By Kathy Collins

If you have ever wanted to quit smoking but have found the process daunting and difficult to do on your own, then you may want to give the Tobacco Free Florida Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Cessation Program a try.

Tobacco Free Florida AHEC Cessation Program offers two different types of cessation groups. The “Tools to Quit” group is a two hour, one-time group where participants learn how to develop a successful quit plan. The “Quit Smoking Now” is a support group that meets once a week for six weeks and covers a variety of topics that will help them quit successfully. All participants will quit during the third session of this group. The “Tools to Quit” and “Quit Smoking Now” group sessions both offer quit aids like free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) patches, gum and lozenges when available and medically appropriate, to help participants become tobacco free.

According to Brittany McNaughton, MHA, CTTS, CWWS, a Tobacco Cessation Specialist/Systems Change Coordinator, “We enroll participants into a course that is most convenient for them. The pre-registration process helps our Tobacco Cessation Specialists determine the prospective participant’s level of addiction, motivation to quit, and recommended dosage of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). Basic motivational interviewing techniques are used to encourage prospective participants as they begin their journey to a tobacco-free lifestyle.”

McNaughton added, “We always encourage participants to explore all of Tobacco Free Florida’s 3 Ways to Quit. Therefore, participants always have the opportunity to follow up with the Florida Quit Line to receive telephonic counseling and two additional weeks of free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), as available. Participants also have the opportunity to participate in AHEC in-person, group cessation sessions up to two times in a fiscal year in the event they relapse.”

Participants are educated on the health effects related to tobacco use and how beneficial quitting tobacco is and what to expect when quitting. The facilitator guides participants as they identify triggers and withdrawal symptoms, and brainstorm ways to cope with them.

Anyone who has tried to quit smoking on their own knows how difficult it can be. McNaughton said, “It can take up to seven to 10 quit attempts to successfully quit. It is much easier with help, and group counseling can double the success rate of quitting tobacco. I often hear that patches and lozenges did not work. The truth is, many people are not aware of the proper ways to use NRT. We teach participants how to use them. This provides the participant with the best chance at kicking the habit, along with behavioral changes.”

Tobacco Free Florida AHEC Cessation Program is a statewide organization supported by 10 regional AHEC centers and five AHEC program offices affiliated with the state’s five medical schools. The Florida AHEC Network provides services to Floridians in all 67 counties. Locally, the University of South Florida AHEC Cessation Program is located within the Morsani College of Medicine on USF’s main campus.

There is no charge to participate as the program is fully funded by the Florida Legislature through the Department of Health.

Cessation programs are offered at work-sites, hospitals, and clinics. To find a cessation group near you, visit or call 974-7889.

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