For the second year, Tri-County Health Care will offer a Freedom from Smoking course, starting on Jan. 15.

The free, seven-week course is in partnership with the American Lung Association and provides information on how to not smoke, relaxation techniques, nicotine cessation products, health effects of smoking, lifestyle changes for after quitting and communication skills, according to RN and course facilitator Melissa Spandl. Course participants will also make a plan to quit smoking, learn their smoking habits and quit smoking on week four.

“We do really encourage people to be ready to quit smoking. Our goal is not to get them to the class and persuade them that they should quit, you know they need to be ready for that change and no one can really change anyone’s mind on if they want to be a non-smoker or not. You simply have to be ready,” Spandl said.

With a ready mindset, participants will learn in a group setting of up to 25 people. The buddy system is encouraged, both with a person in the group and another person outside of the group for support in the difficult process, according to Spandl. RN and course facilitator Jessica Hamman also sees this accountability as a benefit.

“Aside from a group setting … do you truly know of somebody who’s trying to quit at the same time as you, that’s at the same stage as you and that can relate to you in that, too? So it’s pretty cool,” Hamman said.

The group setting is a supportive environment, including in ways like finding out different costs for a nicotine cessation product, according to Hamman and Spandl. When participants quit smoking in week four, a ceremony is held, they sign a contract to not smoke and they receive quit kits with candy and pipe cleaners. Spandl also said one addition is affirmation cards, close to the size of a cigarette pack, that encourage participants to continue the process of quitting.

“This wasn’t part of the class but a patient had suggested it so we worked with our marketing team. We said, ‘That’s a great idea,’” Spandl said. “People are going through this to help the next group, too.”

The courses continue with good success rates and relationships formed. Spandl and Hamman teach about health benefits, financial benefits and withdrawal symptoms, including being tired or forgetful in the short-term. One of the benefits is a drop in carbon monoxide levels, which is measured at the beginning of the course and at the meeting 48 hours after quitting.

“It’s just amazing how quickly their carbon monoxide levels drop … and so that’s a nice, quick way to see how not smoking is creating great health benefits. Some things take years, to be honest, to see the full effects but that’s a quick way for them to see,” Spandl said.

If you go

The course begins on Jan. 15 at the Wadena clinic from noon to 1 p.m. and will meet every Wednesday through Feb. 26, with one Friday meeting on Feb. 7. Community members, whether a Tri-County Health Care patient or not, are invited to attend. If you are interested in joining, contact Melissa Spandl at 218-631-7574 or melissa.spandl@tchc.org. One-on-one session appointments can also be made for an office visit charge.