Five years ago, Bonnie Riely took a class that would change her life.
Riely, who had smoked for 32 years, had enrolled in an eight-week program, "Freedom From Tobacco," which would help her become smoke-free.
"I thought I had to quit that first night," she said Wednesday. "This is a life changing event. It's a journey."
However, during the first four weeks of the class, students learned about cessation techniques, but were still able to smoke. At one class, Riely brought a pack of Basic Ultra Lights and set them in front of her on the table. The class' facilitator, Renae Byre, the director of tobacco prevention at First District Health Unit, quickly scooped them up and put them in her pocket. "You can have these after class," Byre had said to her.
Riely's attitude changed and by the end of the class, she was smoke-free. She later returned to the class, but as a panelist on a panel of former smokers.
Now, Riely is a smoking cessation counselor with FDHU and is teaching the class.
"It makes them feel more, that they can relate," she said.
The class, which will begin this Thursday at First District Health Unit and will be held every Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m., will teach methods of cessation, as well as introduce associated medications, such as gum, patches and other options.
Cold turkey isn't usually one such option, Byre explained, noting that there is, on the average, a 5 percent success rate with quitting tobacco use cold. Medications are used "while they go through cravings and withdrawals while they're learning how to live their life without tobacco," Riely said.
Following the "quit date" -- the half-way mark in the program -- students in the course learn about weight control and exercise, as many have concerns about gaining weight after they quit smoking. Stress management is also included in the post-quit curriculum.
"It actually does not reduce stress, it increases it," Byre said of smoking and how it allegedly combats stress.
The overall effect on a smoker's health is gauged through carbon monoxide levels, which are checked at the first class and again at the last class. This offers the student a chance to compare the levels before and after smoking, an activity that has a huge impact on people, Riely said. The levels, in the beginning, could be between 20 to 50, with a 20 being equal to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, she added. A 50 rating, in which brain damage has already started, is equal to two packs of cigarettes a day. Depending on how much a person smokes, a person's carbon monoxide reading would go down.
The class is set to accommodate 20 students, Byre said. Previous classes had more, but the number was trimmed so that the facilitator could give more individual attention to the students.
To register for the class, prospective students can sign up at (www.fdhu.com), or by calling Riely at 837-5171 or 852-1376, or by walking in to the First District Health Unit, at 801-11th Ave.
Students are encouraged to come to all eight classes and their spouses or supporters are invited to attend as well, Riely said.