The 2017 Crow Wing County Health Survey found tobacco use in Crow Wing County is on the rise.

Nearly 1 in 4 adults (23.3%) use tobacco, and since 2014, tobacco use has increased from 17.6% to 23.3%. Less than half of cigarette smokers report they are trying to quit.

Thursday, Nov. 21, is the Great American Smokeout. Quitting isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Tony is just one of many local residents who has been successful. Tony shared his story to help motivate others.

Tony’s story

I started smoking at age 14, and by 18 I was smoking a pack a day. Not only did I smoke every day, but I was actively using alcohol and drugs, which caused me to smoke even more. I loved smoking. There was a feeling of contentment associated with my smoking — especially when I was stressed out. Smoking had a way of calming me down. I guess this is something you only know if you’re a smoker.

Basically, I did everything with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth until I was 35. If I could go back in time I’d tell my 14 year old self, “Quit now! You will pay the price.” I did pay the price and it wasn’t worth it.

At 35 I got very sick with a persistent cough and wheezing that would not go away. After about eight months I became concerned enough to see a doctor. I was diagnosed with the beginning stages of COPD. I would not wish this upon my worst enemy. Doing everyday tasks and everyday activity like walking moderate distances, walking up and down stairs, became a burden.

I get exhausted as if I had been exercising all day long. Shortness of breath is like someone sitting on your chest. It’s very uncomfortable, and it can be scary when you cannot get any air. If someone wants to see what it’s like, take a very skinny coffee straw, plug your nose, and breathe in and out for a minute or two through the straw. But even that did not stop me from smoking.

It was during this time, I came to realize my active addiction was out of control, and I needed to get help. My praying mother had discovered Teen Challenge and encouraged me to enter their program. An added benefit was they did not allow smoking, which became my way to quit. My thought was that not smoking for a year would give me the strength to, hopefully, not pick it back up when I completed the program.

I completed the program at Teen Challenge and was successful in not smoking for the entire 13 months. My COPD, however, did not improve. In fact, it got worse. So it was back to the doctor where it was discovered that I had a rare genetic disease called Alpha-1 antitrypsin enzyme deficiency. Only 1 in 10,000 people have it, and it means my body is deficient in fighting off lung and liver disease. Even though I was destined to have COPD no matter what, I would have gotten it much later in life if I had never smoked.

On the other hand, the COPD was the catalyst for finding out about the enzyme deficiency, which got me on medication sooner. Since quitting smoking and being on medication my health has improved, and the COPD progression has slowed considerably. Today I am extremely grateful my sons will not grow up seeing me smoke. I no longer smell like an ashtray, my wife enjoys kissing me now, I can taste again, and I have more money in my pocket. At some point I may need a lung transplant because of the enzyme deficiency, but I know this: Life is so much better without smoking.

Thursday, Nov. 21, is the Great American Smokeout.  Graphic by Metro Newspaper Service.
Thursday, Nov. 21, is the Great American Smokeout. Graphic by Metro Newspaper Service.

Resources to help people quit

QuitPlan services are available to anyone who lives in Minnesota. Services include starter kits to help people get started, helpful tips, how to cope and conquer cravings, a practical guide to help plan to quit smoking and support services, including a helpline, text messaging, an email program and a quit smoking calculator to show how much individuals are saving per cigarette per day.

Participants can receive free one-on-one phone coaching sessions with trained tobacco counselors. Launched by ClearWay Minnesota in 2001, the independent nonprofit organization is program is funded by 3% of the 1998 Minnesota Tobacco Settlement.

For more information, call 1-888-354-PLAN (7526) or go online to