New Year, New You

Advice offered on quitting smoking, getting spiritual

T-L Photos/SHELLEY HANSON ABOVE: STAINED GLASS windows adorn the First Presbyterian Church of Martins Ferry.

MARTINS FERRY — The year is still fairly new, and that means there are plenty of days left to check items off that to-do list, stop an unhealthy habit or even work on getting closer to God.

Many people may have started and even stopped working on their New Year’s resolutions by now, but that does not mean they shouldn’t try again. Perhaps one of the most difficult — but doable — resolutions is to stop smoking.

And here’s one good reason to quit the habit: Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death in the United States. About 450,000 people die from smoking-related diseases each year.

Dr. Michael Blatt, a local pulmonologist, said he works with patients on plans to quit smoking. The first thing a person needs to do is to pick a date to stop — and when that date arrives, stick to it.

Blatt said one needs to learn to retrain their thinking and behavior when it comes to smoking. For example, to help with the oral aspect of the habit, one should keep carrot sticks or celery sticks on hand to chew on.

Eliminating triggers for smoking — such as alcohol or caffeine — can also be helpful. Blatt said people can also take advantage of prescribed medications that ease the anxiety and irritability associated with quitting smoking, such as Wellbutrin. Nicotine patches or gums.

In addition to replacing triggers with alternatives, people also may want to pick up some good habits — such as exercising. Having a support person also is recommended.

“Get a no-smoking buddy and call them if it gets bad,” Blatt said. “During high-stress moments you have to be able to talk to someone.”

Blatt noted it is best if that person is a non-smoker. And if someone has a weak moment and smokes one cigarette, that doesn’t mean they can’t try again the next day.

“Everyone falls off the wagon. … Don’t worry, and get back on the wagon,” he said.

If trying to avoid a premature death isn’t enough motivation, here’s another reason to quit smoking: It is expensive. Many smokers spend about $2,000 a year to buy cigarettes. That’s a lot of cash that could be saved or spent on other pursuits, such as a vacation to a beautiful destination or a down payment for a car or house.

While fewer people are smoking traditional cigarettes these days, Blatt said there has been explosion of people, including children, trying and getting hooked on “vaping,” which is the use of electronic cigarettes.

“It’s a real problem. People who have never smoked in their lives are addicted to vaping,” Blatt said, noting the tobacco companies that make cigarettes also make the devices.

Blatt said the American Medical Society and American Lung Association both are against the use of electronic cigarettes.

“We’re opposed to it because it doesn’t help take away the urge to smoke. … Vaping is habit forming. It entices children to smoke because of its bubblegum and fruit flavors,” he said. “They can get a nice buzz and still get addicted.”

Blatt said for those who are quitting, visiting their doctor for advice and support can help. People can also call the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s quit line, 800-784-8669, which provides people with free smoking cessation advice and in some cases free tools and prescriptions.

He said West Virginia and other states, via a lawsuit settlement with tobacco companies, use the money to fund these programs.

For those who have been thinking about getting closer to God or becoming spiritual, the Rev. David Stammerjohn, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Martins Ferry, has some advice.

“Prayer is just a conversation with God. Often we make a wish list, but it’s not a wish list. We’re opening ourselves to talk to God and to listen to God,” Stammerjohn said.

He said listening to God takes a little more practice and patience, but when it happens one knows it. Meditation can help one slow down and listen while praying. Some use a rosary and repeat a prayer. Others walk a labyrinth, which is another form of meditation. A labyrinth looks like a maze, but instead of having dead ends it meets to a central point. Still others find walking in the woods to be a good time to meditate and listen to God.

“There is something important about physical exercise. The exercise of walking and the meditative process go hand-in-hand. … God listens and hears even unspoken prayers, but it’s a bigger challenge, us listening to God,” he noted.

For example, Stammerjohn has his own realization about becoming a pastor years ago. He was studying biology in college and in his junior or senior year he had three completely unrelated people, who lived miles apart, ask him if he ever thought about going into ministry. Stammerjohn said he wasn’t doing any preaching at the time, that he was just friends with them.

“How do we know when God is speaking to us? There is a stirring of the spirit within us and a confirmation from other believers,” he added. “There is a spiritual recognition — this is something I need to listen to.”

Stammerjohn also suggests a good first step is to start by reading scripture in the Bible.

“There’s a lot of different versions of the Bible that people can use. My first concern is that I want someone to pick up a Bible and understand what they’re reading. People should choose a version they can understand. They can set a goal to read one chapter a day. A good place to begin in scripture is reading the psalms. They’re a wonderful exploration of human emotion and relationship to God. Another good place to begin is with the gospels … start with Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and read a chapter a day,” he said.

Stammerjohn noted people today seem to be longing for spirituality, but many be uncomfortable with organized religion. This could be because of negative news related to it. However, the church is made of up mostly of imperfect people trying to follow Jesus and do better.

For those wanting to attend church services, Stammerjohn suggests someone find another person to attend with.

“Sometimes walking through the door the first time is a hard thing If you can find someone with the church or someone to go to the church with it helps to walk through the door the first time. I believe all churches want to welcome people. … Some of us do better than others. You can have to allow other people to help you and guide you,” he said.