October 10, 2008

Teamwork, support vital in effort to kick the habit

Featured Image

Patient Accounting’s Gary Perrizo shows off his diploma from the Dayani Center’s smoking cessation program. Perrizo and several co-workers went through the program together. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Teamwork, support vital in effort to kick the habit

Since Vanderbilt Medical Center's campus smoking ban went into effect Sept. 1, employees in far greater numbers are availing themselves of smoking cessation programs, which are free for staff and faculty.

The eight-week group program at the Dayani Center has typically received participation from only a couple of employees per month, but since July, 58 employees have enrolled.

At the Occupational Health Clinic, from 2006 through 2008, 24 employees came in annually for free smoking cessation counseling, but during the 10-week period ending Sept. 9, the clinic provided cessation counseling to 171 employees. A limited course of free medication is included with both programs.

“When the ban was first announced back in April, it got everyone buzzing,” said Gary Perrizo, director of Patient Accounting and until recently a devoted Marlboro Ultra Light 100s man.

“There was a lot of fear, a lot of concern, with people asking themselves how they were going to get through the day without a cigarette. I felt that same feeling.”

Seizing the smoking ban as an opportunity, Perrizo arranged for himself and his co-workers to help each other quit by enrolling together in Dayani's eight-week program.

Around 280 employees work at the Department of Finance's hospital and physician billing offices near Blakemore Avenue, and of that total 28 smokers signed up for the on-site classes. (If you've got a group of four or more employees willing to participate, the Dayani program comes to you.)

They formed two classes, one meeting Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m., the other Thursdays at 11:30 a.m., in one-hour sessions. Participants are prompted to quit together at week four.

At various stages of the Dayani course, participants blow through a device that measures carbon monoxide, and at the start of the program Perrizo blew the worst numbers of anyone.

“I was immediately crowned king,” he said.

With the help of prescription medication provided free by the course, he hasn't had a cigarette since late August, and when last measured, his carbon monoxide level was normal, like a non-smoker's.

He said most of the co-workers who went through the course used one of the aids — prescription medication or over-the-counter nicotine replacement patches (all free to course participants).

The class was fun, Perrizo said, “because you're in a group of people who have a common goal, and since in this case we previously knew each other, we could be honest and funny about what we were going through. Barbara helped make it that way, too.”

That's Barbara Forbes, Dayani's smoking cessation director.

The two classes received their diplomas from her at a Sept. 23 office celebration that featured cake and punch.

Out of 24 people who stuck with the classes, about half have quit smoking. Forbes will drop by again in December to test individuals' carbon monoxide levels once more and attach seals to diplomas of those who still aren't smoking.

Some 450 employees recently picked up smoking cessation self-help kits distributed by Vanderbilt Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness.

For information on smoking cessation assistance for Vanderbilt employees, see the Web sites of the Occupational Health Clinic or HealthPlus.