A Chihuahua, Two Cats And A Chance At Better Health

Duke employees find inspiration from their pets to quit tobacco

Crystal Patterson's motivation to quit smoking is to outlive her Chihuahua, Chi Chi, left. Sue Stanton also found the necessary inspiration from her cats Tacoie and Georgia, right.

When she was 14, Sue Stanton started smoking with a friend in New Jersey, where she grew up.

"Everybody smoked back then," she said. "We used to sneak cigarettes from our parents and smoke in the garage while pretending to get ready for our dates in the city."

After smoking cigarettes for nearly 50 years, Stanton, a clerk at the Duke University Federal Credit Union, recently decided to give it up. A work colleague who also smoked mentioned using vapor cigarettes to quit, so she decided to give them a try.

"I was going to my brother's house for the holidays, and I can't smoke at his house, so I got a disposable vapor cigarette to try over Thanksgiving," she said. "And I've never looked back."

Stanton was one of several employees who submitted photos representing why they wanted to give up tobacco as part of Duke's "Why I Want to Quit" campaign. She submitted a photo of her two cats, Georgia and Tacoie. The campaign aimed to help connect employees with their motivation to give up tobacco.

"Smoking not only harms us, but it also harms those who live with us," she said. "There have been times I was tempted to try a cigarette, but then I looked around at my cats, prairie dog and cocker spaniel and thought about what it was doing to them and me."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 19 percent of adults in the U.S. smoke, which is cited as the leading cause of preventable death.

"Because tobacco use is linked to many cancers and other health conditions, it also drives up the cost of health care," said Lois Ann Green, assistant vice president for Benefits at Duke. "Next year, we will be introducing a change in our health insurance so employees who use tobacco pay more of that increased cost through an additional surcharge. That is why we are encouraging employees and their family members to seek support now to quit."

Staff and faculty can receive support through LIFE FOR LIFE, Duke's employee wellness program, to quit. Options include tobacco cessation programs, nicotine replacement therapy and prescription aids

Crystal Patterson, who smoked since age 12, recently received a wake-up call when her father, who smokes two packs a day. He was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"That's the road I'm going down if I don't quit," said Patterson, a staff assistant in the School of Medicine. "It was really an eye-opener for me. My dad now has two inhalers he as to use."

Patterson submitted a photo of Chi Chi, her Chihuahua, in the "Why I Want to Quit" campaign.

"She is like my child," she said. "She is my heart, and she will probably outlive me if I don't quit. Smoking has been such a crutch for so long. It's a social thing for me. It is a really big lifestyle change. But if I don't make a change, I won't have a choice later."