Wellness Center offers cessation program

Last fall, about 25 designated smoking zones were set up around the Coral Gables campus as part of the initiative aimed at eventually making campus completely smoke-free. To help those who want to kick the habit, the Wellness Center is offering a cessation program, “BeSmokeFree.”

The center has actually been offering this program since September 2010, when the beginnings of a campus-wide effort to cinch off the use of tobacco started.

“It’s important to realize that this is a phased approach for smokers who aren’t ready to quit, but they are given the free assistance to help before the campus becomes completely smoke-free,” said Ashley Falcon, assistant director of the Wellness Center.

BeSmokeFree is a “one-stop” resource for smokers who have a broad range of treatment options. For many facing long-term health risks, such as cancer and lung disease, slapping a nicotine patch on their arm and boycotting the local gas station simply isn’t enough.

Students and university employees are welcome to get an assessment of their tobacco addiction. They may then move forward with a plan for success, essentially personalizing the quitting experience and tailoring it to their individual needs. The plan even details a budgeting aspect that will give the smoker a rough outline of how much money they’re saving on a yearly basis if they successfully quit.

Many students, faculty and staff members who are sanctioned for smoking in restricted areas are given the option to take the course, which includes mandatory attendance of group therapy sessions and watching an informational video, and in some cases having a one-on-one talk with the program’s director, Virginia Perez.

The group therapy sessions are held in the center’s upstairs suites on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. or from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. They are offered on a rolling enrollment basis throughout both fall and spring semesters.

Perez, who successfully quit smoking herself, deals on a first-hand basis with students who could face disciplinary measures for smoking outside of the designated zones.

Wellness officials would not talk about the number of people in the program, but the group appears to mirror the make-up of the campus.

“It’s a mixed age group, so younger students see that age gap and it opens their eyes as to what can happen in the future if they continue smoking,” said Perez, who looks forward to receiving emails from successful quitters all the time. “Most of the older people started smoking around the same time, in high school or college, and for the same reasons. It just became a lifetime struggle for them.”

Some student smokers say that approach isn’t for them.

“I felt uncomfortable being in the room with some of the older people,” said Dave, a sophomore who agreed to be interviewed if his last name was withheld. “I don’t see smoking as a problem for myself, but for some of them it’s ruined their marriages or careers.”

Voluntary enrollment in the six-week class sessions or relapse prevention program is free, but there are many other comprehensive aspects of the program that may lead to some out-of-pocket expenses. While nicotine patches are complimentary and a wide number of participants use them, additional services such as Cranial Electrotherapy sessions ($20 per session) and Moxa Therapy or Tai Chi sessions can add up.

Some consider those costs nominal compared to the money they’re saving on buying several packs every week. Also, for those covered by a university insurance plan, there’s a $50 health fee per semester that is tacked on to the bill of any student, faculty member or spouse who smokes.

Falcon say the cessation program has had good results.

“There has been an overall highly successful percentile of program participants who have quit – in the range of 80 to 90 – partly because we offer the kitchen sink method of social support, nicotine replacement therapy, and even acupuncture or hypnosis sessions,” she said.

With Student Government and university officials working together establishing a smoke-free campus, as the medical campus already is, the Wellness Center initiative may become even more popular.

“We aren’t trying to alienate a population, just emphasize the healthier benefits,” Falcon said.

For more information, call the hotline at 1-(877)-U-CAN-NOW.