January was an important month for former smokers. It marked the 50th anniversary of the first surgeon’s general report on smoking.
Released by Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry in 1964, the landmark study was the first one released by the federal government linking smoking and negative health effects such as lung cancer and heart disease. That report laid the foundation for modern anti-smoking campaigns and paved the way for 30 more surgeons general reports increasing our knowledge of the dangers of smoking.
In a new report released in honor of the anniversary, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, describes his experience with smokers.
“As a physician, when I think about smoking, I recall the patients I have cared for,” he said. “The man who had a leg amputated. The woman who had to gasp for every single breath that she took. The man with heart disease who hoped to see his son graduate, but didn’t live long enough to do so. That’s the reality of smoking that health care providers see every day.”
On Jan. 10, Eric Lawson, one of the actors who portrayed the rugged Marlboro man in cigarette ads in the 1970s, died of respiratory failure because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his wife, Susan Lawson.
A smoker since the age of 14, Lawson joined the ranks of former Marlboro men to speak out against smoking later in life. He appeared in anti-smoking commercials and an “Entertainment Tonight” segment to discuss the negative effects of smoking, though he continued the habit until he was diagnosed with COPD.
“He knew the cigarettes had a hold on him,” Susan Lawson told The Associated Press. “He knew, yet he still couldn’t stop.”
Lawson isn’t the only former Marlboro man to die of a smoking-related illness. Others include David Millar, who died of emphysema in 1987, and David McLean, who died of lung cancer in 1995.
These events describe in a nutshell why quitting smoking is important to me, and why I wanted to share my experiences with you.
My stepfather had throat cancer in his youth from smoking. He had to have portions of his vocal cords removed, leaving him with a dry, raspy voice and a surgical scar.
I grew up listening to that voice chide me when I acted up, and later reprimand me for smoking myself. But I never stopped to consider the fear he must have felt when he was diagnosed.
Like Lawson’s character, my stepfather was independent and hard-working. And it was hard for me to imagine anything bad ever happening to him.
Nowadays, I imagine what it would have been like to grow up without that voice and without his guidance. My own children need a father, and preferably one who can run and play with them. A father who hasn’t lost his ability to function independently due to a bad habit. A father who will be alive long enough to help them navigate the challenges of life.
It’s been almost 10 weeks since I quit smoking. It hasn’t always been easy, but the human cost of continuing to smoke is incalculable.
A pack of cigarettes in Georgia usually costs more than $5, but cancer treatments and a funeral can cost much more.
Andrew Akers is a University of North Georgia student, a member of The Times staff and lives in Clarkesville. Contact him at email@example.com or 770-718-3413.