Winning by Quitting

The Great American Smokeout is November 21st. Meet participants who recently quit and hear how the Freedom from Smoking program facilitated by Dr. Diahann Wilcox helped with their success.

The U.S. Surgeon General has said “smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.”

When Ned O’Donovan, 59 of West Hartford, decided it was time to quit smoking he knew he could use some guidance. It was then that he found UConn Health’s Smoking Cessation Program, part of the national American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking Program, facilitated by Dr. Diahann Wilcox of pulmonary medicine at UConn Health.

O’Donovan had been a smoker for about 15 years, he quit cold turkey but about 10 years ago he started again when boredom on his long distance drive to work kicked in.

Like O’Donovan, Barbara Hall, 45 of East Hartford and Rhonda Davis, 53 of Hartford had also tried to quit before and they knew it was not easy to beat the addiction. They also turned to the support of UConn Health’s Smoking Cessation Program.

Wilcox and other UConn Health experts recommend smokers wishing to quit join a smoking cessation program for additional support.

“There’s strength in numbers,” stresses Wilcox. “When trying to quit smoking, support can make all the difference.”

The small group clinics include eight sessions. The program features a step-by-step plan for quitting smoking and each session is designed to help smokers gain control over their behavior and triggers.   The program presents a variety of evidence-based techniques for individuals to combine into their own plan to quit because no single quit smoking plan is right for all smokers.

According to the participants a valuable part of the program was the portfolio of tools available to help each person uniquely decide what works best for them. They were taught to help identify their triggers and consciously utilize coping mechanisms when those triggers arise.

Hall found that posting notes and guidelines about quitting throughout her home and carrying her smoking cessation information booklet with her was a big help. Davis plans her days to be active and read more to keep her from smoking and O’Donovan has found breathing techniques to be a beneficial tool.

Since quitting in early October, O’Donovan feels healthier, more energetic and no longer is coughing. Socially he is better prepared for professional meetings without feeling like he smells of smoke and doesn’t need to leave his workplace to find places to have a cigarette.

All the participants are feeling healthier each day, their sense of smell and taste have returned, they are breathing better, more active and overall each feels physically and emotionally well.

“I get overexcited some times because I made it this far and I know I can keep going,” says Davis

Hall is already planning on running the Hartford Marathon’s half marathon next fall.

“You are not alone,” says O’Donovan about the group setting. “You are with people who understand what you are going through and share experiences.”

Davis also shared the sentiment of not being alone and added “you have someone in your corner to support you.”

It was important to each participant to not let the group down. The group found the ability to share information on how to deal with cravings and withdrawals and for some, just cry and know that each other was there to support and guide them was a positive reinforcement.

“I am so proud of Barbara, Ned and Rhonda,” says Wilcox.

All agree that the smoking cessation group was fun which made the setting and experience more enjoyable. Since the program ended, they all still keep in touch via text and will reach out to each other when they need support. “We will all be friends forever,” says Hall.

To quit smoking UConn Health recommends these five steps:

  1. Pick a quit date – Consider choosing the national Great American Smoke Out on Nov. 21 as your quit day.
  2. Prepare to quit – Think about the reasons why you want to quit and write them down. Post the reasons where you will see them every day.
  3. Know your resources – Talk to your provider about different quitting aids to consider, including over-the-counter nicotine replacements. Also, explore and join a local smoking cessation program. The Food and Drug Administration has not found any e-cigarette to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit.
  4. Build support– Let your family, friends and co-workers know you are trying to quit so they can help encourage you.
  5. Anticipate challenges – Less than 5 percent of smokers are able to quit cold-turkey.   If you are having trouble, start using a smoker tracker to record each cigarette you smoke and to better understand your smoking triggers so that you can better prepare for them. Also, plan for how to address the people, situations, and events that may trigger your urge to smoke.

Dr. Wilcox has another group planned for the spring of 2020, there is an online program available through the American Lung Association. In the meantime for information on the Freedom from Smoking program visit the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit to find a location near you.