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Tobacco-free at CPCC comes with help to quit smoking

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Signs around the Central Piedmont Community College campus remind students and employees that the campus is tobacco-free.

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A tobacco-free policy has been in place at all campuses of Central Piedmont Community College since the beginning of the year. This means folks on campus won't be allowed to smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco, snuff, dips, pipes and just about anything else that's considered a tobacco product. As part of the change, the college is offering ways for people to kick their smoking habit. WFAE's Simone Orendain reports: To a non-smoker, quitting smoking sounds simple enough. The school you go to now bans tobacco products. This means you have go out of your way, to the main streets, the bus stop or off campus for a smoke. So why not just give it up altogether? Because it's hard, says Winston Fields. He's a 19-year old culinary arts major who's been smoking for five years. "How many times have you tried to quit?" I ask. "Five, six, seven, eight. I don't know," says Fields. "So you go a few months and then try to quit cold-turkey?" "Every time I get sick, when I think there's something wrong with me. But when I get better, I go back to smoking," he laughs. Fields is surprised to learn there's counseling available on campus for anyone who wants to stop smoking. But he says his habit isn't so serious. "I don't want counseling for it. If I want to quit, if it was that bad, I'd probably do it. I guess it hasn't hit me yet," he says. Campus counselors have been trained to offer smoking cessation. There's the "Quit Line" that anyone can call for confidential counseling. Tobacco settlement money also funds free nicotine replacement therapy for CPCC students who live in North Carolina. Anyone caught using tobacco products on campus would first receive a warning, if they continue students and employees would be disciplined according to school policy. CPCC and just one other school in the Charlotte region, Wingate University, are part of the growing tobacco-free campus movement across the country. The campus isn't tracking how many people are taking advantage of the smoking cessation offerings. But CPCC Dean of Student Life, Mark Helms says the college is spreading the word. He says, "We will hear anecdotes I believe, as we move forward into spring from some students and maybe from some employees who come forward and say to someone, 'Hey, I quit and I feel great about it.' So we look forward to collecting some success stories." It's not quite a success story for Libby Vagnoni who ironically, heads health and wellness efforts on campus. She was asked to join CPCC's Tobacco-Free Task Force. "I appreciated being asked," she says. "And I always have had thoughts, I really seriously would like to quit. So maybe learning more being more proactive myself, I could quit and I could perhaps help other people along the same avenue." Vangnoni calls herself a role model when it comes to exercise and diet. But she acknowledges the smoking puts a damper on that image. She's been smoking for more than 20 years and tried to kick the habit twice. But Vagnoni found her way back to cigarettes within months when stress became overwhelming. Vagnoni says she didn't realize how much of an addiction smoking is, until these recent weeks since the tobacco-free policy took effect. She explains, "You are looking at yourself and you're going 'Libby, look at how ridiculous this is!' Sometimes watching the clock 'til 12:00 so you can go out for lunch and your cigarette or now, it's looking at the clock 'til 4:30 or 5:00 because I know that it's quitting time and I am back in my car off campus and can have another cigarette. So it has been an 'ah hah' moment." Vagnoni says she really does want to quit. But she hesitates to try on-campus counseling because she wants to keep a clear line drawn between her personal life and work life. As a task force member, she checks in with colleagues who smoke. "Most of them are still smoking, too and finding some way, some device to make it to lunch or make it through the entire day and then just not smoke when they're on college grounds ... I can't say I've talked to everybody, but I haven't found one person who has been able to successfully quit as a result of this policy," she say. Student Arielle Huntley is willing to give it a shot. She's been smoking for three years. Huntley says, "My boyfriend's coming here next semester, he smokes too. And I told him if he tries to stop and gets on the programs and everything, then I would do it with him." Huntley says she's cut back significantly and tries to light up just two or three times a day. She says she's going to take a look at what's available on campus to help her quit.