BMC smoking cessation program offers five-step plan to kicking butts

Banner Staff | 1/21/2009, 4:44 a.m.

With participants’ mindsets changed, behavioral modifications need to follow, Sokolove says.

“If you usually pick up your cigarettes at the local bodega or grocery store or variety store, once your quit date comes, you can’t go to that store again for a full year,” he explains. “If you usually smoked when you had a cup of coffee in the morning, you have to switch to tea for a certain period of time … [These are] small little things that change the habits of your day-to-day living, so that it reminds you that you can’t smoke.”

The final step in Sokolove’s program is promoting support from participants’ social circles.

“We have kin or friends or both make five signs,” he says. “Your fiancée might make a sign that would say, ‘I am so proud of you for stopping smoking. You smell so good and you look terrific. Keep up the good work. I love you.’

“Then,” he continues, “if you’re the kind of person that smokes right when you wake up in the morning, she’d put up one on the mirror in your bathroom. If you’ve got to have a cigarette with a cup of coffee, she’d put one above the coffee maker. If you smoke while you’re watching football, she might hang one over the TV set, and we’d have her put one inside your car and one in your cubicle that you can look at when you’re at work.”

The support also comes from within the cessation group, Sokolove adds.

“Everybody stops at the same time, in a group” in a unified quit date on the day of the fifth session, says Sokolove. “Then, the sessions after that are spent talking about how you’ve done and … if you haven’t stopped, we talk about why you haven’t been able to stop and what you can do about it.”

Sokolove notes that some people who come through the program just aren’t ready to quit. Though 40 to 50 people might sign up for the classes, less than one-fourth typically show up to the first session, he says, and of those, only about six or eight usually stay with the program beyond the initial meeting.

“The people who make it all the way to the end? That’s usually about 4 or 5,” he says. “… As you can see, there’s an attrition rate.”

But those who tough it out and make it through often stay quit for long periods of time, Sokolove says — due in part to the support of loved ones and cessation classmates, which he says can provide the same anxiety-reducing feeling that many smokers associate with nicotine.

“The more you feel loved and connected to someone — the more you know that you are attached to and loved by somebody — the more you can endure the uncomfortable experience,” he says.

Patients at Boston Medical Center or BMC-affiliated community health centers who are interested in participating in the BMC smoking cessation program can have their physicians call 617-638-8670 for a referral. For more information, visit www.bmc.org.