How St. Clair Hospital Can Help Pittsburgh Quit Smoking For Good

The dangers of smoking are well documented and well known. Smoking is the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S. – yet, 42 million adults and another 3 million middle and high school students smoke. Sadly, Western Pennsylvania has a smoking rate that is above the national average. Approximately 23 percent of Allegheny County residents smoke, while the national rate is 18 percent.

These numbers reflect a tough truth: that smoking is a particularly difficult habit to conquer. This fact is further highlighted by research revealing that the ingredients in cigarettes are as addictive as drugs like heroin and cocaine. The good news? It’s never too late to try to quit smoking. No matter how long you have smoked, or how many cigarettes you smoke every day, you can improve your health and longevity by stepping away from the habit. It may take multiple attempts to do so, but it can be done – and St. Clair Hospital has the resources you need to make the journey back to health a little easier.

Why Quitting Is A Challenge

To truly set yourself up for healthy success, the first step to ending a smoking addiction is accepting that doing so will be challenging. Putting down a cigarette is not about developing stronger willpower – it’s much more complicated than that. When one smokes, the brain becomes addicted to nicotine and craves it. Dealing with the cravings during the withdrawal periods after you first put down a cigarette is one of the most challenging parts of breaking the addiction. The other difficulty is finding ways to cope with daily stresses and triggers that, for many, smoking had been masking and helping them cope with.

These factors highlight how ending a smoking addiction involves physical and mental components. It’s a double-sided challenge – but, it’s important to remember that many people have successfully quit. It’s possible for you to do so as well!

The Process Of Quitting

St. Clair Hospital is dedicated to improving the lung health of Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.  To help people manage their expectations and tackle the challenge of breaking a smoking addiction, St. Clair Hospital offers a Smoke-Free for Life program designed specifically to address this health issue. The program is operated by Susan Harshbarger, R.N., M.S.N., T.T.S. (Tobacco Treatment Specialist), who was inspired to focus on smoking cessation by her experiences in St. Clair Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

As a staff member there, she frequently found herself caring for patients in the end stages of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). “Over and over again, I listened to patients say that they wished they had quit smoking,” Susan remembers. “Eventually I transferred into pulmonary rehabilitation, and those patients also had regrets about smoking and often expressed their need for help with it. When I had an opportunity to work in smoking cessation, to help prevent COPD, lung cancer and other diseases, it was a natural fit for me.”

Now, Susan is able to help patients tackle the most common reasons standing between them and a conquered addiction. It’s not uncommon for individuals to become discouraged when they relapse, even though this is a natural and even expected part of the quitting process. And quitting truly is a process, not an event, according to Susan.

“It gets better each time,” Susan adds. “Every quit attempt is a success if you have learned something. Try something different the next time, but never quit quitting.”

A Look At The Support At St. Clair Hospital

St. Clair’s smoking cessation program, offered on-site at the Hospital, was developed by Breathe PA. By design, groups in the program are small, with just three to six participants who can meet individually or as a group with Susan.

In addition to one-on-one support meetings with Susan, St. Clair’s programs and smoking cessation classes present a lot of information about different aspects of smoking and quitting. Specifically, Susan follows clinical practice guidelines in her program that emphasize the impact medication, emotional support, and education/counseling have when attempting to quit smoking. Once they have the information they need, patients can choose the combination of strategies and tools that will best work for them. “Everyone quits differently,” according to Susan. “We prepare people for the pitfalls.”

The emotional support provided by group classes is a significant resource, as is the coaching that Susan provides. “I’m there as a guide,” she explains. “The individual does all the work, and it is hard work. The achievement is theirs, and seeing them get that reward is my reward.”

Quitting Is A Community-Wide Effort

In addition to its own-site work, the smoking cessation program also has a community outreach initiative, offering workshops to businesses, schools, health fairs and community groups. This community work is further supported and enhanced not just by St. Clair staff, but by Tobacco Free Allegheny (TFA), which provides tobacco prevention and cessation programs throughout Allegheny County and helps raise community awareness about the importance of clean indoor air laws. St. Clair has been a subcontractor with TFA for over seven years, and through this relationship has been able to provide programs related to tobacco and smoking cessation throughout Allegheny County – not just in the South Hills region. TFA resources also ensure that any smoker has the resources they need to quit; for example, through the TFA, nicotine replacement therapy (patch, gum, or lozenge) is provided at little or no cost.

St. Clair also has a program called Second Wind, which is the educational component of the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program. It consists of three classes taught by a multidisciplinary team that includes Susan, a dietician, and an occupational therapist. Topics include healthful eating, managing activities of daily living, relaxation, and energy conservation. You don’t have to be in the pulmonary rehab exercise program to participate in Second Wind, but everyone in the exercise program also receives this education program – making it one more resource for St. Clair patients to take advantage of.

At the end of the day, no matter what resources they’re using, Susan has one thing to say to smokers: for your health’s sake, don’t stop quitting. “When you quit smoking, it has a positive impact on all the major chronic diseases and lung diseases. Smoking doesn’t simply take one’s life: it takes one’s quality of life long before death. The worst part may be what you lose before you die – life on your terms, independence, and doing things you enjoy.”

“Taking a class, joining a group or even taking a telephone course can help. This is a good time to quit, as there are many helpful resources and most are free.”

Smoke-Free For LIfe is just one of St. Clair Hospital’s community events designed to improve the health of our community. For more information on quitting smoking, and to contact Susan Harshbarger, please call 412.942.2008 or email her at [email protected] You can also call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) for information about smoking cessation.