Last updated: Jul 09, 2008
natasha-gruppo
Breathing techniques eased Natasha through her cravings.
(NATASHA GRUPPO)
Natasha Gruppo of Phoenix, Ariz., loved lighting up. "Cigarettes were always there for me," she says. “Fortunately, I realized that smoking was really like having a friend whos holding a gun behind her back.”


She got her wake-up call two years ago when a severe asthma attack sent her to the ER. “I thought, 'How far does this have to escalate for me to stop?'" she says.

Soon after, Gruppo, now 32, saw an advertisement about a smoking-cessation class in the employee newsletter published by the university where she works as a finance counselor. She figured trying to quit in a group would provide her with some much-needed support, so she joined. In the classes she learned about nicotine replacement therapy options and strategies for coping with withdrawal.

Gruppo started wearing the patch and quit along with her classmates, who kept her accountable. And when cravings hit, she used a breathing technique shed learned: "I closed my eyes and inhaled and exhaled three times," she says. "When I opened my eyes, the desire had passed." (Deep breathing is a crave-busting technique recommended by the American Cancer Society.) Eight weeks later, Gruppo started forgetting to put on her patch.

"I realized that I was becoming a nonsmoker," she says. Shes been smoke-free for almost two years now, and she's motivated her former smoking buddy Amy to quit, too. And now that Gruppo, a mother of four, is feeling healthy, she and her husband have decided to add another child to their brood.

Why it worked
Counseling programs like the one Gruppo joined can triple success rates, according to the National Cancer Institute. To find a program or a "quit coach" in your area, call 800-QUITNOW (800-784-8669), a free government service that connects you to helpful resources in your state. A coach can help you develop a personalized plan, offer self-help materials addressing cravings and nicotine replacement therapy, and discuss online support.

Gruppos story was first published alongside the profiles of other quitters in the September 2007 issue of Health magazine. We called everyone in July 2008 to see how things were going—and no one had started smoking again!

What about you? Did you quit? Are you struggling with cigarettes now? Please email us at tellyourhealthstory@health.com (with "Quit Smoking" in the subject line) and share your strategies and struggles. You may help someone else overcome a nicotine dependence.