Tammie Freitag has two words for smokers.
“Stop smoking,” she said. “Put it in bold, stop smoking, please.”
That’s easier said than done, Freitag acknowledged. And she knows from first-hand experience.
“I was a smoker for about 30 years,” she said. “I’m one of the ones who can can say you, too, can quit, because I did it, and I know how hard it is to do.”
I visited with Freitag recently, during her visit to Rio Blanco County, where she made stops in both Meeker and Rangely to test people for COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). She is coordinator for the Integrated eHealth Program at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver.
“COPD is the third-leading cause of death in Colorado,” Freitag said. “And it is, generally, caused from cigarette smoking, or some other pollutant factor, but mostly from smoking. For miners and farmers and ranchers, if they smoke on top of it, it’s like a double exposure.
“Not everybody who smokes gets COPD,” Freitag added. “But people who have COPD, 97 percent of them are smokers.”
Freitag doesn’t want to preach at people who smoke. She just wants them to enjoy a better quality of life.
“We have to get past that whole thing of making people feel bad,” she said. “We always want to blame somebody for something. We want to get past that, get past the blaming, and think about how to treat you, and how to improve your quality of life.”
First of all, stop smoking, she said.
“We encourage you to quit smoking,” Freitag said. “If you smoke, stop. If you stop smoking now, you’ll stop causing further damage. That’s the biggest thing.
“The second thing is to get diagnosed earlier,” she continued. “The earlier we diagnose you, the easier it is to treat. It’s way better to treat it early, just like any other disease.”
The COPD test, which gauges how a person’s lungs are functioning, is painless and fast.
“We’re testing how well you breathe,” Freitag said. “It’s quick and easy. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes.”
While Freitag encourages people to stop smoking, the damage has already been done. And damage to the lungs from smoking can’t be reversed, Freitag said.
“Your lungs don’t regenerate,” she said. “They don’t fix themselves. Once that emphysema is in there, the lung tissue doesn’t re-grow. Smoke is, essentially, a very fine particle, and it just prunes away all of the little air sacks. You prune it away, and it doesn’t grow back. So the sooner you stop (smoking), the less damage you do.”
But it’s never too late for a person to stop further damaging his or her lungs, Freitag said.
“People think, ‘Oh, well, what’s the point now? The damage is done,’” she said. “But you don’t want to keep damaging (your lungs). You want to stop a disease where it’s at, instead of letting it progress. I’ve actually had patients quit smoking and in three months or six months, they get some lung function back, they are no longer short of breath. So it really does help.”
In Rio Blanco County, there are more smokers than in other Colorado counties.
“Sixteen counties in Colorado have a higher rate of deaths from COPD than other areas of Colorado, and Rio Blanco County is one that has a higher death rate from COPD than other places in the state,” Frietag said. “As a state, Colorado has the seventh-highest mortality rate from COPD in the nation.”
But the number of smokers in Colorado is declining.
“Actually, the rates of smoking (are decreasing),” Freitag said. “In Colorado, 18 percent of the population smokes. That’s pretty low. That means people are quitting. That being said, a lot of them smoked for 30 or 40 years before they quit.”
Freitag also sees a trend that concerns her: More youth are smoking.
“We’re seeing a rise in kids again who are smoking, and I don’t know why,” she said. “It’s frustrating, because the education is out there. (Smoking) is much more prevalent than when I was 16. But teenagers think nothing will ever happen to them. We all thought that, that nothing’s going to hurt me.”
Freitag has seen that attitude with her own children.
“I have four children and every one of them smokes, and look at what I do for a living, and I can’t get them to quit,” she said. “It’s frustrating.”
Restricting where people can smoke, such as in public places, is effective in reducing how much people smoke, Freitag said.
“That’s how I started, social smoking, and then I was smoking a pack a day,” she said. “Now, you can’t smoke in bars anymore. You can’t smoke in restaurants anymore. I think that’s helpful. The more difficult it is to smoke, the less you smoke.”
Freitag said there are plenty of programs available to help people stop smoking. And to learn more about COPD or the treatment programs for people who have lung disease, call Freitag at 720-848-7094 or visit www.copdehealth.org. You’ll find her to be very understanding.
“Tell them I used to be a smoker,” Freitag said. “So I know what it’s like.”
When talking to Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, last week, he expressed concern about a proposed bill — known as FASTER — that would increase the cost to register a vehicle. The proposal also includes a late fee of $25 for every month a vehicle is past due.
“The phase-in (registration) fee, which on average would be $41 more, is pretty significant,” White said. “Which is why I voted against it. I hope some further compromise takes place and we’ll see those fees drop.”
Senate Bill 108 would increase the registration from about $26 for a typical vehicle to $41. The extra money would be used to pay for road and bridge repairs.
“In northwest Colorado, we’re all suspicious of Big Brother looking over our shoulder,” White said. “The bill also allows for establishment for tolls on existent roads. I don’t like that piece, either. I don’t think we should pay tolls for roads that are already paid for with taxes.”
White said there would be an exemption in the bill for agriculture.
“Ranchers and farmers have several vehicles they may only drive a couple of times a year, for market or for harvest, and they did amend that into the bill,” White said.
Oil and gas producers met recently in Meeker to discuss issues affecting their industry. County Commissioner Ken Parsons sat in on the meeting, and I asked him for his take on what he’s hearing about the level of activity in Rio Blanco County.
“They indicated to me that, at present, XTO (Energy), Whiting (Petroleum), BOPCO and Encana have no rigs running in our county,” Parsons said. “As I recall, XTO, Whiting and BOPCO probably had a total of four rigs, at most, between them. Encana hasn’t had a rig in our county for over two years. ConocoPhillips has been drilling on Encana leases in Garfield County, but accessing them through our county.
“Last month, Williams had said at the Northwest Oil and Gas Forum that they would keep all four rigs that they had in the northern Piceance running; at this meeting they indicated that only two would be continuing. (At a meeting) in Denver, an ExxonMobil lobbyist indicated that their plans continue unchanged. As I recall from an earlier meeting with them, they were running four rigs and hoping to add two more.”
I asked Parsons how this level of activity would affect traffic on County Road 5 going to the Piceance Basin.
“In the near term, I’m guessing, it might reduce it around 25 percent, which would be roughly a drop from 2,800 to 2,000 vehicles per day,” Parsons said.
As examples of ongoing activity in the Piceance, he added, “ExxonMobil was always the largest operator out there, and they are continuing business as usual, the Williams gas plant construction continues, the ExxonMobil central treating facility is still under construction, construction continues for Enterprise, and the planned pipelines for Williams’ gas plant tie-in and NGL transport are still under way.”
I missed the heavy load when it came through Meeker last week. I was hoping to get a photo of it.
James Quintana of Williams said the load — a 600,000 pound amine contactor tower — was headed to the Willow Creek Plant. He said the amine contactor was “the largest load by weight associated with construction of the plant.”
The plant is scheduled to open in late July, said Quintana, Williams’ director of operations in the Piceance.
Since writing previously about my own experience kicking the smoking habit, I’ve had a number of people, former smokers themselves, offer encouragement. Debbie Morlan, who works for the county, was one of those people.
“It’s been six years,” she said of how long she has been smoke-free.
I haven’t even gone six months yet, but at least it’s a start. Even Tammie Freitag, when I interviewed her, admitted she sometimes craves a cigarette.
“Sometimes it still sounds good,” she said.
I know the feeling.
Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at email@example.com.