HELENA — Helena-area resident Amy Vulk started smoking at 16-years-old. Smoking is not uncommon in Montana, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 18-percent of Montana adults smoke. But this year, Vulk quit, making her part of the less than 10-percent of adult smokers in the United States that successfully quit each year.
Vulk said she had tried to quit multiple times before this year, and then a doctor told her it was time to stop.
“I had a doctor that said ‘look, you have choices here, and in 10 years you’re going to have to decide what you’re going to want to wear with your oxygen tank,” Vulk said.
She signed up for a seven-week Freedom from Tobacco program offered through St. Peter’s Health.
The program was created by the American Lung Association, and it combines medication, group support and behavioral counseling to help people break the tobacco addiction.
“The only requirement that is needed for people to join the program is that they want to quit,” St. Peter’s Health wellness promotion developer and educator Jaime Larese said. “That’s the only requirement.”
Trained facilitators like Larese lead both in-person and virtual versions of the program.
Vulk said the Freedom from Tobacco program made all the difference when it came to quitting this time around.
“They give you the tools to succeed,” Vulk said. “Even if you do have a slip, or you do fall off, they teach you to get right back on track, and that is the most important thing that has helped me so considerably.”
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the US, according to the American Lung Association, and the CDC says smoking accounts for about 1 in 5 deaths each year.
Quitting is hard. According to St. Peter’s Health, the Freedom from Tobacco program has about a 32-percent success rate. That’s far higher than the fewer than 7.5 percent of smokers across the country who are able to successfully quit each year.
Larese said the Freedom from Tobacco program welcomes people back if they need more support in quitting, and works to help people stay on track despite setbacks.
“The only goal is not to relapse,” Larese said. “We talk about the differences between slips and relapses, and we get people to individualize their plan in order to stay quit.”
Although the path has not always been easy, Vulk said what she learned through Freedom from Tobacco has helped her stay a nonsmoker.
“Physically, I feel so much better,” Vulk said. “So much better!”
St. Peter’s Health has resources available to make the Freedom from Tobacco program accessible to anyone who needs it. For more information or to sign up, click here.