Frank H Quit Smoking for Good

“They were all so supportive”

A free program available throughout RWJBarnabas Health can boost the chances of success.

Giving up smoking is notoriously difficult. But a program through the Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR) at RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH) can help. Called the Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program, the initiative gives smokers hope that they can live healthier lives—and provides tools that lead to lasting success.

Frank Huelster is an example of what program participants can achieve. The 57-year-old Linden resident had smoked since he was about 13. When he finally decided to quit, he was smoking a pack and a half to two packs daily.

“Quitting was about my health,” Frank says. “I was having problems breathing. Even walking up six steps left me exhausted.” He had looked into the Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program but hesitated to join.

“I was concerned that it was going to be difficult, that I would not follow through and that it would be a failure,” he says. “You make all kinds of excuses and have an argument with your own brain about the right path.”

He finally dropped into an online group meeting. “I really liked the way it was set up,” he says. “I thought, ‘Yeah, this is the time. I’ve got to do it.’”

A Mix of Approaches

The state-funded program—available free throughout the RWJBH system— recognizes the difficulties of smoking cessation, including concerns and stresses that can hold people back.

“We meet people where they are,” says Monica Hanna, MPH, CHES, NCTTP, the Nicotine and Tobacco Recovery Program’s assistant director. “We understand patient needs, break the stigma of addiction and provide support for years to make sure people have tools to prevent relapse.”

A team-based, multifaceted approach mixes group support, coping strategies, stress and weight management, medications (usually combination therapies delivered directly to participants’ homes) and long-term follow-up.

“Of the 70 percent of smokers who want to quit, only 5 to 7 percent are successful on their own,” Hanna says. “But when people join our program, success rates can double or even triple, depending on the patients’ readiness to quit and the integration of behavioral modification techniques.”

Frank especially valued the encouragement and guidance he received in group meetings, which can be attended in eight-week sessions or indefinitely for ongoing support.

Group members helped him get back on track when he relapsed one night. “I woke the next day feeling terrible about myself,” Frank says. The group kept him accountable. “I felt an obligation to be truthful,” he says.

The group and its leader, certified tobacco treatment specialist Mariana Gomez, didn’t judge. “They were all so supportive,” Frank says. “What happened yesterday doesn’t affect what happens today or tomorrow. Since then, I haven’t had a single cigarette.”

That was two years ago. Frank now feels healthier, breathes better and has more confidence. “It’s one of the more difficult things I’ve had to do,” he says. “I really feel I accomplished something.”

Learn more about the Institute for Prevention and Recovery programs at RWJBarnabas Health.