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RAF MILDENHALL, England — Tech. Sgt. William Lee has stopped smoking. Several times.

He’s trying again as the Health and Wellness Center at RAF Mildenhall looks for 100 smokers to kick the habit and bring the base’s smoking population below the Air Force level.

“We’ve been at 28 to 30 percent [smoking population] for the last two years,” said Ronda Carter, health promotion manager for the HAWC.

Figures for the Air Force fluctuate weekly, but Carter’s figures from an Air Force Web site show the percentage of tobacco users at about 27 percent in late May.

Carter began her push to find 100 smokers in 100 days willing to quit on April 1. So far, she has 52 volunteers, including Lee, who began smoking 16 years ago as a 19-year-old.

He’s tried to stop before and did pretty well in 1997, he said, before the allure of smoking proved too enticing. However, he’s doing better now and hasn’t smoked since late March, when he ended his two-pack-a-day habit.

“I had one slip-up one night,” he said, but he quickly put out the cigarette before puffing. “I can even go out and hang out with smokers now.”

Lee, of the 100th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, uses two methods endorsed by Carter in a smoking-cessation class she teaches. One is the nicotine patch, which lets nicotine absorb into the system to allay the craving. The other is the drug Zyban, an antidepressant that was found effective in helping smokers kick the nicotine habit.

But Lee said he has an extra motivation. He has a 2-year-old son and wants to set a good and healthy example.

Airman 1st Class Holli Brown of the 100th Operations Support Squadron has been smoking since she was 16. Now 20, she thinks she’s over the worst in her attempt to slay the smoking beast.

“The first couple days, I would crave a cigarette,” she said. “You could taste it in your mouth. I had a pretty bad headache. It was horrible.”

That was in late March. Now, she said, “I can’t even stand the smell of them.”

Brown, who smoked a pack a day, used the patch and Zyban, but has worked hard at changing her behavior, another approach stressed by Carter in the classroom. She forces herself not to smoke in the morning after getting out of bed. She changed her lunchtime routine, which once included a cigarette or two.

In a rush one morning, she left home without the patch and didn’t realize it until later in the day, so she dropped that crutch.

Carter, a registered nurse, makes herself available for anyone having trouble. She gets e-mails from people who have deployed and she answers with encouraging words.

She’s even gone to a squadron to check on smokers.

“We follow up at the six-month point,” she said. “If they are still tobacco-free, we consider it a success.”

Victory, she said, would be if 33 percent of the 100 volunteers maintain their new lifestyle.

“That’s a realistic guess,” she said. “They may surprise me.”

Facts and figures ...

Some fast facts about smoking and the U.S. military:

Smoking costs the Air Force more than $1 billion each year in health care and lost productivity.Defense health officials estimate that 16 percent, or one in six, of all deaths in both current and former military personnel is from smoking and using other tobacco-related productsAmong Navy recruits who identified themselves as heavy smokers (more than a pack a day), 50 percent failed to complete their enlistment, according to a recent study of 6,950 Navy recruits.The Air Force outlawed smoking at its lodging rooms and in common areas in 2001.Smoking rates among the services:

Marines — 39 percentNavy — 38 percentAir Force — 28 percentArmy — 26 percentSource: DOD Web sites


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