HELENA — Helena residents Robert and Jess Hegstrom are often out walking -- walking the trails on Mount Helena or walking to the farmer’s market -- things the couple couldn’t do before they quit smoking.
“Our lifestyle, our quality of life -- everything has improved because we’re no longer tied to this addiction,” Jess said.
Both Robert and Jess were longtime smokers -- Robert since the age of 15, Jess since she was 23. Like many smokers, both tried to quit multiple times.
The Freedom from Tobacco program offered through St. Peter’s Health made their most recent attempt to quit a success.
The Hegstroms quit smoking on Aug. 3, 2020, and since then, they have noticed a number of health benefits.
“It used to be where we’d get to the first trail here (on Mt. Helena), and then we’d have to stop, sit down, smoke a cigarette, and then usually turn around, you know, pitiful,” Robert said. “But now, we just walk until we get tired, and then head back, no thoughts of a cigarette.”
Quitting is not easy, but doctors say the hard work is worth it.
“You’re doing the most important thing you can for your health,” St. Peter’s Health family physician and addiction medicine specialist Dr. Kyle Moore said.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking accounts for about 1-in-5 deaths each year, and the American Lung Association says it is the leading cause of preventable death in the US.
Dr. Moore said people who quit smoking can see both immediate and long-term benefits.
“Within two to five years of quitting smoking, your risk of a heart attack decreases dramatically by at least half. Within 10 years, your risk of a stroke decreases by at least half. By 10 to 15 years, you have decreased risk of cancers such as kidney cancer, bladder cancer, pancreatic cancer -- those are all decreased significantly the more time you have away from cigarettes,” Dr. Moore said.
Since the Hegstroms quit smoking last summer, they have worked to encourage others to become non-smokers too.
“We want people to know you can do this,” Jess said. “It’s okay if it takes you a couple of times to get there, this program really makes it easy, you just have to put in the work.”
You can find statewide resources to help you quit tobacco on the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website.