Last updated: August 24. 2013 2:22AM - 254 Views

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(CUTLINE)Breath-testing equipment is a tool in a smoking-cessation program at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif. It shows participants their blood levels of toxic carbon monoxide.Photos by DREW A. KELLEY / Freedom News Service A breath test shows Joe Brenneman his progress in ridding his body of carbon monoxide from cigarettes.Former two-pack-a-day smoker Donna Lyons displays the T-shirt she received for completing the program.Lori Dean uses a carbon monoxide breath tester as part of a smoking cessation program at St. Joseph Hospital.It??s still early in the quitting process for this group of ex-smokers who munch sunflower seeds, chew gum and suck on lollipops to distract from their old habit.But even as they fight cravings, their bodies have started recovering. The proof can be found in their breath. Not in how it smells, but in its chemistry.On the final night of a five-week smoking-cessation class at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., nurse Pam Matten brings out the same carbon monoxide testing machine they all blew into at the first class, where the red light blinked them all into the heavy smoker zone.Donna Lyons, 55, who lit her first Marlboro at 15, takes a deep breath, holds it, and blows into the tube.??She??s green!? Matten announces of the reading that classifies Lyons as a nonsmoker 11 days after giving up her two packs a day.The free class is offered eight times a year, but for the first time, Matten has incorporated a carbon monoxide breath test to measure the immediate health effects of smoking and quitting.A typical puff from a cigarette contains about 5 percent carbon monoxide, a gas also found in car exhaust. The inhaled carbon monoxide enters the bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygen carried throughout the body. The result is an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Eventually the carbon monoxide is excreted by the lungs and can be measured by the breath test.??It??s like a poison,? Matten said. ??It competes with oxygen in our blood. It??s very, very dangerous to have it in your lungs. You??re not getting the oxygen you need to the rest of your tissues.?Lyons, who lives in Westminster, Calif., smoked immediately before the first class started, but still wondered if she could fool the test.??I was the last one,? Lyons said. ??I blew into that thing not knowing really what it was. Then the blinking red went on for heavy smoker. I said, ??Are you freaking kidding me??? ?She said she felt caught, like a motorist getting a ticket from a red-light camera.??A light bulb went on and I said, I??m in denial,? Lyons said. ??Like a breathalyzer for an alcoholic or a diabetic testing your blood sugar level, it doesn??t lie.?During the last class, the six participants shared how they??re coughing less, enjoying the smell and taste of food more and feeling more energetic.Those are all changes they can observe, but Matten said the breath test gives them further confirmation and motivation.??I think it??s necessary to have a scientific way to measure what??s going on physiologically in the body,? Matten said. ??I love to be able to have a tool to measure people??s success by. It??s simple, yet it says so much.?St. Joseph adopted the carbon monoxide testing from the Mayo Clinic??s smoking cessation program. At the clinic in Rochester, Minn., the test is also used for accountability. The renowned medical center offers a residential smoking treatment program, and whenever participants leave the building, they have to take the breath test when they return.The device is sensitive enough to detect if a person has smoked as soon as 10 minutes after a cigarette. The levels it reads are designated nonsmoker, light smoker, smoker and heavy smoker.Matten meets individually for an hour with each person before the class begins. Participants typically quit during their third week of class after exploring their motivation for quitting, learning coping mechanisms such as deep breathing, and taking practical steps, including preparing a goody bag of gum, sunflower seeds and toothpicks to satisfy their oral fixation.Joe Brenneman, 46, of Ladera Ranch, Calif., said he was tired of hiding his smoking from his four sons. By the final class, he??d been smokefree for 20 days. The class applauded after his breath test came out green.??It??s real tangible results that you can see right there,? he said. ??When you smoke, you kid yourself or you kind of rationalize things. It kind of makes it more real.?The physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal end about three weeks after quitting. The body??s recovery begins even faster.Almost immediately, heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. Within a few months, lung function improves.Within five years of quitting, the chance of developing mouth, throat or esophagus cancer is reduced by 50 percent, says a report by the U.S. surgeon general. After 10 years, the odds of developing lung cancer are cut in half.??I am a nonsmoker,? Lyons said. ??I look in the mirror with pride now. I feel accomplished. It??s the equivalent of getting your college degree. It??s running the marathon. There is nothing that you cannot do.?

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