Ron Alexander remembers the first time he picked up a cigarette.
"Started smoking probably age 12 or 13, sneaking cigarettes from my mom and dad," said Alexander.
Alexander told his story of an unhealthy lifestyle Thursday - on the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout day.
Alexander smoked more than two packs a day.
“I smoked in my teenager years, into my twenties and thirties," said Alexander.
Then one day, he got a wake-up call.
"A friend of mine younger died of his first heart attack. I’m looking in the casket at the funeral home and I’m jarred to reality," said Alexander.
Alexander has been smoke-free since that day.
The American Cancer Society and the Marathon County Health Department are trying to get people to do the same. The Great American Smokeout devotes one day to raising awareness of the dangers of smoking. People can call a tip line to learn how to quit.
"When people smoke, if they're a lifelong smoker, they reduce their life expectancy by 13 years," said Dot Kalmon, tobacco awareness coordinator with the health department.
Not only that, experts say smoking costs a lot. According to the American Cancer Society, the United States spends billions of dollars on tobacco-related health care costs each year.
"You can buy a lot of things for your home that you'd like to have or a lot of gas in your car," said Kalmon.
Alexander says it was tough to quit smoking, but he says the benefits have been worth it.
"Give yourself a gift this holiday season and make a sincere effort to quit smoking," said Alexander.
If you or someone you know wants to quit smoking, go to this link: http://www.cancer.org/healthy/stayawayfromtobacco/guidetoquittingsmoking/