Free QuitSmart classes return (virtually) to Chatham to help people stop smoking

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Quitting smoking or using tobacco products is no easy task. Nicotine dependence or addiction can be very difficult to break. It’s biology.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, bringing nicotine into the body provides a very brief “high,” but it also increases dopamine levels, which drives the person using nicotine to want to use again and again. These biological changes mean that although the majority of smokers would like to stop smoking and about half try to quit permanently every year, according to the CDC, only about 6% are able to.

Anna Stormzand wants to change that. She’s running the free QuitSmart classes with the Chatham County Public Health Department, classes that return this October for the first time in two years. She says these classes are part of an evidence-based program that helps people stop smoking.

“Everyone knows the long-term health benefits of quitting smoking. But people who quit, even for a short period of time, start to experience positive changes in their body,” Stormzand says. “It can start just a few days after quitting, when the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, and within two to three weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.”

Developed by a former Duke professor, QuitSmart is designed for the smoker who wants to quit. The program includes two weeks of nicotine replacement treatment, participation in a support group with other people who are trying to quit, and a personalized quit plan. All of the resources, Stormzand emphasizes, are free.

The CCPHD had been offering the classes regularly up to October 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing vaccination campaign necessitated a temporary pause. But just because the classes stopped didn’t mean the need went away. According to the 2021 Chatham County Community Survey, 47% of adults who smoke in Chatham County say they would be interested in resources to quit tobacco products. The resources they preferred included a personalized quit plan, nicotine replacements, and a support group of others trying to quit using tobacco.

“Being part of a group where everyone else has experienced the same addiction to cigarettes as you have,” Stormzand says, “sharing tips, experiences, and ideas with everyone who all have the same goal of being tobacco-free.”

The free program starts on Thursday, Oct. 6, with an information session. The classes take place on Oct. 13, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. All sessions take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m., and all sessions are virtual on Zoom. Participants can access the sessions through the Zoom app or even call in by phone.

“It ends up being easier for most people just to jump onto a class through their phone or computer versus having to find the time to drive to a physical location for a few hours over the course of a month,” Stormzand says. “We hope that by hosting these classes in the evening and through Zoom that more people will be able access these resources.”

To sign up, interested residents can email Stormzand at anna.stormzand@chathamcountync.gov or call the CCPHD at (919) 542-8271. They can also learn more at www.chathamcountync.gov/quitsmoking.

For those not able to make the virtual group, county residents also have access to a free resource called QuitlineNC. It’s another free cessation program that provides up to four free counseling sessions, and even more for pregnant women, those with mental health conditions, and teens, with a trained counselor over the phone or through an online program or text messaging service. Many participants are also eligible for free NRTs such as patches, lozenges, and gum, which will be sent directly to their home. To learn more about this free resource, please call 1-800 QUIT NOW or visit http://www.quitlinenc.com/.

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