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Anti-Smoking Speaker Begs  Teens to Make Good Choices, Don't Smoke

"If you don't smoke, they will go out of business," Stoddard told middle school students

Popular anti-smoking and anti-tobacco speaker Rick Stoddard had one message for Schenectady teenagers last week,  “Don’t smoke!”   He shared the story of his wife’s short battle with lung cancer and fell nothing short of begging and pleading with the teenagers to resist smoking and to fight back strong against the subliminal and not so subliminal advertising that appears to be targeting children.

Stoddard, whose wife Marie died of lung cancer caused by cigarette smoking, is on a mission to reach as many youth across the country as possible.  On Thursday, November 15 and Friday, November 16, Stoddard made stops at each of Schenectady’s middle schools and Schenectady High School.

“Every eight seconds someone in the world dies from tobacco use,” Stoddard told the auditorium full  of sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Mont Pleasant Middle School on Friday afternoon.  He introduced himself and walked out of the the auditorium while the  group quietly watched a series of emotional charged TV public service announcements about the speaker’s wife who died at 46 years old. 

The public service announcements featured Stoddard stone-face, angry and hurt with lingering, painful words such as “Cigarettes killed Marie,”  and “I never thought of 23 as middle aged.”

Stoddard said he is not a speaker but is a carpenter.  “Somebody cared enough about you to ask me to come and speak to you,” he told the attentive student audience.

“This is a difficult story for me to tell,” said Stoddard somberly and then asked, “Who in this room knows someone who is dying from a disease caused by smoking?”  He looked at the floor shaking his  head sadly as almost every student’s hand was raised.  “I see this in almost every school I go to.”  He let the students know that what he has to say is very important to all of them as they are all affected or will be affected by smoking in one form or another.

Stoddard told the story of Marie’s quick deterioration after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.  “It had spread to her liver and she had at least 20 lesions on her brain,” Stoddard explained.  “She did not have symptoms until she was found after having a seizure.”

Stoddard shared his memories of  the many sad days he and Marie shared after she was diagnosed and given a very short prognosis.  He recounted  how difficult the days were after the disease attacked his wife’s brain.  “After 24 years of marriage Marie, the love of my life, could not recognize me  - her husband.”  He added, “She thought I was her son.”

He talked about the treatment Marie underwent which included radiation and then chemotherapy. He shared intimate details of his wife’s treatment and schedule as well as the side affects she suffered.  He recounted the day she began losing her hair.

 “I knew she was going to lose her hair so I cut off all my hair, put it in a box and gave it to her,” said Stoddard who still shaves his head everyday .  “When I shave my head I think about Marie and how much I miss her.” 

 “And I think about cigarettes everyday,” he said softly.  “You don’t want to know what I think about cigarettes,” he said and then paused briefly.

Stoddard talked about the chemicals in each cigarette and dropped a list longer then five feet long.  “This is the list of additives put in cigarettes,” he explained to the large group which  expelled a simultaneous sound of surprise.

“There are four dozen chemicals in cigarette smoke,” said Stoddard.  “These are chemicals that scientists know cause cancer.”  Stoddard continued, “scientists and researchers have proven” – he repeated – “they have proven that cigarette smoke has killed over 53,000 Americans.   This industry takes your money and then takes your life.”

He showed the students an array of television and magazine advertisements that promote  smoking and cigarettes.  As he pointed to one of the ads, Stoddard said, “and this ad is targeted to little kids -  3, 4, and 5 year old kids.”   He referenced children’s movies that include smoking in them.  “What kind of seed does this plant in a 1,2,3 or 4 year old,” he asked.

He spoke about many of the ads and gave examples of how they are directly targeting young children and teenagers. 

When asked if he wanted to sue the tobacco companies, Stoddard said, he doesn’t want their money.  “I want them out of business.”  He added, "if you don’t smoke or chew, they will go out of business.”

Stoddard begged the students to affect change.  “If your generation doesn’t do something about this, who will,” he asked.  “Make a simple change.”

Stoddard offered the students advice on how to talk to a loved one who continues to smoke.  “Don’t hide their cigarettes or poke holes in them.  It doesn’t work,” he said.  “Ask whoever it is to sit down and have serious talk.”  He said, “show your concern  and use powerful words like I love you and I care about you.”

Stoddard told the group “I  sat silently on the sidelines for 46 years and watched this happen until this ….. “ as he paused and pointed to a photo of Marie on the large screen.  “It is not okay anymore.” 

He concluded by encouraging the students to pick and choose carefully.  “You get one chance at this life,” he said.  “This is a mistake you don’t want to make.”

Stoddard’s visit came to Schenectady Schools during the week of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout.

Helpful Website:  http://www.rickstoddard.com/index.htm

 

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11/17/07
Daily Gazette
Anti-Smoking Crusader Talks to Students