Geralyn Laut, tobacco cessation counselor at the Meriden Department of Health and Human Services, runs a support group called Tobacco Free Tuesdays, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the health department clinic, 165 Miller St.
The group welcomes anyone who lives or works in Meriden, Wallingford, Southington or Plainville.
Laut was hired in December 2011 with a grant to fund a seven-weeks-to-quit program. It began in January 2012, capitalizing on the common New Year’s resolution to quit smoking.
At the end of the seven weeks, Laut realized people needed ongoing help, not just with quitting but staying off tobacco, and continued the support meetings every Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty powerful addiction and the relapse rate is quite high,” Laut said Monday.
She also offers individual counseling, and can provide 12 weeks of over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapy medication, including the patch, gum and lozenges, dispensed in two-week supplies. She also helps smokers access prescription drugs, like Chantix, from their doctors.
Meriden’s tobacco cessation program is funded by a grant from the state Tobacco and Health Trust Fund, administered through the Connecticut Department of Public Health. The 12-week supplies of nicotine replacement therapy medication costs about $250, which the grant funds.
Laut said when she gets calls from people wanting to quit, she directs them to the program.
“If I didn’t have a weekly meeting, I’d lose that person,” she said. “There is a very small window when people decide to quit smoking and when people take action.”
When smokers use a combination of counseling, nicotine replacement therapy and the weekly support group, it helps people develop coping strategies and skills that increase chances of long-term success in quitting, she said.
People call when they have cravings, she reminds them of reasons why they quit.
“I’m a friend to some of these people now, and I can motivate and encourage them to stay tobacco-free,” she said.
Support group attendees shared their stories with the Record-Journal on Tuesday. They were told by Laut only to provide their first names.
People attend who have been tobacco-free anywhere from three weeks to four years. Many said they began smoking as teenagers. Now in their 50s and 60s, several now have health problems that motivate them to stay off cigarettes.
Shelia, a mother of six children, five of whom smoke, is in her 70s. After 50 years of smoking, she has COPD and heart problems, so she has an oxygen tank with her at all times.
“We’re fortunate to have her, but… we only wish our paths had crossed 20 years ago,” Laut said about Shelia.
Shelia has the longest clean streak, four years, of anyone in the group. However, she said, she has tried to quit more times than she can remember.
“One of the characteristics of addiction is tolerance,” Laut said. “You build up a level that your body is accustomed to, and that’s how much it will always want.”
Ann quit smoking two years ago by combining the program’s free nicotine patches, and individual therapy with Laut.
Quitting smoking coincided with Ann’s recovery from other addictions. Laut said there are misconceptions about smoking in the recovery community, an attitude of “first things first,” and “tobacco is the lesser of all evils.” But quitting smoking increases long-term sobriety.
To contact Laut about tobacco cessation, 203-630-4003 or e-mail BeTobaccoFree@meridenct.gov. The Connecticut Quitline offers free support 24/7 at 1-800-784-8669.