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Jerry Davich: When being a quitter is a good thing

Michael Russell who is trying quit smokes cigarettes outside his Calumet Township home Gary Ind. Tuesday April 9 2013.

Michael Russell, who is trying to quit, smokes cigarettes outside his Calumet Township home in Gary, Ind. Tuesday April 9, 2013. Russell, who has smoked since he was 11, doesn't smoke inside the house where his father is on oxygen, due in part to his own former cigarette habit. In addition, Russell's mother died of lung cancer in 2008. | Stephanie Dowell~ for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 16, 2013 6:20AM



Michael Russell’s 51-year-old lungs are shot from four decades of smoking thousands of packs of cigarettes.

“I started at 11,” said Russell, who lives in Calumet Township.

He suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, possibly emphysema, too, his mother died of lung cancer, and his father needs oxygen pumped into his tired lungs.

Still, Russell smokes a pack and a half of cigarettes a day — either Camel Wides or Marlboro Red king size — and even more of them when he drinks alcohol.

Does he know his costly addiction is shaving years from his life? Sure. Does he know it’s probably killing him? Most likely. Has he tried to kick the habit? Of course.

“It’s an ongoing battle,” he told me. “But I still can’t quit.”

Russell is not alone in this state as more than half of Hoosier smokers attempted to quit in the past year, according to a new study from Ball State University.

The study, “Burden of Smoking Among Adults in Indiana,” based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, found 58 percent of Hoosiers tried to quit. It included study participants who smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and who, at the time of survey, smoked either every day or some days.

“We certainly have improved over time,” said lead researcher Kerry Anne McGeary, director of Ball State’s Global Health Institute. “However, the percentage of Indiana smokers is greater than the (national) average.”

This is no surprise to anyone who lives in Indiana, which is infamous for our higher percentage of smokers, eaters, and sedentary lifestyles. But what is surprising, at least to me, is that so many Indiana smokers have tried to quit over the last year.

I wondered why. The cost to light up every day? Health reasons? Doctor orders? The fading image that smoking is cool? The relatively new statewide smoking ban in most public places? All of the above, I found out from several long-time smokers in this region.

Amanda Whiteside of Portage quit smoking last year on Nov. 13, the day she discovered she was pregnant.

“I did it for the baby inside me and I don’t care if I ever have a smoke again,” she said, noting that her husband also quit earlier this year.

When Melissa Corbett-Negron turned 40, she was hospitalized and almost died from a blockage in her heart. That was enough to compel her to stop smoking, almost three years ago, and she hasn’t smoked since.

“I also gave up fast food and I joined a gym,” said the Valparaiso woman who also lost 67 pounds. “Life is great being healthier.”

Stacey Shaffer of South Haven switched to smoking an electronic cigarette one year ago this week.

“Best decision I ever made, for all the obvious reasons,” she told me. “I smoked for 30 years and quit in one day. Who can argue with that?”

Cost or health?

The study found that if more Hoosiers quit smoking it could save the state billions in health care costs, considering that each pack of cigarettes has an overall impact of $35.

Most everyone now knows that cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death, and that it causes strokes, cancer, heart disease, and lung diseases. But such sobering facts aren’t always enough to sway those who are addicted.

Shirley Radusin of Portage quit smoking for three years before starting again. Now she feels lucky if she can go three days without lighting one up.

Indiana ranks 7th in the country for highest percentage of smokers, with one quarter of our state’s population addicted to nicotine. And slightly more men smoke than women.

Ian and Kerry Paris of Lake Station both quit together and, last month, they happily passed their one-year mark of smoke-free air, clothes, and attitudes.

“I’m now that annoying reformed smoker who preaches to everyone,” said Kerry, who was up to three packs a day. “It was the best choice we ever made.”

Nationally, cigarette smoking costs more than $193 billion, including $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in health care expenditures, according to the study. In 2010, 9,700 Hoosiers died and $4.7 billion was spent on annual health and other economic costs as a result of tobacco use, the study stated.

A telling detail from the study showed that the percentage of adult smokers decreases when either their income or education level increases. Also, counseling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed.

I asked McGeary, a professor of health economics at Ball State, what prompts most smokers to quit — the crazy-high cost or the health benefits?

“The literature says cost,” she replied. “Benefits are too far in the future and discounted at a high rate.”

Russell agrees, saying cost is the biggest factor.

“I’d probably have two Harleys and a nice Camaro if I didn’t smoke,” admitted Russell, who also is trying to stop drinking booze, too. “Cigarettes are tougher.”

As far as the statewide smoking ban being a factor for this study, McGeary said she has no way of knowing at this point. But, according to some of the smokers I contacted, it played a role to some degree.

Corbett-Negron still has cravings quite often to put a match to a cigarette and inhale.

“My doctor told me when I first quit that a craving only lasts five minutes. That’s how I’ve made it this long — five minutes at a time.”

Find more of Jerry’s writings on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, and jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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