Ex-smokers featured at 'Smokeout'

November 17, 2011

Students at the HCC Great American Smokeout.A student signs a no smoking testimonial.

Lauren Peck smoked what she hopes will be her last cigarette on the way to lunch Wednesday. "I'm going to try to quit," said the 18-year-old, first-semester HCC student from Easthampton.

She hadn't planned to quit, but then she saw the tables and displays set up in the lobby outside the HCC cafeteria for the Great American Smokeout and was inspired to try. "I wasn't really expecting all this to be here," she said.

The Great American Smokeout is part of a national anti-smoking campaign held annually. This year's event at HCC was a collaboration between the Springfield Tobacco Free Partnership (an initiative of the Gandara Center), HCC Student Activities, HCC Health Services and the American Cancer Society.

"We always do something," said Mitchell Pysznik, coordinator of HCC Health Services. "This is the best collaboration we've had that I can remember. What's nice is that it is centered around people who quit."

Indeed, the highlight of the event was a series of posters featuring the pictures and stories of former smokers--the "Ex-Smokers Hall of Fame."

"These people are former smokers from Holyoke and Springfield who agreed to tell their stories about how they quit," said Megan Griffin, from the Springfield Tobacco Free Partnership. "It's hard to quit. This exhibit shows there is hope for people who want to quit, that there are people in our community who quit and are being successful, and hopefully their stories will inspire others to quit."

One of those featured ex-smokers is Erin O'Brien, learning specialist in HCC's Office for Students with Disabilities and Deaf Services. O'Brien smoked for five years before she quit. She's been smoke free for 26 years. What motivated her to quit? "It was no longer a choice," she said. "I was pregnant."

Her testimonial encourages smokers to find their own reason for quitting. "Ask yourself, what would motivate me to stop and what type of supports do I need?"

Students and staff who passed through the lobby were provided with literature about the health effects of smoking and resources and tips about how to stop. "We're just here giving out information about quitting," said Elizabeth Golen, coordinator of HCC student activities. "We're not against smokers."

One of the displays--"What's in a butt?"--showed an X-ray image of a cigarette and a 20-page list of all the chemicals used to make one. Pysznik stood in front of a poster featuring photographs of the inside of one of HCC's many cigarette disposal bins that looked like it was coated with sticky, thick brown grease. "If someone is a smoker," he said, "this is what the inside of their lungs will look like."

Passersby were asked to fill out their own ex-smoking or non-smoking testimonials and add them to a display. Peck filled one out and wrote that her motivation for quitting was her boyfriend, who has been urging her to quit, and her friend, who is allergic to cigarette smoke.

Next to the line that said, "I've been smoke free for," she wrote: "10 minutes."


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