Betty Burdick adds a colored paper clip to her growing paper-clip chain every day when she gets to work.

The chain now has 42 clips, one for each day she has lived smoke-free.

Burdick, 62, is one of eight people who have completed the first Freedom From Smoking course offered at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville.

Burdick lit her first cigarette 44 years ago when she was 18. She did it because she wanted to fit in, she said.

She quit for the same reason.

The cultural view of smoking has shifted over the years, and smoking is now viewed more negatively, said Amanda Bowman, a primary care clinical pharmacist and program facilitator at the hospital.

Policies that prohibit people from smoking indoors and in certain places have made it more difficult—and more isolating—to smoke, Bowman said.

The smoking-cessation course is part of SSM Health’s community health goal to end smoking, said Kathryn Scott, a hospital spokeswoman.

Seventeen percent of Rock County adults are smokers, according to the 2017-20 Rock County Community Health Assessment from the Health Equity Alliance of Rock County.

Of those surveyed, 11 percent reported “quitting smoking” as a health problem or concern for themselves or someone in their household, according to the assessment.

SSM Health will provide cessation resources during the Great American Smoke Out from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Janesville hospital, according to a news release. Health professionals will be available to talk with those who want to quit smoking.

“Cold turkey” sandwiches will be offered to those who pledge to quit, according to the release.

Smokers can sign up for the Freedom From Smoking program at the event, Scott said. Participants don’t have to be patients at SSM Health.

Power in a group

Jen Mickelson, a respiratory therapist and program facilitator, said Freedom From Smoking offers exactly what people need to quit smoking.

A former smoker herself, Mickelson said quitting involves more than breaking a habit. It requires a lifestyle shift that affects a person’s social life, diet, stress management and more.

The seven-week program was created by the American Lung Association. Participants meet in small groups, and each person gets a chance to speak and receive individualized attention, said Cara Landherr, an exercise physiologist and program facilitator.

Bowman, Mickelson, Landherr and Jennie Raymond, a respiratory therapist, make up the four-person facilitating team. The women specialize in different health areas, which they say makes the program stronger.

Bowman said smokers are more likely to quit when they combine group therapy, such as the program, and medication.

Facilitators have been pleasantly surprised to see bonds form among members of the first group, Landherr said.

Asked to name her favorite part of the experience, Burdick also mentioned the group camaraderie.

“We were all in it together,” she said. “It was a great group of people, and the teachers were awesome. It was a joy to go to that class every week.”

Finally quitting

Participants spend the first three weeks of the program preparing to quit at week four, Bowman said.

Burdick used to smoke a pack and a half every day. She started cutting back her cigarette use at the beginning of the class so quitting would be easier. The later in the day she had her first cigarette, the easier it became to manage the cravings, she said.

Thanks to advice she got at group meetings, she found other things to think about or occupy her time when cravings struck.

Burdick said she has more time and money since she quit smoking.

Six of the first eight participants were able to quit, and two have reduced their smoking significantly, Mickelson said.

Bowman said facilitators hope to add more classes. Based on a request from the first group, the team also has added another support group for people who have quit or want to quit smoking.

While Freedom From Smoking might help individuals kick the habit, facilitators have a larger goal in mind: changing the community, Mickelson said.

“To actually get people to choose to be healthier by giving them the tools, that to me is the most important thing,” she said. “If we can actually make a difference in this community, it would be pretty amazing.”

Reporter - Albany, Brodhead, Evansville, Footville, Orfordville, health

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