almost unconscious. Going to the weekly support group puts the issue in the forefront of my consciousness. I've heard of people who've quit for years and then relapse. I don't want to walk into one of the groups and say I've smoked a cigarette. Going to the support group each week has kept me on track. I have a long way to go, but I'm taking it one day at a time.
Have you noticed any health benefits since you quit smoking?
I've noticed that my breathing has improved and it's much easier for me to walk the hills in San Francisco where I live. Also, my sense of smell has improved. Overall, there's a general feeling of well-being now that I’m smoke-free.
Written in September 2011
Kendra Mayfield is a freelance writer in San Francisco.