Recovering From Smoking

By Elaine Herscher, Senior Editor

LifeLong’s eight-year-old tobacco cessation program has a new name. It’s now known as the Tobacco Recovery Program.

“We’re trying to get away from words that are not really trauma informed or culturally sensitive,” says Tara Geer-Leiker, PhD, Program Manager of the Tobacco Prevention and Treatment Program. “We’re using terminology that is more recovery-focused similar to alcohol and drugs.”

World No Tobacco day is today, May 31, and there’s an excellent reason to apply the language of recovery to helping people recover from tobacco use. Nicotine addiction is comparable to dependence on opioids, alcohol, and cocaine – and is often more deadly.

Twenty percent of deaths in the U.S. are attributable to tobacco use compared to 5 to 8 percent of deaths from alcohol abuse.

“I don’t think people realize that tobacco is the number one preventable cause of death in the world and just how much it affects every part of your body, every organ,” Tara says.

LifeLong’s program provides tobacco recovery training to our own providers and those at other local healthcare organizations. The largest client is the Alameda County Behavioral Health Dept.(ACBHD).

“The workshops have been culturally appropriate and have increased the number of providers and staff trained to address tobacco use,” says Melissa Yamamoto, Program Specialist for the county’s behavioral health department. “ACBHD is proud to continue this relationship with LifeLong Medical Care and looks forward to helping heal our communities through 2026 and beyond.”

Just recently LifeLong’s Behavioral Health Team participated in a training on counseling methods for tobacco treatment and learned techniques within a motivational interviewing approach to help patients recover from diseases related to tobacco use.

“They were interested in learning what the intersections of tobacco use and behavioral health are, which are pretty high correlations.” About half of people who die while receiving behavioral health treatment die from tobacco use, Tara notes.

The program is small with just Tara and a Program Coordinator. The current coordinator, Sophia Artis, will leave for graduate school soon, and Tara arrived just last October after earning her doctorate in health services public health policy. Tara grew up in a family where smoking was the norm and started smoking herself off and on when she was only 7. She quit at age 19.

The team teaches on topics such as new medications for kicking tobacco, the dangers of vaping, and how to deliver trauma-informed care when helping clients stop using tobacco.

“The best kind of treatment is a combination of both counseling and NRT, what we call nicotine replacement therapy,” Tara says. “You need a combination to get to the 50 or 60 percent recovery rate. It takes about 10 attempts to actually recover from tobacco.”

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