2006-06-07 / Family

With respect and advice, teen smokers start quitting

By Donna C. Gregory
STAFF WRITER

By Donna C. Gregory STAFF WRITER

 

Jason Ackerman is finding out how difficult it is to quit smoking. When Jason Ackerman took his first drag off of a cigarette in seventh grade, he didn't intend for it to become a habit.

No one ever does.

But what started as an occasional cigarette with friends eventually morphed into a pack a day habit that Ackerman, now a junior at James River High School, wants to snuff out.

Quitting smoking, however, is rarely easy.

That's why Ackerman enrolled in the Not On Tobacco (NOT) program at his high school.

NOT is a 10-session program available at all county high schools that helps students quit smoking or reduce their cigarette use while also promoting better eating and exercising habits.

"It's a proven program designed for adolescents," explained Cris Sheppard, public health school nurse at Manchester High School.

Ackerman attended the NOT program twice at James River. He successfully quit for two months, he said, until a stressful situation in his life prompted him to start smoking again.

Even though he's still struggling with his addiction to cigarettes, Ackerman says he learned a lot through the NOT program, including strategies that will help him achieve success the next time he makes a clear commitment to quit.

"I think the program is extremely helpful," said Ackerman. "You find out a lot more information about cigarettes that you'd never [think] about. I think it's a great way for youth to know the truth. I know basically all the facts, and I know I need to [quit] because of my health, but I haven't found that motivation for myself yet."

NOT is offered in several Chesterfield high schools through a partnership with the American Lung Association using grant monies from the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation.

Group discussions, journaling exercises, role playing and other activities motivate students to kick the smoking habit for good. The first five weeks of the program focus on helping students identify why they smoke and what triggers their desire for a cigarette. Students commit to a "quit day" during the fifth week. The remainder of the program promotes the importance of adopting good eating and exercise habits and finding healthier alternatives to lighting up.

A survey of 715 teens who completed the NOT program in high schools statewide during the 2004-05 school year found that 57 percent of respondents stopped smoking.

Eighty-five percent of teens reported that they either reduced or stopped smoking on weekdays and 80 percent reduced or stopped smoking on weekend days. Almost half of the teens surveyed said they were exercising more and eating better as a result of participating in the program.

Each fall, Manchester High School recruits students for the program in conjunction with the Great American Smokeout. Any student who smokes, regardless of the amount or frequency, can sign up for the program with the permission of their parents.

"They may have started smoking when they were 12 or 13," said Sheppard. "Some of them are half-pack [a day] smokers, some of them are pack a day, some of them are social smokers. There are some that are more addicted than others, but even if they don't have a true addiction, certainly for most of them, it has become a habit."

NOT program success rates are intimately tied to each student's personal desire to quit. "The kids need to want to do the program in order for it to be successful," explained Sheppard.

About 60 students in Chesterfield high schools have completed the program.

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