A legal drug that tricks the brain into letting it attack the body offends Dr. Patrick Hogan III. It offends the Tacoma doctor so much that he’s volunteered the last 20 years, dragging its victims back from addiction.
He got his thank-you note last weekend. It came complete with scrollwork, the state seal and a fancy typeface.
Gov. Chris Gregoire proclaimed May 19 Franciscan Health System Freedom from Tobacco Day. Gregoire cited the 49,000-some people who have gone through the four-week class and stuck with the support group Hogan founded in 1992. These thousands are, without exception, happy they got the help to quit.
We should be, too. They have saved us millions in health costs we’d otherwise help pay through our insurance premiums and taxes.
Hogan shares the honor with colleagues and volunteers at St. Joseph Medical Center, St. Anthony, St. Francis and St. Clare hospitals. Franciscan takes smoking cessation seriously, so much so that last year it adopted a policy requiring all new employees to have a tobacco-free lifestyle.
“Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of disease and death in our country,” Hogan said last week at the office where he practices neurology.
Neurology, by the way, is not one of the fields in which docs fight the damage smoking does to the body. But a neurologist is the right person to explain to smokers how they’ve been suckered by the tobacco industry.
“Nicotine binds with the brain, which releases dopamine, which makes you feel really good,” he said. “Initially, you get the buzz from dopamine.”
That buzz is addictive, he said – addictive, short-lived and stingy. “After a while, you’re not getting the dopamine. You’re getting the discomfort of withdrawal. You have a very powerful urge to get that return of the dopamine level.”
Steve and Diana Anderson had smoked for 27 years when Steve’s brother bugged them to see what the Hogan’s Freedom from Tobacco Support Group at St. Joseph Hospital was all about.
“We went for a month or a month and a half before we set our quit date,” Steve Anderson said. “To my surprise, it actually worked.”
The Tacoma Power crew supervisor and his bride started smoking when they were students at Lincoln High School. Back then, the message on television, in print and on billboards was that smoking would make you slim and glamorous, or possibly a better cowboy.
By 1995, they were worried what it was really doing to them, and afraid of what quitting would be like.
“We pushed back our quit date a week, and then we stuck with it,” Anderson said. “It seemed like at the time it was really difficult. As time went on, we just kept slapping on the nicotine patches every day, and it seemed like it got easier eventually.”
Anderson is a mainstay at the support group, not because he needs it, but because newcomers need to see what a former smoker looks like.
“I tell them, ‘You can quit, too. It’s doable, and it doesn’t hurt that bad.’ I have to give credit to Dr. Hogan and (tobacco cessation coordinator) Heidi Henson. They know just what to say at the right time, so it sinks in.”
Timing is a tricky thing, Hogan said. In the late 1980s, he partnered with Dr. Gordon Klatt and health department and medical representatives to form Tobacco-Free Pierce County. Nationally, the anti-smoking buzz was getting louder.
“We wanted to get sentiment, and politicians, rolling, to get the county tobacco-free,” he said. “We were looked at as radicals. People asked ‘What’s the big deal with smoking? It’s part of our culture.’”
They fought smokers’ rights groups. They went up against lobbyists for the ventilation industry. They got politicians to rethink smoke-filled rooms. Every time a restaurant went smoke-free, they staged a celebration and included it in a booklet of all nonsmoking restaurants in the county.
In 1992, they realized telling people to stop smoking wasn’t enough. They founded Freedom From Tobacco and saw real results from their work.
Thanks to them, if there were a cake with 20 candles, there are many thousands of people in Pierce County with enough breath to blow them firstname.lastname@example.org