Committed to quit
UF Health employee first to complete tobacco-cessation program
By Morgan Sherburne
In late 2015, Mike Jones did what he thought wasn’t possible: He not only quit chewing tobacco, he did it during the football season.
“It was a dumb time to quit,” said Jones, a High Springs resident, laughing. “All my friends, they dip, and when we got together, they would enjoy their routine, and I would just be sitting there. That first football game was a struggle.”
But Jones, 37, a reimbursement specialist in the UF Health accounting and finance department, said he survived that rough stretch thanks to his determination and a program called Tools to Quit offered by iQuit with the education and prevention organization Area Health Education Centers, or AHEC, and GatorCare.
Jones won his battle with tobacco and became the first person to complete the new program.
GatorCare worked with Tobacco Free Florida to develop the program. iQuit with AHEC offers two classes: a two-hour class called Tools to Quit and a six-week class called Quit Smoking Now, which combine counseling with education and medication to help users break free from of all forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Eligible participants can receive four weeks of free nicotine patches, gums or lozenges.
“We designed the program to take advantage of what we’ve found to be the best combination of treatments for someone to be successful in quitting,” said Jill Sumfest, M.D., medical director of GatorCare.
Jones said he wanted to quit for several reasons: First, he wanted to get back in shape. Also, he was sick of watching money fly out of his wallet. “I know I saved more than $1,700 over a period of 240 days,” Jones said. “That’s straight up cash in your pocket.”
Jones combined his goals by using money he saved to pay the entrance fee for a grueling triathalon: The Ironman 70.3 in Haines City.
When Jones quit tobacco in September 2015, he joined Gainesville Health and Fitness and began training for the event, which includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike course and a 13.1-mile run.
“I replaced one addiction with another, except one has been a healthy addiction,” Jones said.
He had another reason to push: The Ironman was on April 10, close to the anniversary of his brother’s death.
“Every year, for so many years on that day, I would usually just go out drinking to celebrate his life, but it was kind of a depressing day,” Jones said. “My brother was very athletic. What better way to honor him than to do this?”
These types of realizations often help people battle their addictions, Sumfest said.
“People usually don’t quit on the first try,” she said. “They have to be ready, and Jones had a goal.”
As the first graduate of the quitting program, Jones received a certificate and $100.
“Quitting tobacco is an extraordinarily difficult feat,” said Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. “It’s good to celebrate success when it happens, and we are particularly proud of Mike as well as the program developed through GatorCare.”
The classes are offered throughout Alachua County and surrounding counties by iQuit with AHEC. iQuit partners with Tobacco Free Florida, Office of the Surgeon General Tobacco Cessation, Florida Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Good is a founding member of the Florida Tobacco Advisory Council since 2008, which is chaired by the state surgeon general.
“We’re hoping that providing support and education through GatorCare’s program and AHEC’s classes will strengthen the likelihood of successful quitting for other members of our UF Health family,” said Marvin A. Dewar, M.D., J.D., senior associate dean and CEO for University of Florida Health Physicians and associate dean for the Continuing Medical Education program in the UF College of Medicine.
Jones completed the Ironman in Haines City, but it wasn’t easy.
“I almost didn’t finish the bike race, and I had to do the run after that, but I had this mentality that I did not want to fail in front of my kids,” he said. “There are things I’ve learned through this quitting journey that really define you, that change you for the good and give you a great life lesson.”