CLEARFIELD — At 15, Chris Price and his friends knew all the stores and employees from which they could get cigarettes to smoke.
He grew up with a mom who smoked, and his two siblings also became smokers at a young age.
"She used to tell me how disgusting it was, but at the same time, she would still smoke," he said, adding that his mother was aware that he was stealing from her cigarette supply to obtain the euphoria he said smoking brought him. "I was addicted, even at that age."
At the peak of his addiction, Price was burning through a pack and a half a day: "After a while, it was all I could think about, getting to that next cigarette."
It wasn't until he met a girl, Rachael, who turned up her nose at the unpleasant odor smoking causes, that Price, now 34, began to think about quitting. At the time, he was paying $5.30 per pack and couldn't fathom doling out the estimated $50 for nicotine patches to help him quit.
Rachael would become his wife, and spurts of quitting cold turkey bought him weeks, even months at a time free of cigarettes. After several years, he didn't pick up the habit again, until the untimely death of his baby girl in July of 2006.
"It was how I coped," he said, but he didn't really want to stick with it. His next attempt to quit, which included a cessation medication, somehow took hold. Much to the relief of his wife and their three other children, Price hasn't smoked since.
According to a study released Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, Price kicked his habit in the nick of time, actually tacking years back onto the end of his life. The report states that smokers who quit between the ages of 25 and 34 can regain nearly the same life expectancy as people who never smoked, reclaiming the 10 years of their lives they might have lost to smoking.
Those who quit between the ages of 35 and 44, 45 to 54, and 55 to 64 stand to gain nine, six and four years of life, respectively, the study states.
"They can never erase the fact that they smoked, but it can increase the benefits of quitting smoking," said Amy Oliver, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Health Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. Benefits of stopping smoking, she said, include increased lung capacity; longer life expectancy; and a decreased risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer, among other hazardous illnesses that can lead to death.
Oliver said 29 percent of smokers in Utah are between 25 and 34, and while the age group is already a prime target of smoking cessation campaigns, the new findings make helping them quit even more important.
Of the 220,000 adults in the state who smoke, she said about 80 percent have expressed a desire to quit. State and community programs, including the Utah Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, and www.Utahquitnet.com, have become more available over the years and are free and confidential to anyone who might need them.
The programs provide access to a "quit counselor" throughout the duration of their program, someone they can call at any time for encouragement and support, help a smoker get started and stay excited about quitting, Oliver said.
She said Utah has the lowest smoking rate in the nation, at 11.3 percent, according to 2011 health department data, but remains a problem.
"Quitting smoking is not easy, we know that," she said, adding that for most people, it takes six or seven attempts before conquering the addiction. "It can be discouraging, but once you get through six or seven tries, you're in the home stretch, it gets easier every time."
Use rates across the state have gone down since 2010, when lawmakers increased the cigarette tax from 69.5 cents to $1.70 per pack. Also making an impact on smoking rates in the state, Utah's Indoor Clean Air Act prohibits smoking in public buildings and the health department's media campaign has been strong for some time, providing access to services that other communities don't have, Oliver said.
She said a support system of family and friends is an important factor to succeed at quitting. Counselors also tell clients that fighting the craving to smoke for as little as 10 minutes by substituting a different activity can help beat the habit.
"Trying again and again is one of the most successful things that people can do," she said. "That, and sticking with it. If they fail, do not give up."
Health department data suggest that more than $663 million is lost each year in Utah to smoking-related medical costs and lost productivity, and more than 1,100 people die each year from smoking-related causes.
Price said he didn't realize the health impacts smoking had on his body but started noticing that he couldn't keep up with his kids without losing his breath or wheezing during physical activity. He often worried about what long-term effects smoking might have and he blamed every sickness he went through on the habit.
Since quitting, he said, physical activity is more enjoyable and "my teeth aren't yellow anymore and my breath isn't atrocious."6 comments on this story
"It's one of the things I can say I am really proud of," he said. "Just like any other addiction, the only person you can do it for is yourself. It won't work if you try and quit for other people."
In addition to his physical stamina, Price is happy the family has been more financially stable without him spending so much on cigarettes, and, in general, he said he knows he is better to be around.