For more than 50 years, Sue Nilsson's smoke of choice was Kool.
"There's nothing like Kools," the Duluth woman said of the menthol cigarette. "I could feel them go down. Nothing else was the same."
But 19 months ago, the white-haired grandmother smoked her last Kool. She quit with the help of medications and from a professional, said Nilsson, 74, at a news conference on Thursday arranged by the American Lung Association to mark the 47th annual Great American Smokeout. And if she could, she said, you can, too.
It's a message that the lung association's Pat McKone, a longtime crusader against smoking, was eager to highlight.
"We want to reach out to those people that are smoking and say, 'Never quit trying to quit,' " McKone said during the media event in downtown Duluth's Ordean Building. "We are very fortunate in our region to have the gold standard available across our Northland - face-to-face counseling and guidance for using nicotine replacements and the other FDA-approved cessation products."
She was referring to Essentia Health's smoking / tobacco cessation services, which the health system launched within the past couple of years, said Jill Doberstein, who coordinates it.
Nilsson, who said she started smoking as a teenager in Cloquet and had tried to quit on her own many times, was one of the program's first clients. She lauded the help she got from her counselor, Lisa Messerer at the Lakeside Clinic, and from the use of a nicotine patch and lozenges, which she still uses as needed.
All health insurers cover the counseling and medication, as does Medicare - although the latter doesn't cover over-the-counter medications, Doberstein said.
Medical Assistance - Minnesota's version of Medicaid - waives co-pays for all tobacco cessation products, McKone said.
Whatever she may have had to pay for patches and lozenges, it doesn't come anywhere close to what she used to pay for close to two packs a day of cigarettes, Nilsson said.
Two weeks after she quit smoking, Nilsson was able to start putting $200 a month into a savings account, she said. She estimates she has saved thousands of dollars in 19 months of being smoke-free.
Her husband, who never smoked, is ecstatic. She also has a 20-year-old granddaughter who's proud of her. And she's pretty pleased with the results herself.
"I can breathe," Nilsson said. "I don't smell like a dirty ashtray. I love not smoking."