A woman with smoking-related lung disease fears for her life. A young boy longs for the company of his grandpa. A man has to live the rest of his life with a hole in his throat due to throat cancer.
These are just a few of the people featured in The Rapides Foundation’s “Faces of Tobacco,” a new ad campaign that highlights real people who have been affected by tobacco use. The campaign, which runs through November, is designed to demonstrate the far-reaching effects of tobacco use.
“We wanted to show that tobacco use affects more than just the tobacco user,” said Joe Rosier, president and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “The nine people we are featuring in ‘Faces of Tobacco’ had their lives turned upside down because of tobacco. The sad fact is that tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease and death in the United States.”
“Faces of Tobacco” is a component of the Foundation’s Tobacco Prevent and Control Initiative. In addition to the campaign, which is designed to counter the messages of the tobacco industry, the initiative has awarded just under $1 million in grants to support evidence-based programs in Cenla communities. It also established a program that helps Central Louisiana physicians give patients tools to help them quit using tobacco. Another component helps business owners create tobacco-free environments for their employees.
The “Faces of Tobacco” campaign features real people who have been affected by tobacco in various ways. It includes people who died from tobacco-related illness, those grieving the loss of loved ones and others who are living day to day with the devastating consequences of tobacco products.
Pam Laffin is terrified because she has been diagnosed with lung disease caused by smoking. An emphysema and lung transplant patient, Laffin struggles to breathe. “Oh my God. The fear of not breathing or not being able to breathe is worse than anything in the whole world,” she says. Laffin died at age 31, leaving behind two young girls.
Charles Edwin Lewis is a smoker who has just been diagnosed with lung cancer. He wants to stay healthy for the sake of his wife and young daughter. “I love everybody so much and I can tell everybody loves me,” he says. Lewis died two weeks later, at age 40.
Rick Bender lost most of his jaw to cancer caused by spit tobacco use. Bender has to live with his disfigurement every day. He continues to tell his story in hopes of persuading others to quit. Bender says he started using spit tobacco when he was 12. At the time, spit tobacco was falsely advertised as the “safe alternative” to cigarette smoking. “Turned out to be nothing but a big old lie,” he says.
Curt Ward started smoking at age 15 and was never able to kick the habit. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and describes the suffering that he and his family have endured. “My family is wondering if Dad is going to live, and Dad’s wondering why I didn’t quit,” he says.
Claudette Holton’s husband, Byron Holton, is dying from smoking-related cancer, and she doesn’t know how she is going to get along without him. “I'm going to miss just wrapping my arms around him and saying it's OK,” she says, “I can't imagine what it's going to be like being alone.” Byron Holton took his last breath on June 15, 2001.
Joseph Holton wishes he could see his grandpa again. When Byron Holton died from smoking-related cancer on June 15, 2001, he left behind a caring wife, loving grandchildren and numerous friends. Joseph regrets that his grandpa wasn’t around to see him make the basketball team, his brother go off to college or his sister starting ballet. Asked what he misses about his grandpa, Joseph says, “That’s he’s not around to make me laugh. He’s not there to give me a hug or say, ‘hey, what’s up.’”
Ronaldo has to live the rest of his life with a hole in his throat due to throat cancer. It makes even simple tasks, like showering, difficult. “I was 39 when I got throat cancer from smoking cigarettes. I almost died,” he says. “Now there is a permanent hole in my throat. Nothing will ever be the same again. Not even the simple things.”
Julie lost her dad at a young age to lung cancer caused by smoking. She tears up when she recalls the special song that he wrote about her and used to sing to her.
Victor Crawford knows all about the deceptive tactics of the tobacco industry. He used to be a tobacco lobbyist. After he was diagnosed with throat cancer, he exposed the industry and expressed guilt for its lies and deception, particularly for targeting young people. “One thing’s perfectly clear to me: the tobacco companies are after children. Why? Because tobacco companies know that 90 percent of smokers start as children, before they know better.” Crawford died on March 2, 1996.
Central Louisiana schools held activities March 22-26 to celebrate Kick Butts Day, a nationally recognized day that empowers young people to speak up and take action against tobacco. The school activities are funded by The Rapides Foundation's Tobacco Prevention and Control Initiative.
Kick Butts Day events are held to mobilize students to raise awareness about the problems of tobacco use in their schools and communities. Kick Butts Day is officially recognized on Wednesday, March 24. While most Central Louisiana schools held activities that day, some schools held celebrations on Friday, March 26.
Grant Parish schools held Kick Butts Day events on Feb. 11. Natchitoches Parish schools will hold theirs on April 21-22, and Allen Parish will hold theirs on April 28.
The Rapides Foundation encourages support of Kick Butts Day activities because of their proven effectiveness. “Educating young people about the dangers of tobacco is an important part of our initiative,” said Joe Rosier, president and chief executive officer of The Rapides Foundation. “Ninety percent of smokers start before the age of 18. Our goal is to decrease the number of adults who use tobacco and to prevent young people from ever starting.”
