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Health Center to provide LGBTQ+ students smoking cessation services

Health Center to provide LGBTQ+ students smoking cessation services

Members of Kenyon’s LGBTQ+ community who want to quit smoking have a new resource for help: the Cox Health and Counseling Center’s weekly cessation group meetings. For the next four weeks, the Health Center will host these meetings for students who identify as LGBTQ+.

The meetings, which run each Monday from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., are meant to help students quit using tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigs, vapes and chewing tobacco. Mike Whitaker, a tobacco treatment specialist for the Knox County Health Department, leads the group.   

During the meetings, Whitaker uses a group counseling format to help students develop an individualized quitting plan. Participants set a quit date and find ways to manage the things that trigger them to smoke. The Health Center is providing nicotine gum, lozenges and patches for free. Members of the group will also put together “survival kits,” which may include items like water, cinnamon gum, a stress ball and a toothpick or coffee straw. Whitaker believes kits like these will keep smokers’ hands and minds busy, which will reduce their urge to smoke. “Obviously, studying is a good way to kind of do that,” Whitaker said, “but that can be a trigger for some.”

In upcoming sessions, Whitaker and the students will discuss withdrawal symptoms, medication options and other available quitting programs.

The Knox County Health Department, the Health Center and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) co-sponsor the program. A grant from the Ohio Department of Health enabled Knox, Perry and Licking Counties to fund their Community Cessation Initiative (CCI), which targets populations disproportionately affected by tobacco use.

According to the Truth Initiative, LGBTQ+ adults smoke at rates up to 2.5 times higher than straight adults.

“There’s 11, 12 different counties in the state of Ohio that applied for this grant and received it, and [Knox, Perry, and Licking Counties are] the only ones in the state that [are] working with the LGBTQIA+ [population] specifically,” Whitaker said. “It’s kind of surprising that other counties … are not working with the population that we are.”

The Knox, Perry and Licking CCI also focuses on pregnant women, mothers and people of low socioeconomic status. As for LGBTQ+ outreach, Whitaker said, “Kenyon was always on my mind.”

Whitaker reached out to Chris Smith, director of the Health Center, at the beginning of the school year. Smith was eager to bring the program to Kenyon.

“If there’s any resource that we can provide that adds to the care and support we give to you all, we don’t always have to be the one to bring it here, especially if it’s a greater need in the community,” Smith said.

Smith and Whitaker will evaluate the program’s success before spring break and decide whether to continue the meetings for the remainder of the school year.

The Health Center also partners with the Knox County Health Department for various other programs, including its STI clinic, which takes place three times per semester. The Knox County Health Department will work with ODEI again to host a free and confidential HIV testing clinic on campus as part of the Kenyon Queer and Trans Studies Conference.

Assistant Director of ODEI Timothy Bussey called the program “a testament to the broader goals of an office like this … It’s a peer-to-peer support model, but it’s also, from the foundation, embracing diversity and inclusion.”

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