“I started smoking in my late teens,” says Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital’s Emergency Department Operations Coordinator Patty Pizzano. “Back then, we started young and weren’t really sure that it was all that bad to smoke. It wasn’t until later that we learned that it’s in fact an addiction and that it’s really bad for you.”
Over the years, with the exception of her pregnancies, Patty continued to smoke. Sometimes she smoked just five cigarettes a day. Sometimes she smoked a whole pack a day. The amount of cigarettes she smoked was based on the opportunity she had to do it. “You can’t smoke anywhere at all anymore,” she says of her recent habits. “I didn’t smoke at work or even on my way to work. But when I got home, the door would be open."
Now Patty is a mother and a grandmother and living in a world where smoking is not as socially acceptable as it was when she first picked up the habit. “All of us that smoke want to quit. There is a social stigma that comes with smoking,” she says. But Patty admits she was nervous about quitting. She worried that the process would be difficult, that she would become anxious or irritated and that she would pick up another bad habit like overeating.
That is until she came across the Partners in Helping You Quit (PiHQ) research study. As a Partners HealthCare employee, medication to help smokers cut down on or quit smoking is available with no co-pay to those enrolled in Partners medical coverage when using generic products and medications without a generic equivalent. The benefit includes nicotine patch, lozenge, gum or inhaler, as well as the generic forms of bupropion (Zyban) or varenicline (Chantix) with a prescription. To help smokers get the most from this health insurance benefit, employees like Patty can enroll in the free PiHQ research study, which is designed to help smokers cut down on and quit smoking. The study is testing which of two programs is most effective in helping employees quit smoking. Smokers who join the PiHQ research study are randomly assigned to one of two programs, both of which provide a personal tobacco coach and offer help that is private, confidential and tailored to employees’ needs.
“At first, when I got the email about the PiHQ research study, I deleted it,” Patty says. “But then I went back to it. I thought it might be an opportunity to have some guidance, so I responded.”
When Chantix was recommended for Patty, she was hesitant to try it at first. “It’s a pretty scary thing if you read about it on the Internet,” she says. “I’m going to be suicidal, homicidal, the whole thing! I didn’t know if I could do it. I remember taking it the first day and telling my whole family, ‘If you see any strange behavior, get help.’ But I didn’t have any of that. There were no horrible nightmares. Maybe a few vivid dreams, but that’s it. It wasn’t bad. I understand people’s fear. I know that no one wants to take this medication, but my tobacco coach was able to make me comfortable enough to try it. So I took the step because quitting smoking was important to me. I am amazed that it actually worked.”
In fact, the medication worked extremely well and Patty was surprised at how easy it was to quit with help from her tobacco coach. When she did struggle, her medication was adjusted. At one point, she added nicotine lozenges and did the behavioral modifications that were suggested. With guidance, she was able to get over every bump in the road and now (after three months of medication) she can say proudly that she is a non-smoker. “It’s a burden lifted,” she says. “I no longer worried about uncomfortable situations and where I’m going to smoke. Someone told me it’s the most important thing I can do for my life and my health, and I think that is absolutely true. I feel confident that I can walk a little further or run a little further. I even joined a gym.”
Patty credits the PiHQ research study and her tobacco coach for her success. At first, she was concerned that a coach would not understand the feelings and experiences of a long-term smoker. But, she found that the combination of medication and behavioral support worked for her. “The program did a fantastic job!” she says. “Their knowledge is based on research. It was great.”
The hardest part for Patty was making the decision to quit smoking. “Will I miss it? Will I be anxious? Am I going to want to eat? Will I crave it? I don’t really have time for that in my life right now,” she says of her reluctance. “But I took the step. I never felt pressured to quit. I felt that my tobacco coach was truly there to help and I took advantage of the help. I took the advice. Every single thing that they said, I did it. I followed all the rules and it worked. It’s amazing. It’s an accomplishment for me. I think that more people should take the step and not be so afraid. I think they will be surprised. Worst case, it might not be for you. But at least you made the effort.”
To learn more about the PiHQ research study, call 617-724-2205 or email PiHQ@partners.org.
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