RICHMOND

We had a colleague who tried to prepare his son for driving by taking him to accident scenes, and it may have worked. We never saw a news story reporting that young man having an accident. But the jury is still out on what kinds of experiences change human behavior.

The new government-sponsored anti-smoking commercials are banking on real horror stories that may help smokers give up the habit. And the stories are brutal, from the woman who lets you watch her put on her wig and cover her artificial voice box with a scarf to the diabetic smoker who lost a leg.

If the commercials, at a price tag of some $48 million, have an effect, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figure a much greater sum will be saved in future medical costs. So, despite tight budgets, the CDC is out there on TV, radio and online with stories that are hard to see or hear.

Only people who have never smoked in their lives believe smokers can give it up one day because they have decided to do that. We know one Type A personality who did that, but only one. In the habit of reaching for his cigarettes before even getting out of bed in the morning, he woke up one day, looked at the pack, announced, "It's a dirty habit," and quit.

Another friend stopped when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, a little late in the game but a firm decision. Her spouse, however, went on smoking -- outside the walls of their house.

It's just not easy, and most people who have stopped will say they gave it up multiple times before it worked.


Advertisement

It was even harder to stop before the world admitted that nicotine was a serious addiction. Up until that time, anyone who said he or she couldn't stop was considered a weakling, unable to make serious decisions or commitments.

For smokers, it was something of a relief to be told officially that they were addicted and stopping would be tough. Many had quit, backtracked and endured scorn from their non-smoking friends. Most of us former smokers remember the giving up experience vividly -- and when notes are compared, we find out how many different routes we took to get there -- and how many times we went back.

n

We were witnesses at a Massachusetts hospital when the No Smoking Committee came to see a heart patient. Had he ever given up smoking, they wanted to know. He nodded. For how long? A week? Why did you start again? I got out of intensive care. It would have been hilarious if it wasn't so sad. As soon as they left, he went to the lounge to have a cigarette. A few years later we read his obit.

Only 20 percent of Americans smoke these days, but the problem is that the campaign to get people to quit has stalled at that level. So the horror stories have been introduced.

Coming from a nonsmoking household, it was probably natural for our offspring not to become addicted smokers, even if they tried it in their teen years. But one of the enforcements that came about quite accidentally involved a catch-up visit to our dear friend Millie after we heard she was having health problems.

We were shocked to walk into her little house and find her connected to a noisy supply of oxygen. The three kids looked beyond her to a tangle of tubes that ran into other rooms so she could move about without disconnecting her oxygen supply, this being in the days before portable tanks were common.

And then, in her sternest voice, Millie gestured to the set up and said, "I have one thing to tell you kids. Don't you ever smoke. Ever."

And they didn't.

Ruth Bass is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.