Since spring quarter 2005, the office of Health, Wellness and Prevention has offered a tobacco cessation services for students trying to kick the habit.
The Nicotine Replacement Therapy program emphasizes one-on-one assistance between student facilitators and individuals trying to free themselves of nicotine addiction; which some estimates say costs over 400,000 Americans their lives every year according to the Center for Disease Control.
Participants receive cessation products to aid in the nicotine-weaning process such as nicotine chewing gum, transdermal patches and herbal snuff at no charge. Life skills counseling to psychologically and behaviorally cope with nicotine withdrawal are also provided.
Once students sign up for NRT in 122 Showalter, individual meetings with facilitators are held weekly by appointment to chart progress, replenish product supply and eventually decrease the nicotine dosage step for transdermal patches. The free cessation products are dispensed by individual facilitators who assess participants’ motivation to quit and the appropriate amount and dosage of products against the frequency of tobacco usage during a week’s time.
“We don’t want to give students more nicotine than they’re using currently, so we need to see if they’re even appropriate for the program,” said Michelle Pingree, the director of Health and Wellness. “If you just smoked on the weekends at the bar every Saturday we probably wouldn’t do anything for you; maybe we could give you a little gum but you would be chewing gum today, so you’d be jacked-up on nicotine you didn’t get before.
“It’s kind of unique but it’s also important to us to do that to keep it accessible to the students,” said Pingree, referring to the free cessation products, which are uncommon for smoking-cessation programs on most college campuses.
The only criteria for receiving free cessation products, other than simply being a student, are participants must sign consent forms and be free from pregnancy and other specific health conditions.
The cost of quit materials is covered entirely by the Comprehensive Wellness Program, the chief source of funding for NRT. There are also no additional costs or fees to participants or the student body.
One NRT beneficiary, Kirk Worthington, quit chewing tobacco after 18 years of use; a task he says was exceptionally difficult for a substance he likened to a constant “nicotine i.v.” Worthington was free from nicotine addiction upon completing the program in only four weeks while using the transdermal patch and herbal snuff. Contributing his success to the care and attentiveness of the NRT staff, Worthington said, “They were so supportive and checked up on me without having to contact them; it’s just a fantastic program.”
Physical addictions aside, NRT also assists participants in the psychological and behavioral drawbacks elicited by tobacco cessation. Facilitators support students in adjusting daily routines once governed by nicotine consumption that may prove difficult to continue normally when only the source of nicotine is eliminated. “The whole philosophy is to wean people off while having discussions about handling stress and lifestyle changes that will help them break the habit,” said Pingree.
Learning to avoid situations prompting nicotine consumption is also crucial for the weaning process and safeguarding against potential relapse, according to senior Bethany DiBartolo, a student facilitator for NRT.
DiBartolo said, “It’s like eliminating triggers and recognizing what they are and then modifying lifestyles so they don’t constantly have these cravings.” New initiates in the program are furnished with goodie bags containing items such as water bottles, Sensodyne toothpaste and cinnamon sticks to munch on when in the throes of a craving fit.
The rate of relapse for NRT, despite the efforts of students and the Health, Wellness and Prevention office, is high. The majority of participants occasionally go astray and some return to regular nicotine use, especially during the first week of therapy when withdrawal symptoms are most severe.
This pattern, according to Pingree, is typical for most cessation programs anywhere. She also maintains that NRT doors are always open to those who wish to return to the program and try again. “There’s no shame to come on and off the program,” Pingree continues, “That’s okay, there’s no judgments.”