Last updated: August 24. 2013 6:25PM - 288 Views

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LIMA — Kicking the smoking habit involves more than simply putting down the cigarette, as anyone who has ever tried to quit smoking will tell you.It‘s an addiction, plain and simple, so don‘t be too hard on yourself if you‘ve tried to quit and found yourself falling off the anti-smoking wagon. Steve Mericle knows. He‘s a registered nurse with Lima Memorial Health System, so he understands what smoking can do to your health. But he's also quit smoking and started up again several times throughout his life.“Every day I say I'm going to quit,” he said. “Quitting smoking is easy to put off. You find excuses to keep putting it off.”But when it comes down to it, he said, quitting smoking is mind over matter. “If you want to quit, you will quit. I think it's a lifetime addiction. Once you're a smoker, you're always a smoker,” Mericle said. “If you can change your habit ... you change your lifestyle in order to truly quit smoking.”David Hartzell, a doctor of pharmacy for St. Rita's Medical Center in Lima, agreed that changing behavior and routines helps break the addiction. If you normally smoke after a meal, you need to consciously do something else to replace that behavior, he said.Support is a key factor in success as well. Don't keep your decision to quit smoking a secret. Telling friends and family provides a support system for encouragement when nicotine cravings hit. “Let people know you need support ... so they can help not tempt you. Find people you can call,” Hartzell said.And those cravings will hit. The smoke may go into your lungs, but it's the nicotine that causes the physical reactions in the brain. “Nicotine binds to the part of the brain that deals with reward. It feels good,” he said.That's a powerful demon to fight, but it can be done. There are websites and toll-free help lines to provide information and inspiration on the whole quitting process, and there are nicotine gums, patches and medicines available to fight the cravings. Talk to your doctor about what might be the best plan for you. Need more reasons to quit? Let's talk about the bad stuff. You know what that bad stuff is ... everyone knows. It's cancer. Cancers of the lungs are an obvious negative of smoking, but according to Hartzell, mouth cancers can still happen with tobacco smoking, not just chewing tobacco.Nicotine also irritates blood vessels, making it easier for cholesterol and other not-so-nice things to stick to their walls. Circulation problems put smokers at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. “It's body-wide,” he said.You can recover. When you quit, it takes about 48 hours for carbon monoxide and other traces of nicotine to fade from your system. And the body can repair itself of the more long-time damage, but it can take years for that process and depends on the person, Hartzell said.Halden Shelley has had about 25 years for his body to repair damage from almost a lifetime of smoking. The 77-year old Cridersville man kicked the habit, cold turkey, more than two decades ago. At that point, he was up to two or three packs of cigarettes a day. “I always said that if I started coughing, I would quit. Well, I started coughing,” he said. “One night there was six of us sitting at the Elk's on New Year's Eve and we made a New Year's resolution to quit. At 15 minutes to 12, I ran out of cigarettes and one of the guys' wives said, ‘have one of mine.'”He said no. “I quit, and all the rest of them kept on smoking. I'm the only one who quit. I don't remember ever smoking again after that,” he said.Attitudes about smoking were different when Shelley first started — at age 9.“When we were kids we even rolled our own cigarettes. My mother caught us smoking and went to the store bought two packs of Lucky Strikes and two cigars and made me smoke them,” he said. “I smoked one after the other. I guess that didn't stop me.”When stationed in Japan during the Korean war, a carton with 10 packs of cigarettes was $1, Shelley said. A smoke after meals was taken for granted.“In the service you'd maybe get a can of hamburger and gravy, hard crackers, a chunk of candy and a pack with three cigarettes,” he said.Times have changed, but Shelley hasn't had a cigarette since that New Year's Eve. That's not to say the urge hasn't been there — like Mericle said, once a smoker always a smoker. However, Shelley said the more time that passes, the fewer the urges. His advice?“There's been times when I miss it, especially after a meal or after a drink, but I didn't do it. It's bad for your health, it's bad for other people and it costs too damn much,” he said. “If you make your mind up to do something bad enough, you can.”

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