The controversy about tobacco, the marketing tactics, the association of smoking cigarettes and healthy behavior became one of “front page” issues all over the country. The National Cancer Institute and many other anti smoking groups were siding with Surgeon General Luther Terry who had announced the direct causes and links between smoking and death and disease (1964) and C. Everett Koop who was claiming that tobacco was killing over 400,000 Americans annually. The accusation that tobacco marketing was aimed at KIDS, and tobacco was costing not only lives but also $65 Billion dollars was being spent annually for health care costs and lost productivity in the workplace.
My brother, Bob having been diagnosed with cancer was now a major concern for my involvement in tobacco advertising. It was a major conflict and I wasn’t sure what to do about it. I went to visit my brother at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and I quickly found out just how serious the conflict I was involved in actually was. Being one of the Winston Men, certainly brings limited celebrity as people knew I was somebody, but just not quite sure who (if you know what I mean). My brother told his Doctors that his little brother, the Winston Man was coming to visit as he was quite proud of my success. Unfortunately, his oncologist and other medical professionals didn’t share his enthusiasm or excitement. After a short while, I was asked to leave as I apparently was a strong reminder to many of the cancer patients getting treatment just why they were there. Smoking related disease blindsided me for the first time and it hit me like a punch in the gut. A sick feeling that had to be dealt with quickly.
On my way back home to Philly, I had about 6 hours to think about my feelings and my predicament. I also smoked a couple packs of cigarettes as I recall. By the time I got home, I had been reminded by looking back at all the times my kids had begged me to quit smoking, since they were the new generation of children being bombarded with anti smoking messages in school, being given pamphlets with pictures of black lungs and clogged arteries, and messages that addicted grown ups with this dirty, disgusting and filthy habit were out of control and parents who smoked were poor role models for the “children”. I didn’t feel like the hero anymore that I was depicting in my “Americas Best” cigarette ads.
In hindsight, I may have started the process that would “morph” into me becoming the Anti-tobacco zealot that I would eventually become 6 months later. My life was changing quickly. My family, my career, my brother, my health, my pop the preacher, and my future was no longer mapped out the way I had hoped, planned or dreamed……..especially when my son Kevin asked me after returning from Boston, ” dad, are you going to die like Uncle Bobby ?”
It gets worse, since I neglected to share that in 1985, I had a stroke while working on the movie set “Witness” in Lancaster, pa. and wound up in St. Joseph’s Hospital. What to do? What to do? DENIAL IS YOUR FRIEND.