YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — One of life’s hardest decisions is to stop smoking.
For tobacco users stationed in the Pacific who want to quit, the military offers a variety of options to help.
Smoking-cessation classes, counseling and therapy are just a few options offered on bases.
Many programs offer additional assistance through medications such as nicotine gum, patches or Zyban, a prescription medication for nicotine addiction. These types of products are generally offered free of charge to participants, as long as they have access to base medical facilities
Everyone has heard that using tobacco products is bad for you. Cancer, asthma, gum disease, strokes, heart disease and even cataracts have been linked to tobacco use.
The military adds that it hinders the mission by decreasing the smoker’s stamina, motor skills, night vision and ability to heal from injury.
Still, many servicemembers light up each day.
“No one else can make you quit smoking,” said Jill Goff, a fitness program manager at Yokota Air Base’s Health and Wellness Center.
Said to be as addictive as heroin or cocaine, nicotine builds a physical and mental dependence within the smoker’s body. This makes quitting extra difficult.
Common withdrawal symptoms include headaches, dry mouth, trouble sleeping or concentrating, depression and irritability. This discomfort leads many smokers to relapse, thinking that a cigarette will make them feel “normal” again.
The trick is to not get discouraged, said Goff, adding that many smokers must try several times before reaching success.
“The key is to have a plan,” said Jana York, a health promotion educator at Camp Zama, Japan. “And to recognize what your triggers are, and not act on them.”
Among such triggers are those times in the day when a smoker gets that “must-have” feeling and lights up.
Whether it’s that first cigarette of the morning, or the one after a good meal or when drinking with friends, York said, figuring out — and counteracting — what brings out your desire to smoke is essential for quitting.
Timing is also important, York said. It’s a good idea to set your quit date for a time when you know you will have minimal distraction and desire to smoke, she said.
One participant in a program York runs decided his best time to quit was while on temporary duty away from Japan, she said. He used a 17-hour plane ride and several weeks away from his smoking buddies as a way to distance himself from his habit.
Whatever the method, bases are reaching out to support those trying to quit.
At the Yokota Health and Wellness Center, the Internet has become an important tool, Goff said.
In addition to the class offered at the center every Tuesday, the Yokota program provides much of the same information online, including a quiz about the common myths about smoking and quitting.
At Camp Zama, York said many trying to quit take part in a weekly support group where they discuss their progress and share methods for fighting the urge to smoke.
Participants also may obtain the patch, Zyban and even stress-reducing toys at these meetings, York said.
Regardless of the approach — whether through medication or quitting “cold turkey” — Goff and York agree that the best method is the one that best works for the soon-to-be ex-smoker.