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Butting out with Cold Turkey Trot for the Great American Smoke Out

17 November 2023

From Douglas Stutz

It was a designated date to ruffle the feathers of smokers to butt out.Even just for the day.It was 46 years ago that the American Cancer Association inaugurated the nationwide Great American Smoke Out to encourage Americans to quit smoking. The event is held on the third Thursday of November every year with Navy participation.That tradition at
It was a designated date to ruffle the feathers of smokers to butt out.

Even just for the day.

It was 46 years ago that the American Cancer Association inaugurated the nationwide Great American Smoke Out to encourage Americans to quit smoking. The event is held on the third Thursday of November every year with Navy participation.

That tradition at Naval Hospital Bremerton took place Nov. 16, 2023, and included the command’s [Cold] Turkey Trot 5K run/walk to help raise awareness – and heart rates - on the hidden dangers associated with using tobacco products.

“The GASO Turkey Trot is symbolic in that smoking impairs capacity to engage in aerobic fitness and impedes the ability to meet the Navy’s periodic health assessment goals and expectations. Quitting improves all of that! In fact, quitting and running a 5K [3.1 miles] produce a double benefit from continued tobacco use,” said Patrick Graves, NHB Tobacco Cessation Counselor.

In his long-standing, established counseling role as part of NHB’s Mental Health department, Graves had thought he heard it all on tobacco product usage.

The typical conversation would usually center on the difficulty of modifying, substituting, or quitting the habit. Yet an exchange he had while setting up informational tables and static displays for this year’s GASO managed to cut through the blown smoke with a candid assessment from a Navy veteran.

“This retiree saw me setting up and came over and said, “that stuff [tobacco] is nasty.” I asked about his naval service. He said he did three tours in Vietnam and was also somehow involved in the Bay of Pigs invasion [Cuba, April 1961]. Most Sailors back then smoked almost on a regular basis. Taking a smoke break was routine. Field rations included cigarettes. It was refreshing to hear his take,” shared Graves, who hopes that efforts like the Turkey Trot and visible informational displays convince at least one person to be a quitter and stop smoking for the day.

Graves affirms that being a quitter for just a 24-hour period can bring immediate health benefits to a smoker.

“Within 20 minutes, heart rate and blood pressure drop. In 12 hours, carbon monoxide levels return to normal. By 24 hours, cardiac fitness and mental acuity improve,” said Graves.

Tobacco usage is still prevalent amongst servicemembers. Graves noted that one in five Sailors and one in four Marines use tobacco products.

According to a study conducted from April 2022 to April 2023 by the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division, 26 percent of service members smoke cigarettes – considered the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the U.S.

More than half - 51.61 percent - reported using electronic cigarettes/vaping. There were also over 46 percent of users who indicated they smoked and vaped. The study noted that dual users possibly switched to vaping as a way to cut back or quit cigarettes. Dual use smoking and vaping is not an effective way to protect your health and is more harmful than using just one, cited the study. No vaping product is an FDA-approved or medically endorsed method to quit smoking.

“Tobacco has dangerous carcinogens and vapes can and do explode. It’s all poison. Whether someone is being choosy in picking their poison, it’s still poison,” stated Graces, adding that tobacco products like cigarette brands and different vaping varieties are being directly tailored to attract age-groups.

“Vape manufacturers are targeting young populations and military personnel, much like big tobacco has always done. Tobacco is no longer sold at discounted rates on military installations, but their marketing is still in pursuit of this highly desirable demographic,” Graves said.

Graves also stresses that by butting out a smoker can add to more than just improving their personal health and wellness. They also enhance their professional performance.

“Smoking impacts our operational readiness. A smoker has reduced stamina, diminished physical ability, impaired night vision, reduced mental acuity, reduced lung acuity, more frequent infections, increased need for water and even slower healing times from illness or injury,” stated Graves.

When asked what advice he gives to someone who smokes and is contemplating to butt out, Graves replied, “for anyone thinking to give quitting a try, try it! If anyone has quit for 30 days, three months or a whole year and discovers they aren’t happy, they can always go back to that nasty, healthy and costly – a pack of cigarettes in Washington costs $8.57, the 10th most expensive state –smoking habit.

For Patricia Skinner, NHB Health Promotion and Wellness coordinator, organizing the Turkey Trot helped lay the foundation of routinely providing an organized fun run on a monthly basis.

“Every run is open to everyone. We’re going to have the opportunity to have a monthly theme to encourage participation. We have re-started the ‘Walk Across Washington’ and ‘Mt Rainier Climb’ challenges by having staff count their steps and count the stairs they climb. It all adds up to improving a person’s fitness level,” explained Skinner.

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