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Free program provides spark for smokers looking to quit

Want to quit smoking but don't have the time for classes? The Nevada Cancer Institute is making it easier. It will now come to your work place.

In a program begun in January, the institute works with companies to offer smoking cessation classes on site. Called A Smoke Free Life, it's a six-week course in which participants meet once a week for an hour. The classes are held during break times, usually at lunchtime.

"They can use the patch, or nicotine gum along with (the program), whatever they think will help them," said Jenny Quade, the community resource liaison at the institute , who oversees the program.

IGT was one of the first companies to participate in the program. Heather Eggert, wellness supervisor, said the company regularly encourages workers to make healthy lifestyle choices. Hosting the program was easy, she said.

"Basically, all I had to do was send out an announcement and post some fliers," she said. "Having them come on site was huge ... If it had been held after work, it would have been less appealing."

The classes are taught by Jennifer Calevro . There is no cost to the companies. The program is supported by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worth $200,000 over two years.

"Employers know that a healthier workforce is more productive in the long term," said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, director and CEO of the institute .

Interested companies can call 822-5299 or e-mail

Employees who participate in the program learn that cravings last only two to six minutes. They identify their personal "triggers," such as drinking coffee or driving.

Adjustments they're asked to make can be as simple as holding the telephone with the hand they smoke with, while doodling with the other hand.

A Smoke Free Life is designed along the lines of a successful program used by the Mayo Clinic. It draws also from other entities such as the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The institute prefers groups of no more than 15 people so that a cohesive unit is built, a support system within the circle of would-be quitters.

Like many smokers, Cassandra Bryant tried to quit before. The 54-year-old began smoking when she was 12. She was up to more than a pack a day when her employer offered the program. Besides a desire to be able to run for the bus, Bryant said she had a personal reason to quit this time.

"I want to live to see my grandchildren graduate from high school," she said.

Through A Smoke Free Life, Bryant is down to about five cigarettes a day. She said she is working on quitting completely.

"It's harder than anybody can imagine," she said.

Rebecca Semm began smoking at 15. She has been smoking for 23 years, about half a pack a day. Her motivation was focused around family, too -- her daughter.

"I told myself that I'd quit as soon as she reached an age where she'd (realize what smoking was)," Semm said. "That didn't happen.'

Semm tried quitting six times before the institute's program got her off cigarettes.

Why was she successful this time?

"The class helped you prepare, know what to expect and how to handle situations," she said. "And the camaraderie made a big difference."

The program began in January and is on going. So far, Zappos, IGT, the Academy of Healing Arts and the UNLV School of Dental Medicine have hosted the program.

"Most companies already know the statistics on how much it costs them, so it's an easy sell," Quade said.

Those statistics show that Nevada has the country's lowest percentage of smoke-free workplace policies, with $565 million in Nevada's annual health care costs directly related to smoking.

Each employee who smokes costs a business an additional $1,623 in medical insurance each year. Businesses pay higher worker s compensation for smokers than nonsmokers. Smokers take, on average, more sick days per year than nonsmokers.

And everyone has seen the commercials on how smoking-related expenses cost each household, smokers and nonsmokers alike, $562 annually.

In Nevada, roughly 78 percent of the population does not smoke.

The cost to business is sobering, but for the individuals who smoke, it can be lethal.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing approximately 1,200 people every day -- more than alcohol, AIDS, motor vehicle crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. In Nevada, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, the institute reports.

Smokers are bombarded with reminders of their addiction. Each year, the tobacco companies spend $116 million in Nevada to market their product.

The program's success will not be known for a while. Meanwhile, more companies are signing up for A Smoke Free Life. Some companies are repeating the classes for other smokers to get off nicotine.

Contact Summerlin and South Summerlin View reporter Jan Hogan at or 387-2949.