The anti-smoking medicine that's saving us over $2,000 a year

Chantrix helped my wife stop smokingNobody is paying me to say this: If I ever meet the person who invented Chantix, the anti-smoking medicine, I may have to give him or her a hug. If we ever have another child, I think we have a name picked out (well, maybe the middle name). If I were a dying billionaire and Chantix were a person, I'd probably adopt Chantix, so I could leave something for him or her in my will.

Well, you get the idea. I'm a big Chantix fan. And with good reason.

My wife has been a smoker for most of our 10-year marriage. She promised me several times when we were dating that she would quit. She vowed that before our wedding, she would quit. She vowed after our wedding that she would quit. One year, as an anniversary present, she announced her intention to quit. When she was pregnant, she, of course, swore she would quit.

She once actually managed to, several years ago. She had had foot surgery and was on pain medication for three days. She couldn't leave the house, I refused to buy her cigarettes, and she was loopy for those three days, managed to get the nicotine out of her system and summoned the willpower to stay off them for nine months -- and then she had a fairly serious wave of depression, possibly related to some postpartum depression that she had had, and fell back into smoking.

So maybe I'm jumping the gun, since it's only been about two and a half months that she has been cigarette-free -- obviously, she could always go back. But I think she is finally done, and in case it helps anyone out there to read an anecdote about Chantix, I thought I'd share our story.

In a nutshell, my wife went to our family doctor in January, asking her if she could be prescribed medicine to help her stop smoking. She asked about Chantix, since I had seen the TV ads and started wondering if we should look into them. The doctor gave my wife the go-ahead. She took the medicine, and it worked. That's the short story.

The slightly longer version is that around the beginning of the year, I was monitoring our bank account as I always do, and I found myself fixated on a few charges that had come from a gas station. I knew they represented her cigarettes, rather than gas. She often had two separate charges at gas stations, and so it was pretty easy to deduce that one charge was going to fuel up the car, and the other, her nicotine habit.

Now, I had added up what we were spending on her smoking addiction many times before, but for whatever reason, I did it again, figuring she was spending $13.50 every two days. So on a Monday, she'd spend $13.50, and on a Wednesday, $13.50. I did the math, calculating 182 days times $13.50 and figured that we were probably spending over $2,400 a year, at least. I had always felt like a chump that we were forking over part of our money to the cigarette companies, but looking at this number, right around the beginning of the year, a time when I often take stock of how my life's going, I felt particularly ... um. .. chumpy?

Anyway, obviously, I've been plenty concerned about my wife's health over the years, and what smoking has likely done to her lungs. She has been smoking since she was a teenager, of course (I wonder: do any adults, one day, just say, "Hey, this looks fun. I think I'm going to take up smoking"?). But ever since I began focusing my writing on personal finance issues a few years ago, her habit has been particularly galling.

I can't think of any personal finance expert who has ever suggested smoking is good for one's bank account, and I know I did my own WalletPop anti-smoking story two years ago, opening with:

"I know why I'm writing this: I have a family member who I'd like to convince to quit smoking. Oh, I know how a post about giving up smoking will be received. The people who wish family or friends would quit smoking will read this and nod their heads. The smokers who are forwarded this email will probably hit delete immediately."

And, of course, after the post ran, I not-so subtly sent the link to my wife, hoping she would not hit delete and read it and see the light.

Instead, she just kept lighting up.

But in January, after adding up the $2,400 figure and realizing that my wife's smoking was causing smoke to come out of my ears, I had a long, impassioned talk with her about what that number was doing to our finances, which, as I've shared in many a WalletPop post, have never been that great to begin with.

I insisted that she go to a doctor and get anti-smoking medicine, and to my shock, she agreed with me. But even more shocking, given the hold cigarettes had on my wife, the medicine actually worked.

Chantix is expensive. Our health insurance plan, inexplicably, wouldn't pay for the medicine, so when I went to pick it up for my wife at our pharmacy, I balked a little when I was told the price. If memory serves me, it was $108, due to a coupon that we had, for a month-long supply. I had about a three-second conversation where I said:

Gee, $108? That's a little steep.

And then:

Dude, you're paying over $200 a month for her to smoke. $108 to get her to quit is a bargain.

So I happily handed the pharmacist my debit card.

You're supposed to take the medicine for two to three months. Apparently, a lot of people quit the medicine early, because they feel that they're off of nicotine and that they might as well stop, which increases the risk of starting smoking again.

My wife did stop taking the medicine after about three weeks. Having zilch years' experience in medical school, I don't recommend that, and I would do whatever the doctor and pharmacist tell you, obviously. But apparently the medicine, from what my wife told me, isn't a picnic, which is why she was anxious to stop taking it. Possible side-effects, it says on its Web site, are "nausea (30%), sleep problems, constipation, gas, and/or vomiting."

I'm happy to report that I don't recall my wife having any gas problems or any serious nausea or vomiting. She did have some vivid, weird, surreal nightmares, and she just felt a bit off while taking the medicine. But she had no desire to smoke, after she put down her last cigarette, and I've seen absolutely no evidence that she has smoked since she declared her "stop smoking date."

So if you're a smoker and think there's no hope, I'm telling you, you owe it to yourself to talk to your doctor and see what anti-smoking medicines are out there. No offense to nicotine gum, but we seem to have come a long way from that. If you give up smoking, you'll obviously see a lot of health benefits, and your checking account will likely be healthier than it has been in years.

Geoff Williams is a regular here at WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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