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How to quit smoking? The CDC's 'Tips From Former Smokers' ought to help

It's an image so arresting, even a real pro at fast-forwarding through TV commercials would hit rewind:

A gaunt woman, nearly bald, her jaw slightly askew, plants dentures in her mouth and plops a silky blond wig on her head.

Then she picks up the small device that helps her to speak, and inserts it in the hole surgically cut into the front of her throat. This she conceals with a jaunty scarf that's knotted around her neck.

"Now you're ready for the day,'' she rasps, staring into the camera with a blue-eyed look that is at once matter-of-fact and heartbreaking.

This is Terrie Hall, a North Carolina woman who looks far older than her age, which is 51. She used to smoke, a habit she picked up as a high school cheerleader.

At 40, she was diagnosed with oral cancer, and began radiation treatments. Later that year, doctors found throat cancer and removed her larynx. That's when she finally quit smoking.

The cancer has come back and she still is being treated.

But this is not the only way she is fighting. An antismoking advocate, she now is one of the stars of a new campaign on TV, radio, Internet, newspapers and billboards called "Tips From Former Smokers.'' Sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the series features more than a dozen stories from ex-smokers. Among them:

• A 31-year-old man who had both legs and several fingers amputated because of a smoking-related vascular disease. In his ad, he is seen putting on his prosthetic legs.

• A man who had a heart attack and open-heart surgery in his 40s due to damage caused by cigarettes. He displays the huge scar that runs down the front of his slim torso.

• A woman who had a stroke at age 57, attributed to smoking. She is shown in bed, motionless, watching her son silently bathe her, a task she no longer can perform.

You can see these and other stories at www.cdc.gov/tobacco, where you'll also find resources to help quit smoking.

Are these ads gut-wrenching? Definitely.

Effective? Apparently.

The week before the March 19 campaign launch, 14,437 people called 1-800-QUIT-NOW, the stop-smoking helpline. Last week, 34,413 called.

Darryl Konter at the CDC told me the agency is expecting around 500,000 calls over the course of the 12-week effort, and around 50,000 of those people will quit for good, judging from past campaigns.

What a great payoff for the soon-to-be former smokers — and for people like Terrie Hall who are sharing their struggles so boldly.

Nicotine is both physically and emotionally addictive, making it a famously hard habit to break. Still, thousands have done it — experts say lower rates of smoking are the main reason lung cancer cases are going down in many states, including Florida.

But smoking still is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the United States. And too many people — particularly children and teens — still are picking up the habit.

Terrie Hall probably knows just what they're thinking.

"You always think it will happen to someone else,'' she has said. "I'm the someone else."

How to quit smoking? The CDC's 'Tips From Former Smokers' ought to help 04/06/12 [Last modified: Friday, April 6, 2012 4:30am]
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