By Starrla Cray
MONTROSE, MN Like many smokers, Montrose resident Nicki Vilmo knew her habit was harmful, but didn’t know how to stop until now.
“I had been smoking a half to three-quarters of a pack per day for the past 17 years,” said Vilmo, who had her first cigarette in junior high.
In April, she took part in the QuitCash Challenge, and was randomly selected as the $5,000 winner.
“We had just over 3,000 participants, which is pretty consistent with past contests,” said Mike Sheldon of ClearWay Minnesota, an independent non-profit that provides QUITPLAN stop-smoking services statewide.
Although Vilmo was the only participant to receive prize money for this year’s contest, many were able to stay smoke-free for the month of April.
“If you stay smoke-free for a month, hopefully you’ll be able to stay that way for good,” Sheldon said.
Vilmo said her children 2-year-old Riley and 3-month-old Haley were one of her biggest motivators.
“I quit for my kids,” she said. “I don’t want them to grow up thinking smoking is OK; I want to be a good role model.”
Vilmo was selected as a runner-up winner her first time entering the contest last fall, but had to turn down the prize because she hadn’t successfully quit.
“To her credit, she didn’t give up on quitting,” Sheldon said.
Vilmo, who will be moving to Buffalo soon, offered guidance to those trying to quit and stay quit this summer: “It sounds cliché, but the best advice I have is to take it one day at a time. Don’t worry about the overwhelming big picture; just focus on getting through one more day without smoking.”
According to Sheldon, people who want to quit smoking need to identify what times, places, and influences tempt them to have a cigarette.
“When that trigger hits, you want to know your plan of attack,” he said, adding that QUITPLAN offers free phone coaching and web-based programs for smokers whose health plan doesn’t cover that type of service.
In Vilmo’s case, she knew that mornings and lunch breaks were “trigger” times, so she restructured her day to avoid the temptation.
“I stay at work during lunch breaks, and in the mornings, I spend more time with my kids,” she said.
Vilmo started cutting back on cigarettes earlier this year, which helped her quit altogether in April.
“I think it’s getting easier,” she said. “I feel healthier already.”
Funded with 3 percent of the state’s 1998 tobacco settlement, ClearWay Minnesota serves the state through its grant-making program, QUITPLAN stop-smoking services, and statewide outreach activities.
To learn more about QUITPLAN, call 1-888-354-PLAN (7526) or go to www.quitplan.com.