Quitting smoking made easier through Internet-based support group
TORONTO (CP) - The Internet is a lot of wonderful things, but an effective smoking-cessation tool? That sounds like a bit of a fantasy. But a growing number of smokers have actually managed to butt out forever over the Internet, thanks to a free Web site
There are a lot of quitting aids out there from nicotine gum to the chemical Zyban, but nothing makes it easy. It's a long painful process to recover from an addiction many say rivals being hooked on heroin. It often takes several attempts and many people relapse time and time again even with the help of a quitting aid.
So what is it about a site like QuitNet that makes any difference at all?
The answer is support, says QuitNet member Elizabeth Bateman. And not just any old kind of support - solid advice and 24-hour contact with other quitters who understand what getting off the weed is all about.
"I truly do not think I could have quit without the QuitNet," says the 39-year-old Bateman, a Victoria health-care worker.
"The Q-Net helps in so many ways. You can 'talk' to your peers and get their advice and learn everything there is to know about quitting smoking."
QuitNet is run by Join Together, a project of the Boston University School of Public Health. It started in 1995, the brainchild of Nathan Cobb, a counsellor with a background in software who was working at a smoking cessation clinic.
When he introduced the idea to Chris Cartter, Join Together's director of online services, Cartter saw its potential as an interactive centre for tobacco control and smoking cessation and QuitNet was born.
"This isn't rocket science," says Cartter.
"What people really need is contact with people going through the same thing. (Cobb's) idea was as simple as that - combining that kind of peer support with good science-based information and content, self-assessment tools and other kinds of things we've tried to build into this."
There are now 102,000 registered QuitNet users and of those 18 per cent are outside the U.S. While there's no way to track its success rate, those who have used the service often say they could not have quit without it.
"The Q-Net has enabled me to sustain my quit because of the support system," says Jade Mitchell, 38, a professional organizer from London, Ont.
"I quit for one year with the help of the Q, after which time I left feeling quite smug with my quit."
But Mitchell later broke down and returned to the Web site to start again.
"I smoked for four months and I'm happy to say I am back at the Q where I belong - a non-smoker."
She has now been smoke-free since November. Like many others, Mitchell says she never believed in support groups before trying QuitNet.
"Support groups were places that other people went to. Now I am a true believer that a little help goes a long way," she says.
QuitNet offers many resources, information about the effects of smoking and lots of electronic tools (the Q-Gadget, which tracks days cigarette-free, money saved and cigarettes not smoked, is particularly useful).
But it's real strength is interaction. Users can post messages about their withdrawal symptoms, complain about a bad day or plead for help. They usually get an answer right away from those who are ahead of them on the long road to freedom from "the Nicodemon" (QuitNet lingo for nicotine, the addictive component of tobacco smoke).
If they need more immediate support, there are live chat rooms where others gather to talk about their fears and cravings.
"People need that kind of moment-to-moment crisis management from someone who's going through it." says Cartter.
Which is why people keep returning, sometimes as long as two years after their original quit date.
"For many individuals the cravings and the habitual aspects of quitting don't stop after three months or six months or a year. The social dimension of it has become incredibly important for a lot of folks, too. They want to give back - the community helped them get through this and in many instances it was people who had quit for many months and continued to come back to the site and provide support. We have a legacy of past users that continue to be quite active."
Winnipeg native Marlene Saunders, 43, has been trying to quit since January, though it has been tough and she has slipped several times. Still, she hasn't given up and has re-set her quit date with advice and at the gentle urging of the "buddies" she has met online.
"It gives me the support that I don't get from other sources, such as family and friends, who you tend not to believe you anyway," she says.
"QuitNet makes quitting easier because its 24/7 and others are or have been going through the same thing and they truly understand. You learn from each other. I'm not going to stop trying."
Some facts about QuitNet and smoking cessation resources on the Internet:
What is it? A peer support Web site with information and interactive features to help smokers kick the habit.
Web site: www.quitnet.org
Features: Bulletin boards, internal message system, chat rooms, links to other sites, tools and tricks to help smokers quit. Personal page with a customizable calendar and journal - can be made public.
QuitNet statistics (as of Feb. 28:) Users: 104,829. Female 61 per cent, male 38 per cent. Current monthly growth rate: 4 per cent.
Other helpful sites:
www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/tobacco: Health Canada's anti-smoking site.
www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hppb/cessation/resources/professional.html: Getting Smoke-Free, a resource on smoking reduction and cessation designed with women in mind.
www.ultranet.com/(tilde)bigquit: The quitting diary of an ex-smoker.
Some QuitNet lingo:
Elder: Someone who has been quit for 100 days or longer.
Floaties: Withdrawal symptom involving a floating sensation, accompanied by general clumsiness.
Hell Week: The first week of smoking cessation.
Heck Week: The week that follows Hell Week.
Kicking butt: The act of smoking cessation.
KTQ: Keep The Quit.
Nicodemon: Character frequently blamed for human weakness to nicotine addiction.
Quitster: Person engaged in the quit who does not wish to be called a quitter.
Quitstipation: Irregular bowel movements associated with smoking cessation.
Quitliness: That indefinable quality possessed by people who have quit; next to godliness.
Quitzits: Pimples on the middle-aged faces of those who have recently quit.
Slip: Moment of temporary weakness in which tobacco products are ignited and inhaled.