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Wanting to Exhale: Black Women Struggle to Stop Smoking

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Dear Dr. Levister: I am a Black female age 36, for me, cigarettes are long-time companions that seem to steel my nerves during tough times, such as my recent divorce. I want to quit the habit that I began in high school but don't know how to stop. I've tried the nicotine patch, hypnosis and cold turkey. Nothing works. What should I do? Frustrated

Dear Frustrated: It's time to see your doctor or health care provider. Chances are you won't quit without medical help. Whether you crave cigarettes when you’re stressed out, bored, after eating, or just light up with the girls, whether you are a two-pack-a-day or social smoker, it's easy to start, hard to quit. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 70 percent of current smokers wanted to quit and 41 percent had tried the preceding year. African-Americans found it hardest to kick the habit of all racial groups, suggesting that we should never begin.

You are not alone in your struggle to stop smoking. While African-American girls and young women smoke less than all other racial and ethnic groups (9.5 percent prevalence) this percentage increases dramatically at around age 25 and over. Once addicted, according to the CDC the 74.9 percent of Black women smokers who would like to quit don’t have access to effective and culturally relevant smoking cessation resources, which are limited, too costly or nonexistent.

Like you, most new smokers don't see addiction coming. The wake-me-up, pick-me-up, after dinner, stress relief smokes turn into must-have coping strategies, helping them to get through life’s daily dramas. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services understands this behavioral and physical addiction connection. As a result it recommends that both "social" and "chain" smokers should be treated aggressively with the help of a doctor, smoking cessation specialist. Free clinics are available through your local Social-Services agency. Join a support group of Black women, friends or family members who want to quit. Cicely Tyson joined "Circle of Friends," in memory of her late sister who battled tobacco addition most of her life. The initiative is designed to raise awareness about the toll tobacco-related disease takes on women and the importance of getting and offering support to those struggling with tobacco addiction. Call 800 243-7000 for more information.

A popular program among Black women is "Not in Mama’s Kitchen" funded by California's African-American Tobacco Education Network. This campaign uses the power of respect, family, church and food to help Black women quit smoking. Visit www.BlackWomensHealth.Org. Click on: smoking-cessation.

Before you attempt to quit, get to know your enemy (tobacco). Know why you started in the first place (to look cool, peer pressure, or to act grown up). Look for programs and messages that work for you. Set rules that help you stay on a winning path. Prohibit smoking in you home, car and in your presence. It is possible to live a smoke-free life there are many organizations waiting to help you.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502.

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