Don't be a 'butt-head,' kick the habit

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Katherine Windish
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
When weighing the pros and cons of tobacco use, the list of cons seems like it would be enough to scare anyone away, and yet 23 percent of the Air Force still uses tobacco. Why?

Many people didn't plan to become tobacco users. Many followed the old cliché "I only smoke when I drink." Some use tobacco for weight loss, others for stress management. No matter the reasons, nicotine doesn't care if you meant to be a user or not - it's still addictive. Just four cigarettes can give a person a 90 percent chance of becoming addicted, according to, a new Department of Defense site recommended by the Aviano Health and Wellness Center geared toward educating servicemembers and their families about tobacco use and providing the tools to quit.

The site offers one-on-one live help sessions with a tobacco cessation coach, interactive games, tools to create a "quit plan" and to calculate how much a user will save by quitting and educational articles including stories featuring tobacco's health effects, quitting tips and special events.

"Nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds of taking a puff and it tells the brain you want more," according to the website. It creates a similar reaction to what is seen when using cocaine or heroin and the nicotine is actually more addictive than heroin. The 'casual user' starts craving cigarettes, smoking without thinking about it, rationalizing or justifying their smoking, choosing friends, jobs, or activities that allow them to smoke and avoiding those that do not. They continue to use despite good reasons for quitting, the website noted.

Psychological habits are then formed along with the physical habit - the user becomes accustomed to the feel of inhaling and exhaling the smoke, having something to do with their hands and mouth, as stated by

"On average, it takes about six to seven attempts to be successful at quitting," said Capt. Tanya Manning, HAWC health promotion manager. "Tobacco users associate their habit with drinking, smoke breaks, barbecues. This association requires a lifestyle change and makes the first one to two weeks the hardest in the quitting process."

Another reason that makes the first few weeks most difficult is they are still suffering from nicotine withdrawal, said Captain Manning. This leads to irritability, anxiety, restlessness, impatience, difficulty sleeping, sweating, tremors, headaches and dizziness are all common side effects of nicotine withdrawal. During this time, their bodies are also cleaning out the debris left behind by the tobacco use, causing an increase in coughing, the captain continued.

These side-effects stabilize after about three months, but if they are too odious in the meantime, there are several ways to combat them, according to Captain Manning. There are medications that can be prescribed when tobacco users enroll in the behavior modification program offered by the HAWC that can be taken to both help with cigarette cravings and keep nicotine withdrawal manageable.

Also, according to, other types of tobacco like cigars, spit tobacco and hookah are even more addictive than cigarettes. Cigars contain anywhere from 100 to 444 milligrams of nicotine compared to 8.4 milligrams in the average cigarette. Spit tobacco contains three to four times more nicotine than cigarettes. Hookah contains 36 times more tar, 15 times more carbon monoxide, and 70 percent more nicotine than a cigarette. The deeper inhalations also allow more than 100 times the amount of smoke inhaled from one cigarette into a smoker's system.

Tobacco addiction causes a number of health problems by negatively affecting the heart, lungs, eyes, nose, throat, mouth, skin, male and female reproductive systems, breasts, bones, blood and digestive system and is a known contributing factor to several types of cancer, according to More than 127 million current or former smokers in the U.S. are living with a tobacco related illness, the website stated.

"According to AFMOA, it was found that tobacco use costs the Defense Department $875 million annually in direct medical expenditures and lost productivity," said Captain Manning. "This shows how negative effects on the member's health can also severely impact the mission."

Tobacco use also causes increased susceptibility to chronic bronchitis, influenza, colds, other respiratory infections and many types of cancer, according to These kinds of sicknesses take personnel away from their jobs and detrimentally affect the mission, Captain Manning said.

Smoking not only negatively affects the user's health, but also the health of those around them. In the United States, exposure causes an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths among nonsmoking adults each year, as stated by

In addition to the adverse health effects, tobacco use can put a major dent in the tobacco user's wallet.

"The average E-3 tobacco user spends one month's pay per year on their habit," said Captain Manning.

One of the tools used by the health promotion flight in the HAWC is a "cost of smoking calculator," on, which measures the amount of money a tobacco user would spend on cigarettes after different increments of time, depending on how many packs of cigarettes are smoked per day.

"If an Airman took the $5 a day they would normally spend on a pack of cigarettes and consistently put it into a thrift savings plan they could earn an estimated $88,961 in the twentieth year," said Stewart Caplan, Airman and Family Readiness Center financial advisor at the Pentagon.

There are many factors involved in tobacco cessation, dependent on the person who is quitting.

"People who use tobacco need to look at multiple ways to quit, not one thing will work for everyone," said Captain Manning. "Use whatever works for you."

The HAWC provides classes to help tobacco users find the way that is right for them. Advice is given for each person's special needs based on what side effects they are experiencing and what their road blocks are.

The HAWC uses nicotine reduction therapy and behavior modification programs. They also introduce tobacco users to websites that offer games, competitions and live chat programs to give quitters more options.

"When polled during the Web Health assessment taken before the required Public Health Assessment, 50-60 percent of tobacco users said they want to quit within the next 30 days," said Captain Manning. "The goal of the DOD and Air Force Medical Operations Agency is to have 100 percent accessibility for people who want to quit."

To make tobacco cessation classes more accessible to all personnel working different shifts, Captain Manning has shortened it to two sessions, while still covering all information. If a member is unable to attend any of the classes, they may schedule a private appointment at the HAWC.

"The website,, is also a great resource for anyone who would like to quit but has a busy schedule and can't attend a class," said Captain Manning. "It offers all the tools you need to succeed, including live web chat to support you. To receive medication to help with nicotine withdrawal symptoms, tobacco users can call me or speak to their health care professional."

For more information about the HAWC tobacco cessation classes or to make an appointment, contact your local HAWC.