Visualize a healthier West Virginia

Picture it now. You’re standing in view of the New River Gorge on a fall day, surrounded by the red and golden hues of the trees as a comforting and familiar fog sets in.  

Or you’re near a stream with a mill spinning water nearby and a field of rhododendrons waving in the wind.  

Or maybe you are just envisioning yourself playing with your grandchildren without getting out of breath, or being able to finish a meal or a meeting without taking a smoke break.  

Guided imagery has been proven to be about as effective for smoking cessation as cognitive behavioral therapy, said Peter Giacobbi, who is a professor of sport and exercise psychology at WVU, as well as an expert in guided imagery.  

WVU is participating in a study being conducted at the University of Arizona that involves residents of those two states as well as New York with the involvement of the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo.  

Mountain State residents already have access to the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, which offers coaching calls and smoking cessation products, the type of which depend upon the insurance status of the participant.  

But for about the next year, West Virginians can get help through the Be Smoke Free Study, funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at the National Institutes of Health.  

As West Virginia Day arrives on Thursday, it’s a time for celebration but maybe also a time for reflection and continued efforts to help residents get healthier.  

Since the state’s sesquicentennial in 2013, there have been some positive advancements in Almost Heaven. For instance, the smoking rate for adults declined from 28.6% in 2011 to 25.2% in 2022.  

But the bad news: West Virginia still has the highest prevalence of smoking in the United States, where the rate is 11.5% overall. That means that the rate of smoking is double that of the rest of the country, and closer to triple compared to states with the lowest rates, such as Utah.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the U.S.  

Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and it can cause cancer, heart disease, lung disease, type 2 diabetes and cardio-pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD). 

 And while we’re on the topic of diabetes, West Virginians have the highest rate of that condition as well, at 15.2%, compared to 11.6% of the American population.  

At Monongalia County Health Department, there are a variety of ways that we help residents when it comes to quitting smoking. Our Board of Health passed the Clean Indoor Air regulation that went into effect on Feb. 1, 2017, in Monongalia County. Also, three of our programs — Clinical Services, Dentistry and MCHD WIC — promote smoking cessation to patients and clients.  

So we’re happy to promote this study that provides cutting-edge treatment for one of the worst habits still plaguing West Virginians.  

Giving up smoking is a great way to improve your health. We know it’s not easy. Nicotine is highly addictive.  

According to Giacobbi, individuals who use either cognitive behavioral therapy, which uses incremental changes to achieve a goal, or guided imagery therapy to help them kick the habit each have about a 40% chance of success.  

“And that’s important, because even if both work, that tells us that guided imagery could be another tool for smoking cessation,” Giacobbi added. “We have seen success with the whole project on multiple different trials, all funded by the NIH. The record of success is good using this technique, so it’s very encouraging.” 

The offerings for study participants are similar to those who connect with the West Virginia Tobacco Quitline, but there are some differences. The coaching will be either cognitive behavioral or guided imagery therapy and those calls will be longer in length. 

 Also, everyone has access to smoking cessation products, regardless of insurance status. 

 Of the participating states, West Virginia has the lowest enrollment, and that’s something Giacobbi would like to see change.  

So if you have been thinking about quitting smoking, go to this website and scroll down a bit to see info on the study: wvtobaccoquitline.com/the-program.  

And happy, healthy West Virginia Day!  

Email Mary Wade Burnside at [email protected]