Quitters win in Boynton’s April contest

More than 800 students are enrolled in Boynton’s Quit and Win contest.

Each summer for the last five years, Aaron Quick has taken a break from smoking.

But he would plan on lighting up again two months later.

This time, the sophomore wants to make his break permanent, he said.

“People ask me, ‘Why go through the agony of quitting if you plan on smoking again in exactly two months?’ ” he said. “But that start-again date is what kept me going.”

This month, Quick is one of 801 students at the University participating in Boynton Health Service’s Quit and Win contest.

Although Quick only needs to stay smoke-free during April to be eligible for the contest’s prizes, he said that this time, he’s quitting for good.

“The prizes are an immediate reward that will take the place of the immediate reward of a cigarette,” he said. “But the long-term goal is to never smoke again.”

Boynton officials said 30 percent of participants in contests such as Quit and Win remain smoke-free.

“People think smokers will just quit for the month to win the prizes, but research shows this isn’t the case,” said Marguerite Zauner, the project coordinator.

Participants often use contests to build on their own reasons for quitting, she said. Organizers said they hope good timing will add to those reasons – the contest began Friday, which was the second day of the Minneapolis, Bloomington, Minn., and Hennepin County smoking bans.

Zauner credits the ban for building interest in the contest. She said she received triple the number of entrants she expected.

“People see this as an opportunity for a new start,” she said.

Hennepin Medical Society, which has been heavily involved with the ban, decided to fund the contest’s $20,000 budget in part because of its timing.

“They’re interested in cessation efforts, and this one in particular because of their work with the smoking ban,” said Dave Golden, Boynton’s public health and marketing director.

Approximately one-third of that budget went to advertising – buying ad space in The Minnesota Daily, sending direct mailings, creating a Web site and mass e-mailing students. Boynton also provides nicotine replacements such as patches and gum.

Prizes total approximately $10,000, including gift certificates for shopping and dining. The grand prize is a trip for two to Riviera Maya, Mexico.

Each contest entrant is required to register with a nonsmoking friend. That friend is eligible for $300 in prizes.

“We wanted to support those who do not smoke as well,” Zauner said.

The friend’s job is to support the person who’s trying to quit throughout the month.

At the end of the month, project coordinators might contact the nonsmoking friend to confirm what a urine test will prove – that the participant didn’t smoke.

Golden said it’s still too soon to say whether Boynton will hold the contest again next year.

“But there’s certainly some good reason to think this is worth doing,” he said. “It’s life-changing for these guys who stay smoke-free.”

– Freelance editor Lou Raguse welcomes comments at [email protected]