Frederick Coombs
Longtime smoker vows to quit this year

BY SUSAN STEVENS
Daily Herald Health Writer

Frederick Coombs knows how desperate people become in trying to quit smoking. Coombs, a 63-year-old computer programmer from Wheeling, has shelled out hundreds of dollars over the years in search of the quick fix. Nothing has worked.

But this year, he says, is different. He’s different. “In my past efforts, I really didn’t have my mind made up,” he said. “Now I’m going to quit because I’mafraid of dying, pure and simple.”

Coombs’ brother recently underwent surgery for lung cancer. A fifth of his lung was removed. It’s not the first case in Coombs’ family; 23 years ago, lung cancer killed their father in a matter of weeks. His mother died of liver cancer around the same time.

At the time the deaths didn’t deter Coombs from his smoking habit.

“I was so numb because he passed away so quickly, I walked around in a fog for six months,” Coombs said. “My mother and father passed away within 10 days of each other, so it was a tough time for me. But was it a deterrent? I would say no.” His brother’s cancer comes at a time Coombs had already begun to worry about his health.

Coombs, a married father of three grown children, walks a brisk two miles every morning, which helped him shed about 20 pounds over the last two years.

“My health is good, but I’m afraid it will turn a corner and it will all go downhill very rapidly,” Coombs said.

He’s tried every quit-smoking technique he could find. A doctor once counseled Coombs to simply cut back a few cigarettes at a time. But smoking 18 cigarettes a day wasn’t much different than smoking 20.

He paid $250 for hypnosis, but still smoked. He spent $395 on laser therapy. “The practitioner was very nice,” Coombs said, “but it did not work for me.”

Nicotine patches irritated his skin, so he quit using them. He joined an American Lung Association class — still smoking.

Three years ago, Coombs paid $30 for aversion therapy, in which he smoked so much he became sick. Then he went right back to smoking.

Coombs even paid someone $250 to inject a liquid solution into his face, a questionable treatment Coombs later realized was a scam. The injections didn’t work.

This year, Coombs resolves to quit the pack-a-day habit he started as a teenager, using a combination of nicotine replacement therapies. Having his efforts chronicled in the newspaper will help him stick to his goal, he says.

“There’s a certain amount of pride there to not want to say, ‘I’m still smoking,’” he said. “It’s been a long-coming realization, and I think all the pieces are coming together.”

The Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence