61-year-old quits half-century habit

by Marcy Sanchez
U.S. Army

It took a dream for Ann Yates to kick a 50-year-old habit.
Yates, 61, military spouse, first started smoking cigarettes when she was 11, after receiving an ultimatum from peers as she entered high school in her native country of England for the first time. It was either smoke or be hazed.

“You either smoke this cigarette or else we’ll beat you up,” recalled Yates, who grew up in Accrington, Lancashire County, England. “I chose the cigarette, and then it became a habit.”

For the next 50 years Yates smoked cigarettes daily, averaging a pack and a half a day, and sometimes smoking 60 cigarettes, or 3 packs, in a day. Eight months ago, while conducting a physical, Yates was referred to a pulmonary specialist for shortness of breath.

“As we were walking along in the hospital, the doctor noticed my oxygen levels were below recommended levels,” said Yates.

After returning to the doctor’s office, he recommended Yates should either give up smoking or start home-oxygen therapy. Another ultimatum pushed on Yates 50 years after the first, one that would, once again, change her life.

Yates, who was sure she would smoke until her last breath, said the moment of realization came about when a delivery man was at her door, delivering a tank of oxygen for her use.
“I thought, ‘You have to be joking’,” said Yates, with her heavy British accent. “He wasn’t, he brought in a machine and an oxygen tank and I thought, ‘This is serious.’

“That was it, that was on a Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. and I had my last cigarette the following day.”
After four months of not smoking, Yates relapsed and smoked through a whole carton of cigarettes in one week.
“I knew once I smoked through that first cigarette that I had made a mistake. But I was determined to smoke through the carton,” said Yates. “My health really suffered, I’m more short of breath now than I was giving up the first time.”

Yates began attending the Tobacco Cessation classes offered by the Health Promotion and Wellness Center, Spc. Hugo V. Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center, William Beaumont Army Medical Center. Although she could have graduated from the required four-class program multiple times over, Yates continues to attend the classes for herself and to support others struggling to quit.

The course provides Soldiers, dependents and retirees the support and education required to wean, quit and stay off tobacco products. One of the features of the course is educating tobacco users on tobacco alternatives, medications to help in their journey.

“I educate to help identify triggers and how to deal with those triggers,” said Dr. Aaron Trujillo, clinical pharmacist. “The triggers will always be there so we provide education on avoiding, and if not possible to avoid, using medications to control cravings when those triggers emerge.”

Some of the common prescriptions provided to tobacco users through their primary care manager include nicotine patches, nicotine gum, bupropion and varenicline.

For Yates, who first tried the nicotine patch but then decided to quit completely, it wasn’t just about reclaiming her health, it was about realizing a dream she’s had since she was two years old.

“I’m going to buy a horse. It’s something I’ve been dreaming about for 59 years,” said Yates, an avid equestrian. “I just want something I could share my love with, an older horse that I can give all my love to and go on some happy trails.”

Yates plans to reach her dreams with the money she has saved from smoking.

Setting a financial goal was a contributing factor for Spc. Charles Rollan, to completely quit his one-can-a-day smokeless tobacco habit.

“I got to a point that when I dipped, I got tired of it,” said Rollan, combat medic, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. “I got tired of using tobacco as a crutch.”

Rollan, 29, said another reason he quit was to set a better example for his three-month-old son.
“I didn’t want my son to be raised around (tobacco),” said Rollan.

Like Yates, Rollan decided to start attending tobacco cessation classes to ensure he stayed off tobacco.

“I wanted to make sure that this was the last time (using tobacco),” said Rollan.

“It’s given me a lot of tools and people to talk to. You feel welcomed and can keep coming back as much as you need to. This class is amazing for anybody that wants to quit.”

A personal tradition Yates has begun with graduates of the program is awarding each graduate a single bag of authentic English tea she personally ships over from the U.K. To date, she’s presented approximately 30 tea bags.
After a month of no tobacco-use combined with tobacco cessation classes, Rollan received his tea as well. Rollan plans to use the money saved from tobacco use for tattoos.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Yates. “It will pass. It is doable. It is a big achievement.”

In March 2017, Yates plans to purchase her horse with smoking money saved, and will name it “Sonoma.”

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