By Tom Spencer, Staff Writer

TOM SPENCER/STAFF UNH Substance Awareness through Functional Education (SAFE) peer group member Jane Garofalo and Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs educator/counselor Melissa Garvey.

TOM SPENCER/STAFF
UNH Substance Awareness through Functional Education (SAFE) peer group member Jane Garofalo and Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs educator/counselor Melissa Garvey.

The University of New Hampshire hosted the Great American Smokeout, an annual event to help smokers quit, in the Dimond library courtyard on Nov. 20 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Great American Smokeout is a national event held annually by the American Cancer society. This is the society’s 39th year of the event, but UNH’s 13th year of participation.

The Dimond courtyard was lined with signs displaying the health benefits of quitting smoking. There was also hot chocolate, free quit kits and health facts about smoking.

The location was chosen because it is a popular place for students to grab a smoke between classes, according to sophomore Jane Garofalo, a member of Substance Awareness through Functional Education peer group at UNH.

“It’s hard for people trying to quit to step up and say ‘I’m ready to quit,’” Garofalo said. “It’s usually a mom or peer stepping in, giving them a quit kit and showing concern.”

The effort was part of a larger public health movement against tobacco use at UNH, according to Melissa Garvey, the alcohol, tobacco and other drugs educator for UNH Health Services.

“The goal of the UNH Great American Smokeout 2014 is to increase awareness and educate students about the dangers of tobacco use and to inspire tobacco users to consider the resources available to help them quit,” Garvey said. “Each year, the Office of Health Education and Promotion at Health Services attempts to heighten awareness around the UNH smoking and tobacco policy which mandates individuals be 20 feet from any building entrance or air intake unit.”  

Over all, Garvey considered the event a success, reporting 56 conversations with people, 16 of whom knew smokers and wanted to help them quit and six of whom were actual smokers looking for tips.

Among the displays was a collection of household items that contain some of the chemicals found in cigarettes. These included Lysol spray, Parson’s All Purpose Ammonia cleaner, acetone, mouse poison, a butane lighter and a battery. 

According to Garvey, smoking is a crucial health subject for the college-age demographic.

“Research has informed us that very few people begin smoking after the age of 25. In fact, 99 percent of smokers started by age 26 so this is an important health topic for our college population of 18-24 year olds from a public health standpoint,” Garvey said.

Some of the other resources available to UNH students who wish to quit smoking include “one-on-one supportive coaching, hypnosis, medical acupuncture, medication evaluations and work surrounding stress reduction skills. Health services offers specific stress reduction counseling, self-led biofeedback programs, massage therapy, light therapy and downloadable guided meditations on our website,” Garvey said.

These aids are designed to help students overcome the addictive aspect of nicotine, but not every student was impressed with the program.

Benjamin Fisher, a sophomore history major at UNH, had no interest in the quit kits or the event itself. However, he does make attempts to cut back on his own smoking as much as possible purely through willpower. 

“[Smoking] is obviously a bad habit. Whether or not to quit is a personal choice that each smoker deals with,” Fisher said. “As long as you’re not forcing [quitting] on people, bringing awareness is a good thing. Replacement habits might be helpful to some people.”

Part of smoking’s appeal lies in the nicotine content, according to Garvey.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive drug,” Garvey said. “Like cocaine or heroin, the body becomes dependent on nicotine quickly.” 

But many smokers also face the challenge of breaking the physical habits associated with smoking. 

“For many smokers, learning to ‘live’ without this action/behavior in their lives is just as difficult to change as withdrawing from the actual physical addiction to the nicotine,” Garvey said.

“I encourage students looking to explore their cessation options to make an appointment with me through the office of Health Education and Promotion,” Garvey said.