FAIRMONT - Kicking a bad habit is always easier said than done. But a few local people who said, "I quit," when new state taxes pushed the price of cigarettes up past $7 a pack are determined to stick to it, and making even more think about quitting.
For Travis O'Connor of Fairmont, the price hike was the last straw after 21 years as a smoker.
"It really was the final push," he admits. "I'd always said if it hit $5 a pack, I'd quit. Then it was $6. But when it went to $6.10, I made it seven."
KICKING HABITS?— Travis O’Connor looks over the instructions for his Chantix and e-cigarettes, two tools that are helping him quit smoking. Recent taxes added to cigarettes in Minnesota was an additional nudge for O’Connor to quit.
But a few weeks before the tax went into effect, the seed for quitting was planted for O'Connor when he went to the doctor for a routine check-up.
"At that time they gave me some samples of Chantix, and we talked about quitting," he said. "I'd tried quitting before, going cold turkey, the nicotine patch. But this time, it's working."
But Chantix isn't an instant cure-all, as O'Connor still experiences nicotine cravings. But in less than a month, he's noticed changes for the better.
"My taste buds are coming back," he said. "It's not like I didn't have taste buds before, but things are more flavorful now."
This was noticed when O'Connor had a relapse.
"I did buy a couple packs, and I had one, but I didn't like the taste of it," he admitted. "I didn't even smoke the whole thing. ... So that's $16 I could've spent on something else."
E-cigarettes have been a help with the nicotine cravings.
"The first one was bad, because I used up one full e-cigarette in one night, and they're supposed to last for the amount of two packs," O'Connor said. "I'm on my last e-cigarette now, and it's been for four or five days. I probably won't get anymore, because the e-cigarettes cost as much for one as a whole pack. But once I'm through with these, I hopefully won't need anymore."
Along with the e-cigarettes, O'Connor has turned to beef jerky instead of gum to ride out cravings.
"I don't really chew gum, because I end up swallowing it," he said. "But the peppered beef jerky works pretty good."
O'Connor's experience so far is also giving some hope to his family who would love to see him kick the habit.
"I would like to say it's been a long time coming," said O'Connor's wife, Cindy. "We've been together 18 years, and even though he's always smoked outside, it's been in the making for awhile."
Cindy admits the family has also been riding out the ups and downs with O'Connor.
"There's been some mood swings," she says.
"We have four girls in the house ages 16 to 4," O'Connor said. "I am trying to keep myself in check."
"The ultimate goal is to have this all done," Cindy said. "I'm glad with this so far, but I still want to see him quit for good."
A woman from Ceylon who asked not to be identified - "In case I relapse," she said - also had July 1 as a quit date, which was shortly after having a heart-to-heart talk with one of her children.
"The tax increase certainly did help my decision but wasn't my reason for quitting," she said. "My kids really wanted me to quit and have been on me for quite some time. I had already quit a lot of other bad habits, so I am just continuing down the list."
Like O'Connor, this woman has also had some moments of weakness.
"I have had my cheat moments, but I remain solid in my decision to become a non-smoker," she said. "I occasionally use an electronic cigarette, less and less, and on a bad day (I) did have a real cig, but it tasted awful and have not smoked one since."
Most of her drive she contributes to her children.
"It helps that the kids really want me to quit," she said. "One of my sons had a very serious talk with me. I'm determined not to disappoint him. Just keeping in mind the look on his face when I agreed to quit is motivation enough. ... I have done well, but don't want to jinx myself."
For Tyler Jones of Fairmont, he announced he was thinking about quitting on July 1, after paying more than $7 for his pack of cigarettes. But he admits the challenge is something he has yet to tackle.
"I want to quit, but haven't tried yet," he said last week. "I'm thinking about starting at the start of next month."
So far, Jones has taken advantage of some savings on cigarettes the tobacco companies are offering.
"I did get a pack that was 75-cents off," he said.
He has also purchased cigarettes in Iowa, where the taxes are lower.
"I didn't go down there just for cigarettes," he said. "But I was down there for a movie and I did buy a pack on the way back."
While Jones has a tentative August quit date, his plan so far is just to try going cold turkey.
"I haven't really given the medical approach a thought," he said.
ClearWay Minnesota, an independent, non-profit organization, has reported a dramatic increase in traffic to its website and calls on its hotline since the new tobacco taxes have taken effect.
ClearWay is funded with a small percentage of the state's 1998 tobacco settlement. Since 2001, ClearWay's "QUITPLAN" services have offered all Minnesotans free access to quit-smoking counseling and can provide individuals with nicotine patches, gum or lozenges.
For more information on giving up smoking, call 1-888-354-PLAN, or visit www.quitplan.com