LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 14, 2014) — When patients arrive at University of Kentucky's Markey Cancer Center parking lot, they are greeted by the warm smile and friendly hello of parking attendant, Tracy Barlow. In addition to pointing out the best parking spaces, Barlow tells patients about UK's tobacco-free policy and answers any questions they may have. Talking about the tobacco-free policy is something Barlow is passionate about because for her, it's personal.
Barlow started smoking in high school and tried to quit several times over the next 20 years by using various nicotine replacement aids, but got discouraged with a little weight gain and went back to smoking. While sitting in her physician's office at UK about a year and a half ago, she noticed a poster for UK's tobacco treatment program, BeHip, and told her doctor she would like to try to quit again.
"I never liked smoking - the smell on my clothes, the money I spent on cigarettes - it was always something I tried to hide," she said.
But what really launched Barlow into seriously committing to giving up cigarettes for good was when she was assigned to her post at Markey Cancer Center and saw first-hand some of the devastating effects of smoking on the patients. She picked Oct. 3, 2013, as the day she would stop for good. Fast forward to Oct. 3, 2014, and Barlow hasn't touched a cigarette since.
"When you see someone so sick and hooked up to IVs, yet they come outside in a hospital gown in any kind of weather to smoke, it's sad. I never want to find myself in that situation, wanting a cigarette so bad that I'd do anything to get it. That's devastating."
Although she's sad and sometimes shocked when she sees patients using tobacco, Barlow is never judgmental when she talks to people about the tobacco-free policy. In fact, quite the opposite, considering she knows all too well how hard it is to quit. Barlow feels close to many of the patients who pass through her gate, often calling them by name, because they are there regularly for appointments and treatment. Barlow lets her passion and respect for people direct the tone of the message that tobacco use is not permitted on UK's campus to promote the health and well-being of everyone. She also reinforces that if they are interested in quitting tobacco, UK will help and support them with the variety of tobacco treatment options.
Barlow said her husband, a non-smoker, is very supportive of her.
"He will buy me little gifts to remind me that I deserve it for not smoking or send me a text message like 'you are strong,’" she said with a smile.
Barlow has been a runner, even as a smoker, and has noticed a huge difference in her running and her overall health.
"It's easier to breathe when I'm running now. I've also noticed that my skin is brighter and there is less wrinkling around my eyes and mouth."
Barlow's story is among the many successful stories of tobacco cessation since UK's tobacco-free policy went into effect five years ago on Nov. 19, 2009.
Melinda Ickes, faculty associate with the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy (KCSP) and Director of TFTA! (Tobacco-Free Take Action!), said that since the implementation of UK's tobacco-free policy, which prohibits the use of all tobacco products on campus (cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chew, pipes, cigars, snuff, hookah), there has been a four-fold increase in the use of tobacco treatment, indicating many individuals on campus are taking advantage of the menu of tobacco treatment options on UK’s campus. UK continues to provide free nicotine replacement products for employees, sponsored dependents, and students enrolled in tobacco treatment programs. For those not yet ready to quit, but who want to be comfortable while on campus, low-cost nicotine replacement products are available at campus gift shops, convenience stores, and pharmacies.
The success of UK's tobacco-free policy has extended beyond the campus as well. Ellen Hahn, co-director of UK's Tobacco-free Task Force and director of the KCSP at the UK College of Nursing, receives hundreds of requests from campuses nationwide asking about UK's implementation process, ambassador program, and tobacco treatment. Since UK's policy implementation, many other Kentucky campuses have also implemented smoke- and tobacco-free policies, using UK as a benchmark.
Hahn said that UK’s decision to lead the tobacco-free campus movement signaled a sea change in the heart of burley tobacco country.
"‘It is time for bold action on all levels to reverse the enormous toll tobacco takes on Kentuckians’ lives and pocketbooks."
This year, Big Blue celebrates 5 years tobacco-free! Anniversary festivities will begin Monday, Nov. 17 with a Why I Like My Tobacco-free Campus photo booth from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on UK’s Student Center Patio. The photo booth, which is co-sponsored with the UK Student Health Advisory Council, will encourage students, staff and faculty to share why they appreciate and support UK’s tobacco-free campus.
The increasingly popular Tobacco-free Tailgate will commence Thursday, Nov. 20 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Rose Street walkway. Join the Wildcat and UK cheerleaders to celebrate the 5-year anniversary, show your support for the tobacco-free policy, and encourage individuals to quit tobacco. The festivities will include free "cold turkey" sandwiches, s'mores, and hot chocolate, along with a photo booth, games, prizes, and information about quitting tobacco.
Barlow encourages everyone to come out and help celebrate a campus that cares about everyone's health.
"If I can do it, there's no reason you can't have the confidence to do it. People are just so caught up in their ways. You just have to change your routine. Each day gets easier. You have to take one day at a time."
For more information on UK’s tobacco-free policy or tobacco treatment resources, visit www.uky.edu/TobaccoFree.
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