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Dave Elger, the Health Promotions Department head for U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, holds a jar that contains the amount of tar a smoker would take smoking one pack of cigarettes every day for a year.
Dave Elger, the Health Promotions Department head for U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa, holds a jar that contains the amount of tar a smoker would take smoking one pack of cigarettes every day for a year. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Want to kick the smoking habit? This may be the day to begin: U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa is staffing a “Smokeout Hotline” in conjunction with the American Cancer Society’s 27th Annual Great American Smokeout today.

The Health Promotions Department also will provide information to anyone who wants to quit or reduce their tobacco use, said Dave Elger, Health Promotion Department head.

Elger said the department also will offer nicotine gum to help abstaining smokers get through the day.

And while giving up smoking for a day is better than continuing to smoke, he said, he focuses more on the long term. “I recommend to cut back usage — maybe in half — and then work on quitting. My focus is on cutting back permanently and use that as a springboard to quit permanently.”

To try stopping the problem where it often starts, Elger said, he and his staff have talked to Kubasaki High School ninth-graders this week — 90-minute presentations he said they try to make interesting. For instance, he just came up with a “Tobacco Jeopardy” game. One category is based on how celebrities advertise smoking. He then points out celebrities who have died from cancer.

High school “is where we can make a big impact,” he said. “That’s when most people start smoking — they’re impressionable. It may be peer pressure or they could just be trying to break through into adulthood. We’re trying to focus on these kids.”

It might be working, Elger said: Many of those who attend smoking cessation classes say their kids pressured them to quit.

Since January, 418 people have taken the department’s five-week smoking cessation class. Elger said the classes try to help people avoid cigarettes and smokeless tobacco by offering nicotine replacement products such as gum or patches. Instructors also teach the dangers of tobacco and how to get relief from withdrawal symptoms, Elger said. The classes also address smoking triggers, lifestyle issues and nutrition, because weight gain often is a concern for those quitting.

“Alcohol is a big reason why people relapse,” Elger said. “Stress and boredom are common triggers, also.”

For one smoker, talking about quitting and making good on the decision is easier said than done.

“I’ve tried to quit many times … the most was for about two years,” said Lance Cpl. Rico Valderrama, from Camp Foster’s Legal Service Support Section. “I’ve been smoking off and on since I was 14 and I’m almost 27 now.”

Valderrama said the Health Promotions Department’s focus on educating high school students is on target. He started smoking in high school “because I was a follower,” the Marine said. “I thought it was a cool image. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t start.”

For more information on how to cut back or quit nicotine for the day, or permanently, call the Smokeout Hotline at 645-2620/2578.

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