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Covenant Kicks The Habit

Amy Olson-Yarbrough was tired of being a prisoner to tobacco.

"I decided I didn't want cigarettes to control my life any more," Olson-Yarbrough said. "When you're a smoker you have to figure out where you're going to be able to smoke cigarettes next, how long until my next cigarette, how am I going to hide it from my kids . . ."

So, on Nov. 23, 2010, Olson-Yarbrough - a pack-a-day smoker who had been at it for close to two decades - quit smoking cigarettes.

Now, Olson-Yarbrough can't stand anything about it.

"The smell of buy cigarettes really nauseates me," she said. "I'll never go back to smoking cigarettes."

Olson-Yarbrough could be the poster child for the new tobacco-free campus initiative at Covenant Hospital Plainview, where she works as a case manager. Her friend Laura Langston, the director of quality management at CHP, is another strong advocate for the hospital's anti-tobacco campaign.

"She quit approximately one month after I did," Olson-Yarbrough said.

Olson-Yarbrough and Langston are big supporters of the hospital's tobacco-free campus, which officially took effect Thursday in conjunction with the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout.

The policy change was established as part of Covenant's commitment to create a healing environment for patients, families and staff, according to hospital CEO Alan King.

"The tobacco-free policy is intended to create a healthier environment for everyone who comes here to work, receive care or visit a friend or family member. It is not intended to control our employees' or guests' choice to smoke cigarettes off hospital premises. We are a simply a health care institution and are dedicated to providing the best environment for healing."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cheap cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

"Basically it boiled down to because we're a health care provider, it's just the right thing to do for the patients and the environment of care that we provide," King said. "We had to respect some of the stats about cigarettes online being the leading cause of preventable death, and we wanted to address some of the community's needs and wishes. We had a lot of people bring to our attention about people standing in front of the building smoking cigarettes."

That was one of the hospital's designated smoking cigarettes areas.

"We had to hire someone to pick up the butts around the building," he said. "That was (part of) their job."

He said concerns over second-hand smoke cigarettes also played into the decision to go tobacco-free.

"Creating 100 percent a tobacco-free environment is the only way to protect patients and staff from the harmful effects of tobacco while here at our facility," King said. "We should be an example of moving forward."

A ceremony Thursday kicking off the initiative included a proclamation from Mayor John C. Anderson, support from hospital governing board chairman Kathryn Pressley, words of encouragement from ACS representative Tamara Cannon and reflection by hospital chaplain Kyle Brock. Employees and community members who pledged to lead a healthier life or made the choice years ago and have offered their support and encouragement were recognized.

King said "probably under 30" of the hospital's close to 300 employees smoke. Nine employees, health care workers and community members - including Dr. Travis King of West Texas Family Medicine, who vowed to quit chewing tobacco - made the pledge to quit, with "a few pending."

Thursday's ceremony ended by locking the employees' smoke cigarettes hut, which will be converted to a storage area. King said they also got rid of numerous ash trays, kind of a "tossing of the relics."

All Covenant Hospital Plainview property is included in the tobacco-free policy, including the John C. Anderson clinic building and Covenant Healthcare Center Plainview, plus parking lots, walkways and lawn areas.

The new policy can only help Olson-Yarbrough and Langston's desire to continue to stay away from cigarettes.

Olson-Yarbrough said she started smoking cigarettes while attending nursing school at South Plains College in Levelland from 1991-93.

"All of the people who I went to nursing school with smoked, and (school) was stressful, so I went to smoke cigarettes with them," she said.

Olson-Yarbrough, whose preferred brand of cigarettes for sale was Marlboro Lights, said she quickly became addicted.

"I was devoted," she said, pointing out that she never used buy cigarette online in her home around her children, opting instead to smoke cigarettes in her backyard - even when it was freezing cold outside.

Olson-Yarbrough said she tried to hide her habit from her kids, parents and fellow church members.

She said her dad smoked, but quit in the mid-1980s after his father died of lung cancer.

But it took a challenge from her mother, Jean Olson, and Dr. Mark McClanahan for Amy to give up smoking cigarettes.

That was another motivating factor," Olson-Yarbrough said.

While at the doctor's office for a check-up on her mother, Olson-Yarbrough said McClanahan and her mom teamed up to encourage her to get off cigarettes.

"OK," I said, "write me the prescription."

The prescription was for Chantix, a pill to help people stop smoking cigarettes.

"It helps your cravings completely go away," Olson-Yarbrough said. "It's kind of a miracle."

She took Chantix for six months.

"I was scared to get off it," she said. "I didn't want to get back smoking cigarettes."

Eventually, Olson-Yarbrough quit taking Chantix and hasn't wanted to pick up a cigarette.

Quitting smoking cigarettes isn't the only way Olson-Yarbrough and Langston have improved their health. Both women have lost weight, too, which is the exact opposite of what often happens when smokers kick the habit.

"It was the same way as it was with smoking cigarettes, it had control of my life," Olson-Yarbrough said of her weight.

She set weight-loss goals for herself and lost 45 pounds.

"I was very determined," she said.

Langston, meanwhile, has lost about 30 pounds.