Smoke Stoppers helps victims pull out 'coffin nails'

May 24, 1992|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,Contributing Writer

Coffin nails. Cancer sticks. Cigarettes. Call them what you want, says Robert Androsky of Bel Air. All he knows is he was addicted to them for 35 years.

"I added it up, and I figure I've spent almost $30,000 on cigarettes," he said.

Once a three-pack-a-day man (that's 60 cigarettes), Androsky can now say that he's been "smoke-free" for a year. His anniversary was this week.

For years, his wife and daughter nagged Androsky, 49, to quit the habit. But, as any smoker can tell you, he says, smokers won't quit unless they want to. And they'll usually need help to do it.

So when Androsky decided it was time for him to quit, he joined Smoke Stoppers, a smoking-cessation and behavior-modification program run by the Harford County Health Department.

The program, which boasts a success rate of 70 percent, is headed by David Carney.

Carney has a lot of empathy for those in his program. For almost four years, Carney smoked about a pack-and-a-half a day. He started smoking in graduate school, when he started dozing off in his books. A friend suggested cigarettes would "pick him up," he recalls.

While cigarettes can give a person a charge, they also have very high health risks, according to the American Cancer Society. It says smoking is the most widespread drug dependency in the United States, and cigarette smoking is responsible for 87 percent of all lung cancer deaths. Smokers have two to four times the risk of heart attack as non-smokers.

Despite all the known health risks associated with smoking, Carney says that quitting is tough.

"There's no magic pill to swallow," he said.

Smoke Stoppers, which has free introductory seminars on Tuesday and Wednesday, seems to attract what Carney calls "the seasoned smoker." These are the hard-core addicts, such as people who have ash trays in the shower. Many of them have tried other stop-smoking programs and have failed. Many wonder if they can ever quit.

One of those doubters who found salvation in the county's Smoke Stoppers program was 63-year old Al Srnec, a Baltimore County resident.

For 38 years, Srnec was consuming three to four packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day. After going through Smoke Stoppers, and successfully kicking the habit, Srnec decided to become an instructor in the Harford program.

All instructors with Smoke Stoppers must be former smokers, says Carney.

Instructors must also go through 40 hours of training to become certified. Carney says having former smokers for instructors is important to the success of the program. "It's a matter of credibility," he said. "Non-smokers can't really empathize."

Cinda Cushen, assistant area manager of the American Cancer Society for North Central Maryland, says that being addicted to cigarettes is similar to alcoholism and that programs such as Smoke Stoppers can be helpful in breaking the addiction.

"Quitting smoking is a lifetime process," Cushen said. And, she notes, there is no "safe" time when ex-smokers can think themselves totally freed of the need to smoke.

So, what do you do if you always want a cigarette? Find a substitute, says Androsky.

He chewed mints -- lots of them. He bought them in bulk. Androsky also tried to avoid activities and places that reminded him of cigarettes.

"There were certain places that I'd have to avoid to get away from smoking," he said. Androsky used to enjoy going to his basement workshop to restore furniture. Now the place reminds him of cigarettes. Even his job at the U.S. Post Office in Bel Air reminds him of cigarettes because of the "smoke breaks" he used to take.

As for Srnec, the substitute he turned to was to take up counted cross-stitch -- stitching designs on material -- as a way to keep his hands busy. It may seem an unusual hobby for a man, he says, but it's done what he needed it to do -- keep his hands away from cigarettes.

Ex-smokers also make good instructors in the county's program because they know about the little tricks that smokers play, says Carney.

Srnec quit smoking because he thought it was affecting his relationship with his wife, Pat. The Srnecs smoked the same brand of cigarette. They'd keep a carton on top of the refrigerator. Srnec found out that when the carton was down to the last pack, he'd take the cigarettes and hide them from his wife.

"My wife is my best friend. I couldn't do that to her," Srnec said.

L Srnec recalls he was introduced to smoking at the age of 14.

"All my buddies smoked. It didn't take too long for me to become addicted." Like Srnec, Androsky started smoking at 14.

Carney says that younger smokers are one of the fastest-growing groups of new smokers today.

"A lot of it is peer pressure," Carney said. "Smoking is seen as romantic. Kids emulate the people they see as heroes, and the tobacco industry has slick advertising."

While kids and adults usually learn how to smoke from their peers and from advertising, Carney says they can also learn how to "un-smoke."

"One thing we try to do is deal with what triggers people to want to smoke. Usually it's some small stressful event, like opening the mail. A person sits at his desk and thinks, 'Look at all this mail I have.' So he lights up a cigarette, relaxes, and then he can go on with his day," Carney said.

When people join Smoke Stoppers, they are surprised to find out that they can smoke at the first meeting -- but that's the last time.

"We try to get everyone to quit," Carney said. "We also try to help them with what happens 30, 60, 90 days later."

Androsky knows what happens. He's says he won't start smoking again, but that doesn't mean his life is free from cigarettes.

"I still think about cigarettes," he said. "That feeling, that desire, it never goes away."

Next meetings

The next introductory sessions for Smoke Stoppers are Tuesday and Wednesday. They begin at 7 p.m. at the Harford Health Department's basement conference room at 119 S. Hayes St., Bel Air. Introductory sessions are free.

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