UI Wellness program, specialists help tobacco users to quit
Tuesday, August 18, 2015

When Kimberly Mann began considering quitting cigarettes, she had never heard of the Tobacco Cessation Program at the University of Iowa. Since learning about it, she hasn't questioned the impact it had helping her kick the habit.

"It was helpful to have someone there for continual motivation," says Mann, who entered the program while working at the UI and now works in Council Bluffs. "I'm five months removed from smoking now."

The Tobacco Cessation Program, through UI Wellness, is a free service for UI faculty, and staff. Another service, Student Health & Wellness, provides tobacco cessation services for students. In each program, health experts assist clients by creating a timeline for quitting, suggesting nicotine replacements and providing tips on coping methods. The services may be especially useful to the UI community as the campus adopts a tobacco-free policy beginning Aug. 24 that prohibits the use of all tobacco products on UI grounds.

“The biggest strength of our program is our flexibility,” says Carla Melby, a health coach at UI Wellness. Clients may want to set different time tables for quitting, have different levels of comfort with privacy, and may prefer to communicate in person, by phone, or even by Skype, Melby adds.

Mann found communication over phone and e-mail to be the most convenient. “We spoke over the phone twice a week at first, then once a week as it got easier,” she says.

One of Mann's most persistent habits included smoking during work breaks. Megan Hammes, her health coach and director of UI Wellness, encouraged her to go for walks, eat sugar-free candy, or even just get water to replace the habit.

Mann also appreciated that she was held accountable. "Knowing that we were going to have to speak regularly, I didn’t want to have to tell her that I had broke and had a cigarette. Not wanting to let someone else down is a great push to persevere," she recalls.

Another incentive is UI Wellness offers up to $500 in reimbursement for nicotine gum, patches, and other nicotine replacements, some of which may not be covered by an individual’s health plan.

The UI’s tobacco-free policy amends the university's current smoke-free campus policy, which prohibits cigarette and cigar smoking on the UI campus. Among the products that will be prohibited from on-campus use are electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, chewing or smokeless tobacco, and inhalation devices, such as hookahs.

The goal is to support a healthy campus culture and to promote the health and well-being of all campus community members. A university-wide survey in 2014 reported that 96 percent of UI faculty and staff reported non-smoking status, down six percentage points from 2010.

"Tobacco use fell among faculty and staff over the last five years, and we want to continue to move toward a culture of health," Hammes says.

"It is not our intent to target anyone who might have tobacco products on them. It’s about promoting a healthy lifestyle,” Hammes added.

For Mann, a first step is knowing there are people—and a program—who want to help.

"The program helped me and I’m not sure enough employees know it exists. Hopefully that changes," Mann says.