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‘We want to have a healthy community’

Brooksby residents and staff perpetuate non-smoking culture

Created date

March 28th, 2014
(From left) Chris Dieter, Brooksby IT site coordinator; Darin Murphy, senior maintenance mechanic; and resident Bob Mehrman are all active participants in Brooksby’s smoking cessation program.
(From left) Chris Dieter, Brooksby IT site coordin

Wellness has long been a goal for those who live and work at Brooksby, the Erickson Living community in Peabody, Mass., but this year marked a milestone as the community went smoke-free on January 1. The push toward a healthier, cleaner environment has also shined a light on Brooksby’s built-in support system.

“There’s a lot of great, healthy activities going on,” says Barbara Hathaway, Brooksby’s employee health nurse practitioner. “It’s a happy place to work, and you really feel good; people really care about each other.”

During the smoke-free transition, Brooksby’s approximately 1,800 residents and 900 employees engaged in community discussions and had access to comprehensive smoking cessation resources and an anti-smoking public service announcement featuring Bob Mehrman, who lives at Brooksby. 

Those who work at Brooksby cannot smoke anywhere on the property, including in their cars. New residents who move to the community cannot smoke in their apartments, and for approximately 20 existing residents who smoke, staff has installed equipment in their apartments to clean the air and keep smoke from extending into hallways.  

Lending voice to incentives

A television broadcaster and former smoker, Bob Mehrman was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and underwent a laryngectomy to surgically remove his voice box in 1990. Bob speaks with the help of an electrolarynx, but his message was clear in the short- and long-version PSAs created in Brooksby’s TV studio. 

An expert in front of the camera, as a regular on Brooksby TV919 and before that as a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, Bob begins by asking: “How would you like to trade your cigarettes for a brand new car?” 

Outlining the dangers of smoking and the expense—to one’s health and wallet—Bob makes the case for quitting, beginning with the 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes and the almost immediate health improvements experienced after quitting. He then explains how a pack-a-day smoking habit, at $10 per cigarette pack, amounts to $280 a month, enough to purchase a new car. One Brooksby employee did just that.  

“I don’t think anyone can watch that film and not be touched,” says Brooksby’s Executive Director Helen Lanagan, who made it her goal to see the community go smoke-free this year. “I think the happiest news is that I know at least three employees have quit since the program began.”

She adds: “Even if they don’t quit, it’s much more difficult to smoke on campus now—at the very least, I feel as though we’re reducing the number of cigarettes they have in the eight hours they’re here.”

Darin Murphy, senior maintenance mechanic at Brooksby, quit smoking before the program started, but he says, “Bob’s video did keep me on the right track, and I can say that as of today, I am still smoke free.”

Support system 

Chris Dieter, Brooksby’s IT site coordinator, quit smoking last summer with help from Brooksby’s Employee Health and Wellness Center, which opened in June. Dieter and his wife had been thinking about quitting, and knowing cigarette prices were going up and Brooksby was going smoke-free, the timing seemed right. 

“I wanted to do it for my own personal reasons, but this seemed like a good segue because I wouldn’t be able to smoke at work after January 1,” he says. 

Dieter worked with Barbara Hathaway, who set him up with nicotine patches and exercises, including deep breathing and counting backwards from ten during a craving. Hathaway meets with employees as needed and provides resources, including a four-week Erickson Living smoking cessation program, Beat the Pack. 

“As an environmentalist, I firmly believe in [the impact of] secondhand smoke,” she says. “With disease prevention, if you can reduce the risk that you can control, that’s half the battle.” 

Hathaway shares her resources and knowledge with her colleagues who see Brooksby’s residents at the medical center next door, where they can receive similar smoking cessation support services. 

As of February, Hathaway had met with employees during 31 smoking cessation visits in the wellness center. Some of these were repeat visitors.

“We have a large community, and we want to have a healthy community,” Lanagan says. “If we could impact their health in a positive way, that’s a big plus.”