For Sonja Fernandes, a text message from her boyfriend would, eventually, help her kick a smoking habit.
“I’m graduating this year, and I thought if I bring smoking into my career life, it’s going to stay with me my whole life. If I get rid of it now, I can say it’s just something I did in university,” said Fernandes, who graduates this year with a BA in Philosophy from Huron University College.
“It was more of a social thing at first, but it turned into a habit,” she said. Her habit lasted five years, starting when she came to university at 17. Up until recently, the 22-year-old smoked 10-12 cigarettes a day.
The poster her boyfriend sent her via text message last winter proved just the incentive she needed. It advertised wouldurather…, a contest sponsored by Leave the Pack Behind (LPB), a multi-campus initiative working with university students who smoke or are at risk of smoking. Launched at Brock University, LPB is a multi-campus program funded by the government as part of its smoking prevention and cessation initiatives. This marks its fifth year on Western’s campus.
As part of the contest, Fernandes could win up to $1,000 if she were able to quit smoking completely. Prizes were also available to contestants who cut back their smoking by 50 per cent, could reduce smoking in social situations and even able to resist the urge altogether and not start.
“I knew I wanted to quit, I just needed that extra push,” Fernandes said.
After signing up for the contest with a sponsor buddy through LPB, she joined a clinical study, Getting Physical On Cigarettes, during which she exercised to help curb cravings. Fernandes also used the nicotine patch, provided for free this year to students who wish to quit through Health Canada and LPB, and learned to recognize and tackle cravings before they took over.
“I noticed I had a strong craving whenever I’d get into the car; it was something I associated with it. So, I had Jolly Ranchers (in the car) and when I’d have a craving, I’d have one,” she explained.
As the winner of the contest’s ‘Quit for Good’ category, Fernandes won $500.
“It was a life-changing experience for me. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t have much confidence in the beginning and was nervous but having the support of other people – people who didn’t even know you – and the group members, knowing that others are going though the same thing I am, was very helpful,” she said.