Seniors tell how tobacco use has affected them
BLAIRSVILLE -- Chances are, everyone knows someone who has been affected by tobacco use, whether it's smoking or chewing. Some have lost a friend or loved one to diseases brought on by the habit, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year in th
A Kick Butts Day event, held Wednesday at the Indiana County Courthouse, is one way local residents are working to curb tobacco use and fight the battle against nicotine addiction.
Held annually on the first Wednesday of April, Kick Butts Day has expanded across the country, involving more than 2,000 events related to tobacco cessation.
Linda Bradford, the tobacco-free program coordinator for the Armstrong/Indiana Drug and Alcohol Commission, worked with other pro-cessation groups, including Tobacco-Free Kids, to organize Indiana County's Kick Butts Day observance. On Wednesday, shoes were placed on the courthouse steps, representing lives lost to tobacco use. The stories of local citizens, on how tobacco use has affected their lives, also were displayed. Those attending were invited to sample foods from three of Indiana's smoke-free restaurants while absorbing information on tobacco product sale enforcement and local smoking cessation efforts.
Awards were given to four Saltsburg Elementary children for essays they had composed about the dangers of tobacco. Several stories written by local senior citizens, about smoking and how it has affected their lives, were read by Indiana County Commissioner Bernie Smith.
IUP graduate student Sarah Zedsar noted youths from Indiana and Armstrong counties planned to add the local shoes and stories to a display on the State Capitol steps in Harrisburg. According to Bradford, event organizers were hoping to display over 20,000 shoes, representing the number of people who die each year in Pennsylvania due to tobacco use.
Senior citizens grew up in a different era, where smoking cigarettes and pipes was an accepted behavior and little was known about the dangers of tobacco use.
Many who participate in activities at the Chestnut Ridge Senior Center in Blairsville also took part in Wednesday's Kick Butts Day, compiling stories of how tobacco has affected them or someone in their family. Many of these seniors were smokers themselves at one point, while others lost loved ones to the addiction.
Dorothy Wainwright, 83, shared a story about how her sister, Janet Ridge, was married to a man that had a twin brother. Both twins smoked from the time they started serving in the U.S. Navy at 17, and both developed cancer. The one brother died in 1983, and the other followed five years later. Both men died from complications of lung cancer.
"To top it all off, my sister died last June," of cancer of the lymph nodes and bones, Wainwright said. "My opinion is that she died from second-hand smoke." She was 70 years old.
Wainwright said there have been other cases of cancer in the family, including liver and skin cancer.
Because there have been other instances of cancer in her family, Wainwright said she is grateful that she hasn't been afflicted with any such illnesses.
"I'm thankful that I don't have it, that I haven't been diagnosed," she remarked.
She noted neither she nor her husband have ever smoked, and neither have any of her children.
Wainwright urged anyone who still uses tobacco to stop now, before they lose their life to their addiction.
"For all of the smokers or others who have lost family members to cancer, please stop smoking," she pleaded.
Alice Whitesell, 80, also lost a loved one to lung cancer and smoking.
Her husband, Reed Whitesell, died of lung cancer in 1994. He had smoked since he was a teenager, she said.
He developed lung cancer and died just two years later. He had quit three years prior to being diagnosed, but it was too late.
Quitting did clear up a few of the other health problems that Reed Whitesell suffered from, she said, including a cough that went away soon after he stopped.
Whitesell also has two sons that smoke, although neither light up nearly as much as they used to, she noted.
She offered a very simple piece of advice to those old and young who may consider picking up the habit.
"Never start smoking," Whitesell advised.
Thelma Kellerman, 84, used to smoke three packs a day of unfiltered cigarettes, "If I was up long enough," she said.
She gave the habit up 25 years ago.
"I was a person who really enjoyed my cigarettes," she said.
Kellerman began smoking when she was just 13 years old.
She finally gave it up right before she turned 60, but it did the intimidation of possible health problems that she thought might be brewing.
"I got chest pains, and I got scared," she recalled.
So little by little, she cut back on the number of cigarettes she smoked a day.
"It didn't take me long" she said, although she acknowledged that "Quitting was really hard. After breakfast, I wanted a cigarette so badly. You just wanted the taste."
Fighting that urge to take a puff was a hard thing for Kellerman to overcome, but there were too many positives outweighing her need.
"You feel better, your chest doesn't feel like it's crushed, you smell better, you don't burn holes in your clothes," she said.
Those who quit smoking now, "They'll feel 100 percent better."
Kellerman's husband, Charles, was also a smoker. He passed away in 1968, although he had quit smoking when his doctors had him undergo a triple heart bypass.
"They told him that if he continued smoking, he wouldn't last that long," Kellerman said.
Cancer runs in Kellerman's family, and she has lost a couple siblings to cancer, some who smoked and died of throat cancer, and some who didn't smoke at all.
Betty Kunkle, 74, was also a long-time smoker. Like Kellerman, she preferred the no-filter cigarettes.
"I'm glad I did quit smoking," Kunkle said, "because now I have grandchildren."
Kunkle smoked her first cigarette right out of high school and didn't quit until 25 years ago.
"All of my friends smoked," she recalled.
She married a man, Dutch, who was also a smoker. They each would smoke a pack a day.
Dutch died of a heart attack, unrelated to his smoking habit, at the age of 41, leaving Kunkle to care for their three kids, ages 2, 4 and 6.
"I would smoke in front of them," Kunkle said. "They'd say to me, 'Quit smoking.' I'd say to them, 'Can you quit eating candy bars?' and they'd say no, and I'd answer, 'Well, I can't quit smoking.'"
Then, 25 years ago, on Ash Wednesday, "I was puffing away before I went to church and all of a sudden, I thought to myself, I'm going to put these down and give it up for Lent," she said.
"And I just quit, cold turkey. I knew that if I just tried to cut back, it wouldn't work. I was addicted to it."
Kunkle is thankful that none of her own children became smokers. "They can't stand the smell of it," she said.
She did have one case of lung cancer in her family, an uncle, Fred Hoffman, who died at 75.
Besides the numerous health complications that can arise from smoking tobacco, there's also the matter of cost.
"Don't start," Kunkle warned. "It's too expensive anyway.
"I'm glad I quit. I couldn't afford it today!"
Sally Bosco, 75, just stopped smoking cigarettes in January. She had smoked since she was 19 years old.
"I smoked all the time, a pack a day," she said.
But when she developed pneumonia at the start of the year, she wasn't permitted to smoke during her two-week hospital stay.
"That really helped me quit," she said. She also moved recently into a residence where smoking is prohibited.
She acknowledged that she wasn't happy when she discovered that she couldn't enjoy a single cigarette during her stay in the hospital.
"When you want to do something and you can't do it, it makes you mad," Bosco remarked.
But after the initial signs of withdrawal were over, she began to see how much better giving up the habit would be for her health and her environment.
That's not to say she didn't hit the occasional obstacle.
"If somebody lit up a cigarette, I felt that I'd like to," she said.
But since she stopped her daily habit, "I feel better," she said. "I'm glad I quit."
A couple of Bosco's children took up smoking, and since giving it up herself, has tried to talk to them about the dangers and how much better she feels tobacco-free.
"I wish they didn't smoke," she said, noting that her oldest brother died of lung cancer at the age of 52. He had smoked most of his life. Her mother never smoked, although her father did enjoy his pipe.
As for anyone who continues to smoke, "I'd like them to stop," Bosco remarked, "but they have to want to."