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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Eletta Hansen wants you to put down those cigarettes

Today, in recognition of the 33rd annual Great American Smokeout, we bring you Eletta Hansen, tobacco treatment specialist at Mary Washington Healthcare.

Eletta Hansen

Hansen is a former smoker who grew up on a Virginia tobacco farm. As she likes to say, the smoke cleared when she went to nursing school.

Hansen is outspoken about smoking and the U.S. tobacco industry. During a talk Tuesday night at the hospital’s cancer Survivors Symposium, she described how cigarettes are packed with ethanol and methane and engineered to burn at 1,500 to 3,000 degrees.

“The idea is burn hot, burn fast, and you buy more,” she said. “The more you buy, the more money somebody makes. It’s not about you. It’s about somebody making money.”

She also described the cigarettes themselves as an efficient nicotine-delivery system, packed with tar and 4,000 other ingredients, and designed to be as addictive as possible. With the aid of an anatomical slide, she described what happens each time a smoker takes a puff:

“The nicotine gets in the arterial blood stream and races to your brain. It hits your brain in about 5 to 7 seconds. It gets to your brain faster than if I gave you an IV,” she said.

When nicotine reaches the brain, “a big explosion” occurs.

“It finds receptors in the brain that otherwise have to do with mood,” she said. “It’s a marriage. Those receptors love that nicotine, and it fits perfectly in the receptors.

“When that nicotine hits those receptors, it sends a message to the oldest part of the brain, the reward center. It says release a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine gives us a sense of pleasure. It helps us to relax. It reduces our stress.

“So we feel good and take another puff, and the whole process starts all over again.”

Hansen leads a tobacco support group that meets in the Mary Washington cafeteria each Thursday at 7 p.m. Tobacco users are welcome and there’s no charge. Tonight, in celebration of the Smokeout, the group is offering a free dinner that starts at 6 p.m.


  • Barb

    I would love to quit smoking. Been doing it for almost 25 years and have tried to quit 14 times. My Dr asked “what is it going to take to get me to quit smoking”, and I told him he would need to send me to rehab for it. So as soon as one opens up, I will be the first to go.

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