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York City man enjoying the 'car that cigarettes bought'

SEAN PHILIP COTTER
YorkDispatch


Todd Turnbaugh could have smoked a pack a day for the last year, but instead he has a new car.

The car in question, a 2003 Honda Element sat under the tree Wednesday, its unsullied burnt-red exterior glistening in the late-afternoon sun.

"That's the car that cigarettes bought," said Todd Turnbaugh, the Honda Element's new owner.

Cigarettes — or rather, the lack thereof. Turnbaugh, 45, of the Avenues neighborhood of York City, decided to quit smoking a year ago, and, as a reward for himself to help stay on track, he decided to set aside $5 that he would have otherwise spent on a pack of cigarettes. The $1,800 he saved helped get him a nice used car.

At first, Turnbaugh wasn't planning to get a car — he was looking to go on vacation. He's a bartender at The Roosevelt Tavern, which closes down for about 10 days each summer before the 4th of July. Since that break fell around a year after he'd quit, he thought it would have been a good time to take that money he'd saved and go somewhere nice.

But as the anniversary approached, he decided that wasn't quite what he wanted to do with the cash.

"I thought it might be nice to have something more tangible," he said.

So he took the cash and his old car — a 15-or-so-year-old Toyota Celica — and bought the Element. Turnbaugh says it has about 200,000 miles on it, but you'd never guess that based on the vehicle's appearance.

Quitting: Turnbaugh, who'd been smoking since he was about 18, said he'd tried to quit a few times before but never made it very far. And this time was no cakewalk, either. The hardest part was the time leading up to and immediately following quitting — coming to the conclusion that he is an addict and that he will never be able to have a cigarette again, he said. But he went to work on his psyche, and, after a little while, things got easier.

"This time I had a really solid plan," he said. The fishbowl-money was part of it, but just as much had been mental preparation.

"Once I finally wrapped my brain around the fact that I'd done two or three months, it wasn't bad," he said.

"For about six months prior (to originally quitting) I had been writing little notes to myself and posting them in my bedroom," he said. The notes told him again and again why he wanted to quit and how doing so would benefit his life.

And having a giant wad of money collecting in the fishbowl helped, especially when he got the gratification of turning that cash into the car.

"I just love driving it around," Turnbaugh said.

It's the first four-wheel drive vehicle Turnbaugh has owned, which also helps out, as he's become more outdoorsy since he quit smoking.

"Now that I can breathe better, I figured I'd get some better habits, too," he said.

— Reach Sean Philip Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.