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Campaign emphasizes real victims of tobacco

A woman with smoking-related lung disease fears for her life. A young boy longs for the company of his grandpa. A man who lost most of his jaw to throat cancer knows he has to live this way for the rest of his life.

These are just a few of the people to be featured in The Rapides Foundation’s “Faces of Tobacco,” a new campaign that highlights real people who have been affected by tobacco use. The campaign, which runs from February 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. Based on Center for Disease Control's guidelines, the initiative’s goals are to prevent initiation of tobacco use among youth; to promote quitting among adults; and to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke among residents in Central Louisiana.

The ad campaigns are designed to counter the messages of the tobacco industry. In addition to counter-marketing campaigns, 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.

The Faces of Tobacco:

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.

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