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‘Oxygen Project’ takes aim at smoking cessation

Not all habits are necessarily bad habits.

The Scranton Running Company hopes to replace some bad behaviors with healthier alternatives as they kick off the Oxygen Project, helping local smokers quit to live and breathe better.

The business is currently accepting applications for the 15-week program as they hope to introduce up to 25 smokers between the ages of 18 and 34 to the sport of running, incorporating the advice of medical professionals to help individualize their adrenaline-pumping activity.

Participants are encouraged to raise funds to benefit the American Lung Association throughout the course of the program, which is expected to begin on May 20 in coordination with the “Body, Mind and Soul Wellness” event held at Scranton’s Downtown Riverwalk.

An information night for interested applicants will be held on Thursday, April 28 at 6 p.m. at their location at 3 W. Olive St., Scranton.

Building a community

The business was founded by Matthew Rosetti and Matthew Byrne in July 2010. Upon opening, one of their biggest concerns was building a customer base. They soon found that one already existed, but it was an unorganized group.

“When all these people started coming to us, we looked at each other and said, ‘There are more runners around here than we ever thought.’ We’re starting to see the growth of an organized running community in the area,” Rosetti said.

Working with the recently-founded Electric City Runners and utilizing popular locations like the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, Lake Scranton and Nay Aug Park, the SRC has introduced their own runs and walks each Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The innovation didn’t stop there.

“One of the ideas and the approaches we had when we opened the store was to be more than a traditional retailer. It’s really a community oriented business, so we wanted to use this store as a platform to pursue a couple of chosen community initiatives,” Rosetti explained.

Last year, they started the Team Survivor program, training a team of breast cancer survivors to run the Race for the Cure. Riding high on that success, the SRC decided to take on smoking cessation with the Oxygen Project.

Trading addictions

Approximately 20,000 adults in Pennsylvania die annually from smoking-related causes, and tobacco-related health care costs residents about $4.7 billion annually in the state, according to information provided by the SRC. After reading about the “shockingly high” rates of smoking in northeastern Pennsylvania alone, Rosetti began developing a way to use his knowledge to fight back.

“One of the things that bothered us is that in most traditional smoking cessation programs, the exercise aspect of it was always treated as an afterthought. A lot of people who quit smoking put on weight. This is a way to mitigate that potential weight gain or obesity risk,” Rosetti said.

“When you smoke, when you take that nicotine into your lungs, it replicates an adrenaline release,” he continued. “It’s a proven scientific fact that 20 minutes of rigorous endurance exercise and beyond replicates that same feeling - that runner’s high, so to speak.

“We’re trying to get them hooked on something else, something that’s a little bit healthier.”

“You’re not reducing your stress chemically. You’re doing it through the natural endorphins,” Anthony Delonti, program specialist at the American Lung Association, said.

Delonti said that the number one cause of death for smokers is heart disease because of a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle, the tightening of the arteries, and higher blood pressure and heart rates.

“It’s an unnatural higher heart rate, as compared to when you’re running.”

The odds of success

While some smokers may believe it’s too late to quit, Rosetti said many serious long-term health implications can be avoided if they kick their butts at an early enough age.

“Even the highest success rates of smoking cessation programs is 30 percent,” Rosetti said. “Say we get 10 people to quit smoking out of the 25 that we take. That’s a coup – that’s a big win.”

Byrne said he has personal reasons for getting behind the project.

“My dad smoked for 50 years. It’s why he struggled with his health most of his life. He passed away two years ago. When he finally did quit about four or five years ago, it still took its toll for so many years. It was tough,” he said.

“We supported him and begged him for so many years to quit and he just couldn’t. When he had a scare, he was finally able to put them down.”

Rosetti said the concept is far from a “holier-than-thou anti-smoking crusade.”

“This is more of a community initiative to lend a hand and take our knowledge of the sport that we love and apply that to something new in an unconventional way to an old game with high stakes,” Rosetti added.

“I want people to put the Lung Association out of business the right way,” Delonti said. “We succeeded with tuberculosis, so let’s see what we can do with this.”

Learn more

The Oxygen Project is now accepting applications. Interested parties from age 18 to 34 can contact the Scranton Running Company, 3 W. Olive St., Scranton, at (570) 955-0921 or info@scrantonrunning.com. An information night will be held at the business on Thursday, April 28, at 6 p.m.

The American Lung Association will hold their Fight For Air Walk in Wilkes-Barre on June 4, starting at the Robert L. Betzler Fields at King’s College. For more info, visit www.lunginfo.org/wbwalk.

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