Is today the day you quit? Read the stories of former NJ smokers
Every time the calendar hits Oct. 10, Ewing resident Ingrid Fair can give herself a pat on the back.
The date marks another year she's tobacco-free, after smoking cigarettes from age 15 until right before her 30th birthday.
"I haven't smoked in 12 years," Fair told New Jersey 101.5. "I would never ever go back, never."
But getting to this point was not easy. Fair made several attempts to kick the unhealthy habit. Eventually, prescription medication helped relieve the temptation to smoke, and actually made her sick anytime she'd smell a cigarette.
The pills lasted a few months, and since then, she hasn't taken a puff.
"I feel so much healthier; I can breathe so much better," Fair said. "I am very proud of myself that I was able to overcome this."
Dropping the habit, which kills more than 11,000 New Jersey residents each year, could be the toughest mountain smokers will ever have to climb.
But on Thursday, the day of American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout, smokers may have more support than ever to begin a tobacco-free life. The hope is that smokers will be more willing to make a change if thousands of others across the country are doing the same.
Quitting improves one's health immediately and over the long term, ACS said. Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world.
"You just have to want to do it and put your mind to it," said Michelle, also a Ewing resident, who quit six years ago after smoking for nearly 20.
"It was the best thing that I've ever done," she added.
For those serious about quitting, Michelle advises picking up a new hobby. She turned to exercise any time she felt the urge to smoke. In 2016, she ran her first marathon.
Michelle, 41, failed multiple times to quit on her own. Surgery for a deviated septum ended up doing the trick. She was told by her doctor not to smoke for two weeks after surgery, and when the two weeks went by, she just kept going.
Despite her encouraging story, Michelle's father continues to smoke. He's had plenty of health problems as a result, including two heart attacks, and just can't quit. He, too, tried a number of times.
"It bothers me, it hurts me," Michelle said. "I've had many conversations with him."
New Jersey's adult smoking rate of 14 percent is among the lowest in the nation.
The state Department of Health on Wednesday announced nearly $7 million in new projects designed to fight smoking and vaping among youth — the product of 2017 legislation that steers 1 percent of tobacco products revenue towards anti-smoking and cessation programs.
Within that funding is nearly $2 million for 11 regional "quit centers" that provide counseling and therapies for those who want to recover from their nicotine addiction.
The state's telephone-counseling service, NJ Quitline (1-866-NJSTOPS), will add electronic referrals for smokers who want to quit, as part of the funding.