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Anti-smoking effort gets $13,000 boost

Smoking isn’t good for your health. Everyone knows that. However obvious, though, people continue to smoke. They all have their reasons, and many want to quit.

Meanwhile, smoking continues to be one of the most potent causes and triggers of asthma, said Mary-Michel Rawling, program manager of the Merced/Mariposa County Asthma Coalition.

She is not only concerned about smokers themselves, but worries about the second-hand smoke that can reach children. The situation is even worse inside, where the effects of smoking become more intense. “It’s more of an indoor-air pollutant,” she said. “It’s gets breathed in several times inside the home. ... There are so many reasons to quit.”

The coalition has joined Mercy Medical Center Merced to put these words into action. Over the years the Merced area hasn’t offered any classes to help smokers quit.

But that’s about to change.

The hospital and coalition received a $13,000 grant for a one-year project to train facilitators throughout the county who can go on to teach Freedom From Smoking cessation classes, said Jose Soto, health educator at Mercy.

He encouraged people who work in the health or education fields, as well as community members who are passionate about the project, to sign up as facilitators. They must have been nicotine-free for at least one year.

The next class will be held 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 25 and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 26. in the education department of the hospital. Scholarships are available for the first 11 participants to cover the $385 two-day training fee.

Space is limited, but more facilitator courses are on the horizon. They will be followed by smoking-cessation classes, now being planned.

But how much will all these good intentions actually help?

Quitting is hard.

“I think it’s great that anything like this can be done — we need more,” said ex-smoker Ronda Eaton, who chairs the Merced County Tobacco Use Prevention Program. “But, of course, it’s going to be up to the individual.”

Tobacco use among minors is her group’s biggest issue right now. “We want it not to be the cool thing,” she said. “That’s why I started smoking — my friend smoked.”

She tried to stop many times, finally puffing her last cigarette in 1996. An appearance on television encouraged her to quit — she and her husband were part of an on-camera story about five couples trying to stop smoking. “I think I’m the only one who stayed quit,” she laughed.

Eaton joined the Tobacco Coalition because she knew it would help her keep away from temptation. The group participates in projects to distribute no-smoking zone signs and decrease sales of tobacco.

While she doesn’t plan to be a facilitator for the hospital and Asthma Coalition’s project, Eaton will appear as a speaker at the classes.

“Classes wouldn’t have helped me,” said ex-smoker Carol Novak, 63, of Merced. “It’ll help some people.”

She started smoking in 1964 while serving as a drill sergeant in the Marine Corps. “Everyone smoked,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize how bad it was. It was fun — now all the fun’s gone.”

But people must want to quit to go through with it, and everyone has his own way. Novak tried the patch and nicotine gum — with no luck.

Even after three heart attacks and a stroke, she kept on smoking.

She finally quit in March 2007 before joining a couple of group tours to Ireland, Scotland and Africa. “I was conscious that people there wouldn’t want me smoking,” she said. “I’m cautious of the air around me, the environment. And the price of cigarettes went up.

Novak was also encouraged by her longtime friend Lola Barnett, 65, of Atwater.

Barnett started smoking when she was 21, but quit about three years ago. “No one can tell you to quit smoking,” she advised. “My doctor was on my case for 15 years. It has to be an inner motivation.”

Barnett also rode the roller coaster of quitting, then starting up — time and time again.

The two-pack-a-day smoker developed chronic pulmonary obstructive disease about eight years ago. She wound up in the hospital with emphysema about four years ago. “But that didn’t make me stop,” she admitted.

About three years ago, she visited the hospital again — this time with pneumonia. She couldn’t walk without breathing hard. And she returned soon after that with a broken hip. “I found out I had less than 50 percent lung capacity,” she said. “The doctor said, ‘You either quit smoking or you die.’ ”

She invested in nicotine patches after leaving the hospital — and they worked. “That’s a motivating factor: money,” Barnett explained. “Pay money to stop and think twice about smoking. ... I also chew Double Bubble like crazy.”

Constant gum-chewing aside, her health has improved drastically. She walks two to three miles each morning and takes boxing classes. She also enjoys visiting Disneyland without constantly having to spend time in the smokers’ section.

She believes smoking-cessation classes could help some people. “They will be motivated,” Barnett said. “But people need to know that however much you talk to a smoker, something personal needs to spark them to stop.”

“Spark” seems just the right word.

Reporter Dhyana Levey can be reached at 209 385-2472 or