BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - After trying and failing to quit smoking several times, Mylene Watts is celebrating a full year of not lighting up thanks to Ochsner Health System's free smoking cessation program. Watts says she smoked for more than 30 years and had lost her mother and grandfather to smoking-related illnesses.
"When my mom passed away, I promised myself that I was going to quit smoking," said Watts.
The cessation program was established following a class action lawsuit against tobacco companies and is free to anyone who started smoking before September 1, 1988. The program is tailored to the patients' needs using a variety of techniques from counseling to support groups and even medication. It all starts with addressing the root of the habit.
"The longer that you smoke for, you build up over time these associations through triggers and cues," explains tobacco cessation specialist, Heather St. Germain. "Every time you reward yourself for smoking, those associations and triggers become stronger and those habits become more concrete."
Part of the program is teaching patients how to cope with and curb cravings. St. Germain explains your diet can play a big role in replacing what your body craves from cigarettes. For example, smoking can release the "feel good" chemical, serotonin. You can get that same release from eating chocolate, or for a healthier option, foods high in protein like fish, chicken, and nuts.
"You can actually help fight off some of the depression that you could potentially have when you quit smoking," said St. Germain.
Eating healthier can also help patients avoid gaining weight after quitting, which the specialist says is a common fear.
Other foods like dairy products or cinnamon can even make tobacco taste bad, making it easier to turn down that cigarette. St. Germain recommends keeping cinnamon toothpicks handy. Not only does the cinnamon alter your taste perception, she says toothpicks help replace the physical motion of smoking a cigarette.
The benefits of giving up smoking are immediate. Studies show within minutes of quitting your heart rate normalizes. Within a few days, your sense of smell and taste improve, and within weeks, your risk for heart attack and stroke d rop.
Watts says her life has definitely improved.
"Cigarettes control you. They literally control every aspect of your life. I'm not being controlled anymore," said Watts.
For more information on Ochsner's cessation program, click here.