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Subbing produce for smokes

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For a smoker, the Herculean task of quitting takes many paths.

Pills. Jogging. Stress management. Chewing gum. Name it, a smoker has tried, failed, and continued lighting up.

Subbing veggies for smokes, is not new, but according to UB researcher Gary Giovino, new information indicates it may be a highly effective way out for the nicotine addict.

"When we used abstinence for at least 30 days as the indicator of quitting, people who ate four or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day were three times more likely to be abstinent than people who ate two or fewer."

Giovino's study surveyed activities for smokers for over 14 months. His work with grad student Jeff Haibach allowed for socioeconomic factors and the general fitness of the subjects before publishing their paper with the journal "Nicotine and Tobacco Research."

While the research covered 14 months, Giovino observed some initial clues almost 30 years ago.

"I started to wonder if people who were not eating well, who had sub-optimal nutrition, might be more susceptible. I kind of put that idea off for a long time. But over the years I started noticing there were a lot of epidemiologic studies, cross-sectional studies, and they were very consistent: they showed that cigarette smokers had by far the worst diets."

That finding sparks a notable question: does smoking lead to an unhealthy lifestyle and poor diets? Or does a poor diet make an individual more susceptible to the cravings of habitual smoking?

Giovino, the Chair of the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior at UB, admits he doesn't have that answer.

"It's far from proven. It's an interesting idea. The way I word it is the data continue to be supportive of the hypothesis," Giovino said. "On questions like these we need experiments. Part of the reason for getting this out there is hopefully to stimulate research."

Giovino acknowledges further study could lead in many directions, perhaps, even, that his original concept is wrong.

But that's science and the scientist uses the dead ends to eliminate possibilities until the truth is discovered.

Until that time, Giovino encourages smokers to hit the produce aisle.

"I certainly think it would be a good start. When you eat more fruits and vegetables you feel satisfied. When you eat more salads, you feel more satisfied," Giovino said.

"Some people confuse hunger with the desire for a cigarette. Nothing is going to take away the desire for a cigarette. You still have to use your own personal agency to quit. But what my line of research is starting to be about is, can we uncover more tips to help people quit."

As a researcher, Gary Giovino is clearly focused on the methods and conclusions associated with his findings.

Yet after an hour of free-flowing conversation, he displays a charismatic optimism toward his topic. He appears determined to pass along that hope to smokers, people, he says, who have had their minds hijacked by tobacco.

"Yeah, quitting smoking is hard. But lots of people have done it. It's like learning how to ride a bike. If you keep learning from your experience and keep at it, you can do it."


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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.