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people every year. Every day, more than 4,000 kids try their first cigarettes while another 1,000 become addicted smokers.
Central Louisiana students will participate in a variety of Kick Butts Day activities. Here are some of the events:
Alexandria Middle Magnet’s “Tar Wars” members will distribute anti-tobacco information to parents and bus drivers in the morning, and to students throughout the day. Students will get pledge cards, arm bands and anti-smoking stickers. Cardboard tombstones will be displayed in courtyards with cancer-related epitaphs, and banners and posters created by “Tar Wars” members will be displayed in hallways and cafeteria.
Alexandria Senior High displayed Kick Butts Day posters and other anti-tobacco messages outside and in school hallways. Kick Butts Day announcements were delivered each hour, and students and faculty members were asked to sign pledge cards. “Tar Wars” members made a special presentation to the freshmen academy students.
Peabody Magnet High School students will participate in various activities throughout the day. The activities include a three-point shootout, dunking booth, informational tables and street graffiti, where students pledge not to smoke.
At Poland Junior High School, students will sign a pledge wall and play Kick the Can, a group of activities that focus on the use of spit tobacco. Physical education classes will discuss being tobacco free, and students will find out what is really put in a cigarette.
Glenmora High School’s celebration will be Friday, March 25, and include various activities, including distribution of “Quit Kits,” carnival snacks, face painting and informational booths and displays.
Plainview High School in Glenmora will have a kickball tournament to “kick out tobacco.” Stations with anti-tobacco activities and facts about tobacco will be set up in the school.
Tioga High School will have informational booths focusing on the effects of tobacco use and smoking cessation, as well as literature to help students quit using spit tobacco. The events will take place during lunch.
Harrisonburg High School will hold a tobacco rally and carnival, featuring games, information stations and a pledge wall.
In Sicily Island, Martin Junior High students will participate in various activities, including a sack race, three-point shootout, a relay race and other games.
At Block High School in Jonesville, students will participate in an assembly in the school’s gym.
Jonesville Junior High will hold a Kick Butts Day ceremony that will include a guest speaker, dance routine and skit. During physical education classes, students will make posters and buttons. Students also will visit informational booths and participate in anti-tobacco activities.
Pitkin High’s Student Council, with a grant from the Central Louisiana Area Health Education Center, is sponsoring activities all day March 26 to educate youth about the effects of tobacco use and to encourage them to be tobacco free. Activities include an assembly for students in grades 6-12 and a basketball shootout for the entire student body. Students will sign a “graffiti wall” where they can pledge to remain tobacco free, express their feelings about tobacco or remember loved ones lost to tobacco use.
The school will have displays and statistics designed to catch youths’ attention about tobacco use and the number of people affected by it. Also, winners of the elementary school “Tar Wars” art contest will be announced.
Winnfield Senior High School students are participating in a poster and essay contest to encourage youth to stand out and speak up against tobacco and smokeless tobacco.
Calvin High School students will sign a pledge wall promising to be tobacco free. In addition, elementary students will participate in a poster contest.
Bunkie High School will celebrate Kick Butts Day from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 26. Students will visit different booths and participate in activities, including signing a memorial wall to honor friends and loved ones who have died from or are suffering from tobacco-related diseases.
The Louisiana School for Agricultural Science in Bunkie held its events on Monday, March 22. LaSAS students accessed informational booths and participated in games to raise awareness for living a tobacco-free life.
Avoyelles High School in Moreauville will hold events on Friday, March 26. Students will visit various booths in the auditorium. Booths include: a memorial wall in which the students will sign in remembrance of a loved one lost to tobacco or someone suffering from ailments caused by tobacco use; “They Put What in a Cigarette?” with examples of ingredients used in cigarettes and an explanation of those items and their intended purposes; “Crime Scene Tobacco;” “Stand Against Tobacco;” “Tar and Teeth in Tobacco Juice Jar;” “Aim for the Truth” Dart Board; “I’d Rather Be … Than Smoking;” “Cost of Cigarettes;” “Straw Exertion;” and “Cups in a Fence.” The students will be allowed to filter through these booths and listen to a short presentation, observe the example items, and engage in the specified activity at each booth. Upon completion of each booth, they will receive a reward reminding them to be tobacco free. If students complete all the booths, they will receive a larger reward with a tobacco free message.
Marksville High School is devoting the entire day Friday, March 26, to teach about the dangers of smoking to teens through visuals, fliers, games and a Kick Butts Day Carnival. Students will be encouraged to visit tables set up with games and information about tobacco. They may sign a graffiti wall pledging to remain tobacco free, look at objects that relate the dangers of tobacco use, and compete for prizes. Activities include a door decorating contest, sidewalk art, graffiti wall, and other games.