Lynn Antil (left), FirstHealth FirstQuit certified tobacco treatment specialist and Ebony Russell (right), a FirstQuit participant. Russell joined the FirstQuit program through a worksite wellness initiative and has been successful at staying tobacco-free.
PINEHURST – Ebony Russell, a 25-year-old Aberdeen resident, started smoking when she was 14 years old.
“I’ve worked in the food and beverage business for so long,” she says. “People tend to smoke in this industry, and it just came natural for me.”
Russell also grew up in a family environment with heavy smokers. So what was the turning point for her to finally quit smoking?
When notice of a six-week FirstQuit tobacco-cessation program was being offered at her workplace, St. Joseph of the Pines, Russell didn’t hesitate to sign up.
“I’ve seen so much harm because of tobacco,” she says. “When the FirstQuit class was offered, I knew it was the time for me to stop – not just for me but for my family. I want my kids to grow up in a different type of home then I did.”
FirstQuit is a comprehensive program offered through FirstHealth Community Health Services that uses the latest techniques to assist tobacco users through the process of quitting smoking, chewing and other forms of tobacco use. The program was established more than 10 years ago, and has helped countless individuals in Moore, Montgomery, Richmond and Hoke counties quit tobacco.
For Russell, actually enrolling in the class was the hardest – and most shocking – part of her FirstQuit experience.
“On the first day, I sat there and couldn’t believe I was taking the class,” she says. “To know that in just six weeks I would no longer be a smoker…that made it all worth it.”
Russell says the class and process of quitting came naturally. Because of the encouragement and motivation from her FirstQuit certified tobacco treatment specialist, Lynn Antil, it was actually somewhat easy.
“Lynn didn’t pressure me,” Russell says. “I reported my progress to her every week, and every week I received the same encouragement and support as the week before. Knowing that I was checking in with her and she stood behind me 100 percent was comforting.”
After six weeks, Russell had not only accomplished her goal to quit smoking, but had also accomplished other goals she set at the beginning of the quit class: finish her GED, enroll at Sandhills Community College and get healthy by enrolling in an Employee Health Improvement Program offered through her FirstCarolinaCare insurance.
On top of all that, after the class ended, she got a promotion at work.
“Since quitting, good things have happened for me,” she says.
Russell hopes to encourage her two young children never to start smoking.
“If I had to tell them one thing, it would be that they are stronger than any cigarette – Lynn taught me that,” she says.
According to Antil, her job is to support people who want to quit.
“All I did was encourage Ebony to start the quit process,” she says. “She had to do the hard part and actually quit. I’m so proud of her success and how she has carried that over into other parts of her life as well. She exemplifies what can be accomplished if one sets goals and works hard.”
FirstQuit helps participants create a quit plan that will work for them. The program can be offered at a worksite or at one of the FirstQuit offices. Participants can meet in a small group or one-to-one setting.
“We cover several different topics during the class,” Antil says. “We teach that tobacco use is an addiction; we discuss the benefits and barriers of quitting; we help identify triggers; we find alternative strategies to cope with cravings and stress; and, of course, we are there for support. The hardest and most important part is making the decision to quit.”
Nicotine patches, gum and/or lozenges are available to assist with the quitting process.
FirstQuit fees run from $5 to $50, based on household income, unless covered through a worksite employee wellness program. The program is offered in Hoke, Moore, Montgomery and Richmond counties.
For assistance in quitting tobacco or for more information on the FirstQuit program, call toll-free (888) 534-5333 or visit www.firsthealth.org. FirstQuit also offers a teen tobacco cessation program, FirstQuitY, for teens 13 to 18 years old