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Mark Sperry

Dr. Mark Sperry and Washington Hospital Can Help You Become “Smoke Free for Life”
By Nancy Kennedy

If you feel ready to stop smoking, Washington Hospital System (WHS) can help you succeed, with a comprehensive smoking cessation program called “Smoke-Free for Life.” This program is offered through the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center and provides strategies for successful smoking cessation as well as free nicotine replacement.  “Smoking cessation can be difficult but it is vital to a healthy lifestyle,” says Mark Sperry, M.D., a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist on the medical services staff of WHS. “People often believe that they must quit “cold-turkey,” on their own, without help, which is very difficult and is usually unsuccessful.  Research has proven that you are far more likely to achieve long term success when you join a smoking cessation program.”

As a pulmonologist, Dr. Sperry sees many patients with chronic lung disease as a consequence of smoking. When he talks to patients about the risks of continuing to smoke and recommends the smoking cessation program, patients frequently tell him that they have stopped smoking before, on their own, and they intend to do that again. He gently points out that they have resumed smoking – so it’s probably time to try a different, proven approach. “It’s very hard to stop smoking,” he says. “Nicotine is so addictive. A few patients are able to quit with relatively little assistance but most will try to quit multiple times before succeeding. Some of the factors that make success more likely are strong support from family and friends and joining a smoking cessation group. If the people close to you smoke, it’s going to be more difficult.”

Smoke Free for Life smoking cessation class includes a customized quit-plan; weight management strategies; stress relief techniques; relapse prevention techniques; and a positive, supportive environment. Classes include free nicotine replacement gum or patches.

Smoke Free for Life is free and open to the public.

To register, go online to www.wrcameronwellness.org/programs-services/resources or register in person; or contact Shane Bombara at 724-250-6269 or sbombara@whs.org 
You do not need to be a member to take the classes.

The classes are held at the WHS Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center, 240 Wellness Way, 15301. For directions, call 724-225-WELL.

Dr. Sperry also recommends enlisting the help of your primary care physician. He says that physicians should always ask their patients about their tobacco use, assess their willingness to quit, provide materials and possibly smoking cessation medications, and should follow-up with the patient. Dr. Sperry says that there is no magic bullet, but there are a number of nicotine replacement products on the market as well as pharmacologic therapies such as Chantix and Zyban.  There have been studies of these medications that have shown that patients are more roughly four times more likely to quit with Chantix and two times more likely to quit with Zyban.  Although some side effects such as nightmares and irritability have been reported, these are actually rarer than previously thought.

When a smoker is diagnosed with cancer or a pulmonary disease such as emphysema, smoking cessation obviously takes on more importance.  “Treatment of lung disease is often not effective in patients who continue to smoke and continued smoking causes a decline in lung function,” Dr. Sperry explains. “In patients with a new diagnosis of cancer, continued smoking can make chemotherapy side effects worse and can lead to other complications.”

When you stop smoking, Dr. Sperry says, you are likely to begin feeling better quickly: you will probably cough less and symptoms like shortness of breath will improve. However, your lung function is not likely to improve; pulmonary function testing results will most likely continue at the same level. This is not a reason to keep smoking, however; if you continue to smoke, your pulmonary function test results will decline and your symptoms will worsen.

Dr. Sperry is a Pittsburgh native who attended Drexel University College of Medicine and completed a residency at Tufts University in Boston. He finished his fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Maryland earlier this year. He is committed to helping people stop smoking, and would like to see more smoking cessation programs in the workplace along with incentives for smoking cessation, such as discounts for medications and other rewards. He encourages parents to have calm and clear discussions with their teenagers about the harm of smoking, and to provide them with as much information as possible. “There are more and more gateways to smoking today,” he says. “Smoking rates are down among teenagers, but they are more likely to take up vaping and other potentially harmful habits.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), smoking rates have declined over the past decade from 20.9% of all adults to 15.1%.  This is a result of tobacco control (including increasing tobacco prices) and government sponsored anti-smoking advertising campaigns.  Most groups have seen a decline in smoking rates, but the highest rates continue to be seen in men, those with mental illness, and those of lower education levels. 

To learn more about Smoke Free for Life, visit wrcameronwellness.org or call 724-250-6269. More information can be found at www.cdc.gov/tobacco and by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

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