Bemidji State University student gives up cigarettes, wins $3,000

BEMIDJI, Minn. (February 7, 2011) — For 33 and a half years, cigarettes were a part of Threasa Braker’s life. Like many smokers, she made frequent attempts to quit, including one-year breaks during pregnancy for each of her three children. But her efforts to quit were ultimately nothing more than breaks from an addiction that extended its hold on her into a fourth decade.

“I tried to quit multiple times. Doing it for other people was easy,” said Braker, a senior in Bemidji State University’s nursing program from Backus, Minn. “Doing it for myself was tougher.”

Finding the Program
Last fall, Braker saw an advertisement for a contest called “Quit and Win” while using the University’s D2L distance learning system and decided to see what it had to offer. It turned out to be just what she needed to help her give up cigarettes.

The Quit and Win program is part of a research study being undertaken by the University of Minnesota Medical School and funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of contests to enhance smoking abstinence at college campuses.

“I’m not sure what drew me to the program,” Braker said. “I think it was the research part, with the opportunity for me to be a part of a bigger study on smoking. I didn’t even find out about the prizes until later.

“I was already trying to cut back when I found out about the program,” said Braker, who at her peak was averaging about a pack and a half of cigarettes a day. “I’d cut back to about a half a pack a day by placing limits like no smoking in the car or in the house, and I’d already quit smoking at work years ago. When you eliminate the places to smoke you don’t have those triggers; eventually you just run out of places to go. And it’s cold outside, so who wants to go out and smoke there?”

The Contest
The contest began in November of 2010. Braker first had to submit a questionnaire and then submit to a urine test to prove she was, indeed, a smoker. From there, she was assigned to one of four different focus groups with the other participants in the study. The participants were randomly assigned into groups who would be asked to quit for 30 or 90 days, and from there into a subgroup that received general health education information and a subgroup that received motivational interviewing to support the participant’s efforts to quit smoking.

Each participant in these four groups was asked to complete five surveys: a baseline survey at the beginning of the study in November, plus four followup surveys at one, three, four and six months from the beginning of the program. Participants who successfully complete one of the followup survey steps automatically received a gift card from Target.

At the end of November, Braker was required to complete the one-month survey on her experiences in the program and provide a urine sample to prove she was smoke-free. Completing this stage of the contest made her eligible for the program’s first-round grand prize of a $3,000 gift card, which she won in December.

Having now been in the program and successfully smoke-free through the end of January of this year, Braker is now eligible for another drawing of a $4,000 gift card. Remaining smoke-free through the end of March will make her eligible for a final drawing of a $5,000 gift card.

“It’s time to go shopping,” Braker said of her plans for the $3,000 she won in round one of the drawing. “The cupboards are bare!”

The Road Ahead
“I feel good,” Braker said of her success with the program. “But I’m still scared, because I know I have gone back before. It’s a challenge. I just have to think about it as one day at a time. I can’t think too far out or it makes me anxious. I just make it through today and try to stay in the present.”

To anyone else thinking about giving up cigarettes, Braker has a simple piece of advice — “just keep trying.” She also points to her own efforts to replace bad habits with better habits as keys to her success.

“I did a triathlon, I ran a half-marathon, and I took up meditation a few years ago,” she said. “I wondered how people did things like marathons while they smoked. It seemed silly to reward myself for a good workout with a cigarette, but that’s what I would do. But I kept working at it, and thought if you’re going to have an addiction, why not be addicted to something that’s better for you?”

“Every time you quit, you learn something about yourself,” she said. “Just keep trying. Hopefully what I’ve done will help encourage somebody else to have the courage to try and quit.”

About Quit and Win
The University of Minnesota’s study, directed by Dr. Janet Thomas at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, consists of three rounds, in fall of 2010, 2011 and 2012. Each of the three rounds runs from approximately November through April. Participants must be at least 18 years of age, a current smoker and a registered student at a participating university. Bemidji State University’s program is offered in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s umbrella program and is coordinated by Jay Passa, health education coordinator in the University’s Student Center for Health and Counseling.

For more information about the University of Minnesota’s Quit and Win study, contact Jill Ronco, senior study coordinator, in the University of Minnesota’s Department of General Internal Medicine at (612) 624-5624.

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