TERRE HAUTE —
Terre Haute native Mary Wence has been a tobacco smoker for more than 30 years, but Saturday, she wore a black T-shirt with the words, “I’m quitting like a pro,” before embarking on a mile walk to help kick the habit.
Wence was one of more than a dozen local residents who met on a bright, sunny Saturday at Dobbs Park in Terre Haute for a morning walk with a special purpose: to help smokers quit.
“I want to quit,” Wence said. “It’s just one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
These walkers took part in the launch of Path to Freedom, a new walking group for people who are trying to quit tobacco and for former tobacco users, spearheaded by The Vigo County Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Coalition.
“The goal is to help reduce the tobacco burden in our community,” said organizer Libby Ray.
Tobacco use affects a person’s quality of life and shortens their life expectancy, Ray said.
But in addition to negative health effects, it also places an economic burden on communities, with billions of dollars annually being spent on medical costs and loss of productivity, Ray added.
Smoking is one of the risk factors for premature death and chronic disease that is preventable, experts have said.
“This walking group is for current smokers who are looking for ways to stop smoking and for people who have successfully quit and are looking to help others down that same path to freedom from tobacco use,” according to a news release. The group also hopes to provide social support and ongoing education.
The open walking group will meet every Saturday, and participants can walk at any distance or comfortable pace. Organizers hope that the walk will be an ongoing activity, and that participants play a more active role in planning future walks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 68 percent of adult smokers in the U.S. say they would like to quit tobacco completely. But because nicotine is highly addictive, quitting can be difficult.
“It is the most addictive thing I’ve ever done,” Wence, 54, said of the habit that started when she was about 18 years old. When she started, most people did not know of the negative effects of smoking tobacco, she said. Both of her parents died of lung cancer.
Wence has tried to quit several times in the past but was unsuccessful. But this time, with the help of the walking group, she is more determined than ever.
According to the American Cancer Society, the health benefits of quitting tobacco begin as soon as 20 minutes after someone’s last cigarette, with a decrease in blood pressure. Health risks, such as heart attack, stroke and various types of cancer, continue to diminish over time when tobacco users quit for good.
Physical activity helps people quit smoking and helps those who have quit to keep the habit off, experts have said.
“Individuals who exercise are less likely to smoke, and engaging in exercise may be able to help smokers quit,” according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Scholars have long studied the link between smoking and physical activity.
“Physical activity decreases the desire to smoke, reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms, and positively influences factors such as perceived ability to cope and self-esteem, which in turn can protect against initiation of, or return to, smoking,” according to nicotine
Walking can help release stress and improve mood, which may help people quit smoking or maintain smoking cessation, some studies have stated.
“Regular physical activity in adolescence may be an important contributor for choosing and continuing to adopt non-smoking behavior in adulthood,” the website also stated. The basis for its information was a 2007 study on the link between physical activity and smoking in young adulthood.
Several of the walkers at Dobbs Park on Saturday were non-smokers and former smokers who wished to offer support.
Carrie Evans, a former smoker and walking group organizer, was one of them.
“I want to support people who are trying to quit smoking, as someone who has experienced the struggle before,” Evans, who wore a white T-shirt with the words “Quit Buddy,” said.
Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett and representatives of several local health care providers were also present.
Community member Kim Mitchell and her 10-year-old granddaughter Nicole Jenkins were there to both get exercise and give support.
Although a non-smoker, Mitchell said the issue is close to her heart because her father — a former smoker — died of lung cancer. She also has kids who smoke.
“I’m here just to support those who want to kick the habit and get healthy,” she said.
Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@ tribstar.com.