Kicking 'the habit' for good: Fundraiser helps people quit, aids local food pantry

This story has been modified to correct the amount of money to be deposited in the can and to clarify that the food pantry gets only the proceeds from the purchase of the can; the host of the can gets to keep whatever is deposited.

LANESBOROUGH -- Expecting her third child, Kelly Lyons will try again to quit smoking, pulling on a mother's love for her children to snap this "habit."

The 25-year-old Lanesborough resident first quit smoking six years ago when her daughter, Alexis, was on the way, but she admits not being ready at the time. She had been smoking a pack a day, quit for nine long, hard months, and then lit a cigarette soon after she gave birth.

She did the same for her second child, Jason, and she managed to quit for two years - but then life became very stressful last year and she turned to a cigarette for a moment of relief. But this time around, she won't give in, she said, because she knows being an active mom is more important than cigarettes.

"My mom didn't really play with us," said Lyons, who is two months pregnant. "She was always smoking. She sent me and my brother to play outside by ourselves. It wasn't that fun. If we wanted to do something exciting, we went with an aunt or uncle."

Lyons started smoking when she was 16, but these days she reaches for licorice whenever she has a craving. However, she is challenged daily because both family members and friends smoke.

Carol McMahon, a former smoker for 30 years, who now serves as the director of tobacco treatment services at Berkshire Medical Center, said people who want to quit need to grab hold of an important reason to quit.

They also bolster their chances of quitting smoking with proper support, and knowing why and how they relate to smoking - and failure is just part of the process, McMahon said.

"I very rarely have people who have not tried to quit before," McMahon said.

"After I [quit], every morning when I opened my eyes, I was like, 'I have to do this today,'" McMahon added. "I was just taking it one day at a time."

Anyone trying to quit can also do it for a good cause. For $5, they can buy a "Smoker's Cash Can" at Pittsfield-based Harry's Supermarket, as part of a fundraiser to raise money for the St. Joseph Food Pantry.

Participants are asked to put 50 cents in the bucket - and then they can grab gum or mint instead of smoking a cigarette. The purchase of the can is donated to the St. Joseph's Food Pantry; the host keeps whatever change is deposited in the can.

"I see all these young people with the cigarettes," said Pittsfield resident Tom Dougherty, who spent several hundred dollars to start the fundraiser. He attributes his first wife's death to smoking. "I know what will happen. They are going to keep smoking. It all turns into something from smoking."

There's a strong incentive to quit following the release of a 2014 Surgeon General report on smoking. The report, "The Health Consequences of Smoking - 50 years of Progress," states smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, in part because blood cells are damaged and made more narrow and the heart beats faster.

Smoking has already been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer of the stomach, lungs and kidneys, but there is new evidence it can be also be attributed to liver cancer, colorectal cancer and diabetes.

A 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine examined 200,000 American smokers. The study showed people who quit between 25 and 34 years old could gain 10 years on their lifespan, while those who quit between 35 and 44 years old could gain nine years. People who quit after 45 could increase their longevity four to six years.

A different study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013, shows that smokers who cut back on smoking won't reduce their risk of mortality - only by quitting can they increase their lifespan.

The three major triggers that prompt people to smoke are stress, alcohol and hanging around other smokers, McMahon said. It can be especially challenging because some will gain weight after they quit - and they return to cigarettes to deal with their discomfort.

McMahon said she sits down with her clients once a week. The conversation starts with finding out how they relate to smoking - including when and why they smoke - and to develop a plan. She encourages them to find substitutes that will spur a positive stimulation of the brain, such as exercising.

"The best way to get rid of one habit is to get a new one," McMahon said.

The smoking cessation program run by BMC is covered by most insurance plans. For those who aren't covered, each visit costs $10, including nicotine patches. The success rate for those who remain smoke-free a year after leaving is about 34 percent, McMahon said.

Nearly two decades ago, McMahon recalls stepping out for 20 smoking breaks each day, and she quit to reclaim her life, along with a friend. She enjoyed a cigarette with her morning coffee, so she postponed drinking coffee until she arrived at work. At work, she had plenty of support. She tried to make sure she was preoccupied the rest of the time.

"I stayed very busy," McMahon said. "I think you have to stay busy. You have to have something to do every minute. You can't sit down and relax - that's one of the triggers for smoking."

Lyons said her smoking - about a pack every two days - left her winded after short quarter-mile walks to the store with her children. On a recent afternoon, Lyons was more than busy running around with her two children in her front yard, and she wants to stay that way.

"I don't want my kids to think I am boring."


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