Bill Wilson earned the right to his nickname, “Big Smoky.”  He took his first puff of a cigarette at the young age of 12, even “lighting up” in the school hallways with his friends.  Now, at 74 years old, he has smoked for 62 years, but he’s not planning to make that number 63!  

            Bill and his wife, Beverly, recently completed the ACT Center for Tobacco Treatment program at OCH Regional Medical Center.  The program is one of nine satellite centers in the state that are affiliated with the ACTCenter in Jackson at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.  The treatment plan includes an initial visit, six treatment sessions, medications, and follow-up appointments; all at no cost to participants.  The grant from the ACT program pays for the program.  

            “This is all in an effort to make Mississippi smoke free,” said OCH Respiratory Therapist and Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist Rita Baldwin, RRT, who leads the intensive treatment program at OCH.  “It’s never too late to quit.  Research shows as little as two weeks after quitting, a person’s risk of a heart attack begins to drop and lung function begins to improve.  One year after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is half that of smoker, and 15 years after quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker,” stated Baldwin.      

            Baldwin said it’s not uncommon to find people from Wilson’s generation who started smoking at a very young age.  “I’ve had some patients who started when they were ten years old.  Smoking was a part of socializing in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and people weren’t aware of the harm it was doing to their bodies,” stated Baldwin. 

            Wilson begrudgingly joined the program at OCH after his wife signed him up.  At that time, he was smoking up to a pack to a pack-and-a-half of cigarettes every day and had tried to “kick the habit” at least 15 times.  Decades of smoking led to Bill developing COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which makes it harder for him to breathe and causes a persistent cough, a symptom that prompted his motivation for quitting.  “Rita asked me at the first meeting why I wanted to quit, and I told her because I didn’t want my cough that I had developed to scare the deer off this hunting season,” said Wilson.  

            Beverly’s motivation for joining the program was to get her husband to quit.  “I was really glad to find out that OCH was offering this class right here at home.  Our community needs this program, and it’s so convenient and has certainly made a difference in our lives,” said Beverly.  When Bill and Beverly met in the National Guard, friends nicknamed her “little smoky,” however, unlike Bill, she started smoking in her 20s while in nursing school but never became addicted to tobacco.  According to Baldwin, not everyone who tries tobacco becomes addicted to the drug. 

            “Some people have a stronger addiction to nicotine than others.  Bill took to smoking like a duck to water.  The first time he tried tobacco, his body loved the nicotine and his brain signaled that it wanted more,” said Baldwin, adding that being in an environment where most people smoked played a major part in his addiction. “Statistics show less than 4% of people can quit on their own.  People need encouragement and support, and that’s why we’ve started this program at OCH,” said Baldwin.

            The class covers several topics such as education about the affects of tobacco, support from family and friends and new lifestyle techniques.  “Every person has to recognize his triggers.  For instance, if you like to smoke after dinner, then find something else to do such as taking a walk or visiting a neighbor until the urge subsides,” explained Baldwin, adding that the urges will eventually get weaker and further apart.  The treatment program also includes nicotine replacement therapy and medications when, and if, necessary under the participant’s personal physician’s orders. 

            Bill keeps cinnamon drops in his shirt pocket and said it’s one of the “crutches” he’s used to help wean off of the nicotine.  “It’s tough. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s easy, but these ladies who lead this program really know what they’re doing and have helped me come a long way,” said Bill.  “The class is very well run and informative.  I would highly recommend the program to those who haven’t seriously considered quitting because it might open their eyes.”

            After all, Bill didn’t want to be in the class when he attended his first session on July 30, but soon after that, he set a target quit date of August 23 and actually quit on August 29.  He admitted, however, just the day before his last meeting that he had slipped and smoked a cigarette. 

            “The fact that Bill has smoked for most of his life and has only had one cigarette is a major breakthrough.  Chances are he will slip-up, but hopefully, with him using the tools we provide the urges will get less and less,” said Baldwin.    

            Meredith Hawkins, a tobacco treatment specialist who also helps with the class and is training to become certified, said Bill’s honesty is one of the most important steps to quitting.  “One of the first subjects we address in the support group is being open and honest because if you’re lying, you’re not ready to quit. We encourage open dialogue and would never want someone to feel embarrassed or ashamed because then he wouldn’t want to come back,” explained Hawkins.
            Baldwin said Bill is a perfect example that it’s never too late to quit. “We highly recommend for those who have attempted to quit on their own to join this class,” said Baldwin.  “Don’t feel like you’re a failure because you’re not.  We can help!” 

            For more information, visit and click on “community outreach” on the right-hand side.  Several classes are offered throughout the year; however, space is limited!  To enroll in a class, call Baldwin at 615-3039.

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