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Patients work to kick tobacco habit by practicing mindfulness, accountability

Evelyn Gardner, 61, of Dallas discovered she could sing when she was 10 years old. As a teen, the soprano discovered something else. “When I turned 18, I picked up smoking,” she said. “I thought it made me look cool and sophisticated, like an older woman. As the years went by, I began to notice how it affected my ability to sing.”

Each year, hundreds of patients reach out to Parkland Health & Hospital System searching for help to kick the nicotine habit for good. Gardner is one of them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 37.8 million American adults are smokers. Of those, more than 16 million live with a disease caused by smoking.

“Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and affects a person’s overall health,” said David Balis, MD, Medical Director of Parkland’s Inpatient Smoking Cessation Clinic and Assistant Professor of Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “Health issues related to tobacco usage include cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and ultimately, death.”

Smoking continues to be the number one cause of disease and preventable death in this country, with 480,000 deaths in the U.S. attributed to smoking-related causes. Worldwide, tobacco use causes nearly 6 million deaths per year.

Parkland provides inpatient and outpatient smoking cessation programs. Patients are offered resources, counseling and medication to help them stop consumption of tobacco products. “It’s not easy, but it saves lives,” said Juan Prieto, Senior Public Health Educator and Coordinator of the Smoking Cessation Clinics at Parkland’s Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) health centers.

So far in 2018, more than 373 patients have enrolled in the smoking cessation programs offered at Parkland’s COPC health centers in Dallas County. The programs concentrate on two areas – medication and counseling. “During counseling we talk about the patient’s habits, stresses and triggers,” Prieto said. “Counseling can be done in a private or group setting.”

Gardner, an on-and-off-again smoker who currently smokes five cigars per day, said group counseling sessions made her feel empowered. “During counseling we share our stories, our struggles and our victories,” she said. “We can be honest, without fear of judgment. You realize that if others can quit, so can you.”

Patients also practice meditation and mindfulness exercises and set goals to better their health during the group sessions. “The relaxation techniques we practice help calm my stress,” Gardner said. “Setting health goals in front of my peers helps me stay accountable.”

Medication is also part of the treatment plan. “For many, quitting the habit is difficult because of the physical addiction to nicotine. That’s where medication comes in. It helps reduce cravings, urges and withdrawal symptoms,” Prieto said.
“I’ve been singing for God and my church congregation for more than 40 years. When I smoke I can’t reach those high notes,” Gardner said. “If I want to keep singing, I have to quit smoking. It’s a challenge, but with Parkland’s help I know it’s possible.”

In an effort to promote smoking cessation, Parkland participates in the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout. On Nov. 15 smokers across the nation are encouraged to give up smoking as a first step toward quitting and to raise awareness about this serious health issue.

“The Great American Smokeout provides an opportunity for smokers to start their journey toward a smoke-free life,” Prieto said.

To make an appointment with Parkland’s Smoking Cessation Clinic at the main hospital, call 214-590-5603 or visit To learn more about the Adult Smoking Cessation Program at Parkland COPC health centers, call 214-590-4455.


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