After 30 years of smoking, Paducah resident Frank Schuler knew he wanted to quit. He just didn’t know how.
Schuler wasn’t facing any major health issues, but he was certain his life would be better if he stopped smoking. “I’m not stupid,” Schuler said. “I knew smoking would catch up with me.”
Schuler tried a variety of methods, such as quitting cold turkey and having friends hold his cigarettes for him. He even visited a hypnotist. “The hypnotist implanted the suggestion that if we lit up another cigarette, it would taste like burnt rubber,” Schuler said. “Six hours later, I tried it to see if it was true. It wasn’t.”
Schuler finally stumbled across an advertisement for a 13-week course in smoking cessation at a Paducah hospital. The classes taught the Cooper-Clayton method, a combination of nicotine replacement and behavioral therapy developed by former smoker Thomas Cooper and addiction specialist Richard Clayton, who were faculty members at the University of Kentucky.
Schuler showed the ad to a co-worker and fellow smoker. “I said, ‘Gosh, instead of trying to figure out how to do this on our own, why don’t we enroll in this program and see if we can learn the right way?’”
The Cooper-Clayton method consists of free, hour-long sessions held once a week at local hospitals. In the introductory session, participants are asked to continue smoking as usual over the course of the next week, in order to tally how many cigarettes they smoke and when.
In the next session, the program’s facilitators work with the group to determine what triggers an individual’s urge to use tobacco, said Jamie Smith, a cancer control specialist with the Kentucky Cancer Program.
“We have them make a list. If you are craving a cigarette, what can you do to get your mind off it?” Smith said.
“People may associate getting up in the morning with having a cup of coffee and a cigarette. We try to eliminate both, and suggest maybe sitting down and having a glass of orange juice instead,” Smith said.
Participants also choose a nicotine replacement method, such as lozenges, gum or patches, which they must purchase themselves.
“The patch is probably the best because it’s dummy-proof,” Smith said. “With the gum and the lozenges, you have to worry about pH balances in the mouth. You can put (the patch) on first thing in the morning and not have to worry about anything else during the day.”
The next weeks help aspiring nonsmokers learn to break their addiction. Participants spend a few minutes of every session watching a video that discusses an aspect of smoking cessation, from depression and withdrawal symptoms to diet and exercise habits. After the video, group members talk to facilitators and each other about the difficulties and successes they encounter.
Although there is no easy way to quit smoking — “I slapped on the first patch on Friday morning and went through sheer hell that weekend,” Schuler said — the method works better than many others.
Compared to other methods, Cooper-Clayton offers the highest long-term sustainability rate, at 47 percent. “Other support groups without behavioral modification are at about 20 percent sustainability, so you have a greater chance of staying a nonsmoker by doing the Cooper-Clayton method,” Smith said.
Smith added that the method is so successful because it teaches smokers to cope with everyday stress, rather than isolating them, as rehabilitation for other addictions would.
“With the Cooper-Clayton method, you’re equipped with the information to stay in your same environment and go through your daily life. That makes it easier to transition out of the class into life without cigarettes,” Smith said.
Although the system strongly recommends that participants quit on the first day of their work week, Schuler made it through the weekend and successfully completed the Cooper-Clayton course. Schuler hasn’t had a cigarette since he finished the program nearly 13 years ago.
“I don’t think about it much anymore, maybe once in a blue moon. But there are no more overpowering urges,” Schuler said. Since he became a non-smoker, Schuler has taken up running and has even completed a half marathon.
Schuler also spent a few years working as a facilitator for newcomers to the Cooper-Clayton classes, providing the kind of support that might be lacking for those who try to quit on their own. This is especially needed in Kentucky, where 25.2 percent of the population uses tobacco, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“It was my observation that people who never smoked, when you tell them that you’ve quit smoking after a week or 10 days, they’re like, ‘Well that’s over with. Let’s get on with life,’” Schuler said. “It betrays that they don’t know what it’s like. But going into the program, you’re dealing with people in the same boat that you are.”
The next session of smoking cessation classes will be taught at Western Baptist Hospital on Aug. 24 at 5:30 p.m. To register, call 442-1310.
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8668.