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New program to help MacDill smokers kick the habit

Story and photo by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

Joan Craft, HAWC director, left, and Capt. Diane Klingenberg, 6th Aerospace Medical Squadron, examine one of the new SmokeSignals devices being integrated into the smoking cessastion program.

For smokers looking to kick the habit nothing could be more useful than a little guardian angel sitting on their shoulder, keeping track each time they reach for a smoke, taking notes and reviewing the results with them each week.

They're not angels, but the Health and Wellness Center is hoping for some heavenly results from a smart cigarette case with an internet link that will use its microprocessor brain to track the user's smoking habit and chart it on a computer. Once the data is collected, a smoking cessation plan is formulated, with the ultimate goal to wean smokers off tobacco.

The device is called SmokeSignals and it is a plastic box with a digital readout on its lid. Inside the box any size cigarette box can be accommodated. Each time the lid of the box is opened, the electronic counter adds one to the tally. The smoker periodically plugs the box into a standard phone line and the data is uploaded to a Web site and a personal Web page set up just for the smoker to view and track their smoking habits and progress in the program.

The HAWC purchased 50 of the devices and will begin distributing them to students of the smoking cessation course beginning April 13. MacDill is the only AMC base to have the SmokeSignals boxes. For more information on the course and the new devices, contact the HAWC at 828-4739.

Clinical studies show the SmokeSignals is effective but MacDill will be evaluating them to ensure they are a good fit with the HAWC program, said John Craft, HAWC director. If they prove useful, they will become an important tool in all future smoking cessation courses, she said.

Ms. Craft said the concept is to change the smoker's behavior by being a constant reminder of the number of times they smoke and when they smoke. The device is programmed to allow smoking but only a certain number of cigarettes per day and at certain times. While a smoker might be used to lighting up right after lunch, the SmokeSignals device might indicate that they are not due for a cigarette for another two hours or so.

Eventually, the smoker learns that they don't have to be a slave to their own smoking patterns and ultimately the smoking habit itself.

"Its behavior modification training that creates a direct disconnect from the triggers (that prompt smokers to reach for a cigarette)," said Capt. Diane Klingenberg of the HAWC. "Eventually they (the smoker) says, 'I can delay smoking' and eventually the idea is they realize they can delay smoking indefinitely."

Each SmokeSignals has to be electronically activated for the individual, and a personal Web page is established where the smoker's data is stored, charted and used as a measuring stick by the smoker. The process is designed to create a game-like scenario in which the smoker can strive to beat the chart and reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke. When asked if the process and "game" itself might become addictive, Ms. Craft said it's possible some will hate giving up their SmokeSignals and the interaction with the program, the camaraderie among fellow users and the friendly competition that ensues as everyone tries to "beat the box."

"This is how they win this game: they quit smoking," said Ms. Craft. "They quit smoking and the prize is they get to live longer, healthier lives."

Ms. Craft went on to note that statistics show smoking is on the rise, particularly among younger people. The good news is as hard as it may seem, with devices like the SmokeSignals and the traditional assistance the HAWC provides including counseling, drugs and other methods, smokers have more tools than ever to kick the habit.

"Smoking is the number one modifiable health risk factor," said Ms. Craft. "It is one thing we can control in our lives if we want to."

The SmokeSignals devices cost the HAWC about $130 each, with an additional $50 to activate them for the user. The cost is covered for active duty and retired military and their eligible family members and DoD employees.



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