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While his wife and kids wait in the background, Airman 1st Class Steve O’Brien, a firefighter at Misawa Air Base, Japan, signs a pledge Thursday to be tobacco-free for 24 hours during the base’s “Great American Smokeout.” Medical and health officials are trying to encourage smokers to quit “cold turkey” in exchange for free turkey sandwiches.
While his wife and kids wait in the background, Airman 1st Class Steve O’Brien, a firefighter at Misawa Air Base, Japan, signs a pledge Thursday to be tobacco-free for 24 hours during the base’s “Great American Smokeout.” Medical and health officials are trying to encourage smokers to quit “cold turkey” in exchange for free turkey sandwiches. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — A free lunch or a puff of nicotine. Some smokers here on Thursday declined to kick the habit for 24 hours in an exchange for a complimentary turkey sandwich.

Their excuses included:

“If it was a day off, I could do it, but a day at work, I can’t.”“No, I really want to smoke today.”“I just had lunch. Sorry.”“That’s all right. I won’t quit. Why would I lie to someone?”But on a day the American Cancer Society annually touts as the “Great American Smokeout,” a few brave tobacco addicts at Misawa vowed to not light up.

“The message is to just try quitting for one day,” said Maj. Jim Stryd, Health and Wellness Center health promotion flight commander. “The goal is to let smokers know it’s not as hard as what they think. For many people it’s that first step, just to try. Even if we just plant the seed today, that’s all we want.”

The center, as well as several other 35th Medical Group organizations, including the Drug Demand Reduction Program and the Alcohol Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program, set up an anti-smoking display at the food court entrance Thursday. Stryd and Sherril Light, DDRP manager, asked lunch-goers if they were smokers. They tried to entice those who ’fessed up to quit “cold turkey” with sandwiches donated by the Robin Hood sandwich shop.

“You have to commit to one day of not smoking, and if you have a pack of cigarettes on you, you have to throw them away,” Light told smokers who paused long enough in front of the sandwich tray to hear the group’s message.

Airman 1st Class Steve O’Brien, a 23-year-old base firefighter, inked his name while his wife, Megan, and two young children waited.

“I’ve been trying to quit on and off for five years,” he said, motivated to do so by his kids, job requirements and his lung-taxing surfing hobby. Staying smoke- free for a day is “no problem,” he said. “It’s just after that; any stressful situation.”

Stryd said stress is the No. 1 reason smokers trying to quit relapse. Stress management is discussed in the Health and Wellness Center’s four-week tobacco-cessation class. The class meets Wednesdays at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

About 95 percent of the students use nicotine gum, “the patch,” or a medication called Zyban to stop smoking after failing cold turkey, Stryd said. Their most common reasons for wanting to quit, Stryd said, are health worries, concerns about their fitness test performance and the cost of cigarettes. A pack-a-day smoker spends about $1,500 a year on the habit, according to Stryd.

Stryd said that about 29 percent of active-duty Air Force personnel at Misawa smoke. “We’re very similar to the rest of the Air Force,” he said.

After two hours, the group gathered five “no-smoking” pledges.

Senior Airman Matthew Diehl earned a sandwich for quitting four days ago. “I was ahead of the game,” he said, citing health reasons. “I’ve been smoking since I was 15. I’m starting to notice it — shortness of breath, coughing more often, lack of endurance. I’m only 25.”

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