Getting Help to Live Tobacco-Free, One Day at a Time

With the campus going tobacco-free on Jan. 2, 2014, some are taking advantage of resources to learn how not to use tobacco

Trio posing

Smoking cessation expert V.J. Sleight (left) and Wellness Program Coordinator Julie Chobdee (right) pose with Bob Slater, the senior superintendent for Building Maintenance and Operations, who is working to give up smoking after having the habit for 40 years. Photo by Ross French

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — About 40 years ago, one of Bob Slater’s friends offered him a cigarette. Smoking was the “cool thing to do”, so he succumbed to “peer pressure” and smoked it. That cigarette was the first step on a pack-a-day habit that lasted four decades.

Now in 2013, Slater, the senior superintendent for Building Maintenance and Operations, is enlisting the help of his family, friends, co-workers and Mayo Clinic-trained tobacco cessation expert V.J. Sleight to help him break the habit. With the entire University of California system going smoke and tobacco free on January 2, 2014, Slater is one of many UCR staff, students and faculty who are taking advantage of services offered through campus Wellness programs to help them kick the habit. Estimates are that as many as 70% of smokers want to stop using tobacco, but are not ready to do so.

For Slater, while the campus’ pending ban provided some motivation, he made the decision to give up tobacco for himself and his family. He smoked his last cigarette on April 23.

“My wife, Karen, had wished that I would quit smoking for some time,” he said. “I finally realized that smoking negatively affects my daily health would certainly shorten my life or quality of life which would affect my children, grandchildren, loved ones and friends. I’ve only been off cigarettes for three weeks and I already feel better and can taste and smell things differently.”

“As an ex-smoker V.J. has helped me tremendously to understand the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and educated me on many little tricks to get by the initial challenges in the first two weeks,” he added.

Julie Chobdee, the UCR Wellness Program coordinator, explained that the university partnered with Sleight because it is important to support employees and students who want to stop using tobacco.


All University of California campuses are going tobacco and smoke free no later than Jan. 2, 2014.

“Smoking cessation education and support can significantly improve compliance and the UC is committed to supporting all students, staff and faculty who wish to stop using tobacco products,” Chobdee said, adding that assistance is available through the Campus Health Center and The Well, in addition to the Faculty/Staff Wellness Program.

Sleight provides free one-on-one and group consultations to people who are ready to give up tobacco as well as those who are simply considering it, with the university picking up the tab for her services. A former smoker and cancer survivor who is a certified tobacco treatment specialist, she is quick to point out that going smoke- or tobacco-free is not a one-time event, but an on-going journey.

“It is very common for smokers to have several practice runs before they are smoke-free for good. Each time a smoker stops for any period of time — they will learn about their connection to their cigarettes,” Sleight said. “Becoming smoke-free is a relearning situation. At one time the person had to learn how to smoke, now they need to learn how to not-smoke. This is especially hard when smoking is something someone had done for most of their life. It is unrealistic to think that after smoking for 20, 30, 40 years, that it can be unlearned quickly.”

Sleight said that she gave up tobacco and relapsed nine times — even once during chemotherapy for cancer — before finding a solution that worked for her.

“I had become an expert at quitting, but I wasn’t able to stay tobacco-free myself for more than a few months at a time,” she said. “Each time I stopped, I dealt with a different aspect of how I was connected to my cigarettes. My last cigarette was on August 19, 1990 and I am never tempted to pick one up because I truly know I’m ‘a puff away from a pack a day.’”

Sleight said that the most important piece of advice she gives to people trying to give up tobacco is that they need to have “good reasons to be smoke free.”

“The benefits of being smoke-free — which is not the same as quitting — have to be more important than the benefits of continuing to smoke and be important enough to go through the consequences of quitting,” she said.

Also critical is having a plan in place to deal with the withdrawal from nicotine and break old habits. For Slater, this involved taking doctor-prescribed medicine to deal with the nicotine cravings, preparing other options to replace the physical habits of smoking such as gum, toothpicks or straws that can replace the physical habit of smoking a cigarette. But perhaps most importantly, he reached out and asked for support from his friends, family and co-workers.

“It was very important to inform others that I’m quitting and ask for encouragement and understanding of some of the withdrawal symptoms that I, and they, will experience for a short time,” he said, adding that some of his co-workers were a bit apprehensive upon learning that he was quitting. “They might have thought that I would be a monster to work with during the first few months. But most everyone seems to be supportive and now we have 4–5 people on our grave shift and 5–6 on the swing shift have met with V.J. and have decided to try to give up tobacco.”

Sleight explained that her group sessions are informational and allow participants to share with others where they are in the process of becoming smoke-free. In her one-on-one meetings, Sleight gathers background as to where the smoker is in their process of becoming smoke free and helps to craft a unique strategy.

“Every method will work with some smokers, but no method works for everyone,” she said. “I help the smoker identify what methods will work best for them.”

Slater has played a key role in the formulation of UCR’s Tobacco-Free policy as a member of the Tobacco-Free Steering Committee. The committee was made up of a variety of faculty, staff and students, but Slater was unique in that he was the only tobacco user. He jokingly referred to himself as “the token smoker” and even showed up to a meeting with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve as a joke to break the ice. But joking aside, Chobdee said that Slater has played an integral part in developing the campus policy.

“He provided valuable feedback from a smoker’s perspective about implementation of the policy,” she said. “He has helped with communications and cessation support, providing us with ways to reach out to smokers, as well as by making sure that our plans consider the needs, perspectives and opinions of smokers and tobacco users.”

“The committee was very interested in my perspective, as a smoker, of how the policy will ultimately affect smokers and what can be done to help us all transition to be tobacco-free,” Slater said.

For more information on the UC going Smoke- and Tobacco Free on January 2, 2014, please visit the UCR Tobacco Free website. Information on campus wellness programs for staff and faculty can be found at Programs for students can be found at The Well website as well as Campus Health Center.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-4756

Additional Contacts

Julie Chobdee, Wellness Program coordinator
Tel: (951) 827-1488

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