Having been born adorable rather than smart, it took me a while to figure out the strategy to change my life forever. Adorable may sound obnoxious, but it was what it was. See I was born the youngest of three boys with a crossed eye, chronic bedwetting issue, 2 older brothers who didn’t quite grasp my adorableness and thus used me for whatever purpose they felt compelled.to entertain themselves with. In reality, Doug and Bobby were O.K. Doug was smart and Bobby the athlete. Since I wasn’t book smart or athletic, I was just adorable, and some might say precious as well.
I set out on my mission to quit smoking in November of 1988 with the assistance of the American Cancer Society. They were planning a full day of events for me to help promote their agenda. I went along with all of their suggestions for The Great American Smokeout . My cigarette ads always depicted me in their slogan as being Americas Best, and so they found it to be a natural tie-in. I was going to start my quit day at 6:00 am with a reporter named Rick Williams from I think “Action News”. By the way, this was exactly 6 hours after my last smoke that happened ceremoniously at midnight Nov. 17th, 1988. A quitter has to build up to the last cigarette in hopes that he/she is saying goodbye forever, which is rarely the case since smokers will quit 6,7, 8 times before they are successful ( if at all). Quit rates vary as much as anything else depending on all factors, circumstances, need, and capacity to follow through on eliminating bad habits, addictions, overeating etc. Lots of variables to deal with along with the pressure that if you don’t quit, YOU WILL CERTAINLY DIE. (at least thats what your told a gazillion times).
My quit day was being filmed for the day by news media at Action News and I was somewhat excited. It started with a few radio interviews in the early morning, some meet and greets with dignitaries from the American Cancer Society, more interviews of Man/Woman ” on the street ….what do you think type interviews”, a luncheon at the local Subway Sandwich shop where you could turn in your pack of smokes for a small turkey sandwich and a goody bag of “stuff” like key chains, pens, stickers, buttons, pix of clogged arteries, black lungs, gross teeth and other cute items to remember the glorious day. Then, the motivational “you can do it talks” to the crowds, Volunteers from ACS and other non-profits encouraging you to quit with chants of “you can do it with counseling, support, encouragement”. This was getting tricky for me since I hadn’t had a cigarette in 9 or 10 hours. Hell, I needed motivation, encouragement, counseling, and support. It was only 11 am.
My next stop was at the Philadelphia Naval Yard where I was going to participate in an Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders Aerobic Workout Session. Yeahhhhh! Can anyone guess what happens to a heavy smoker after 2 minutes of aerobics? The veins were popping out of my head, sweating like a farm animal. and I couldn’t breathe. This was fun. By the way this was being filmed for all to see. So, like the trooper I am, I sucked it up for another minute or so, then told them I had to use the facility.. Lost the breakfast I had at 6 am. I was wishing this quit day came with nurses in attendance.
More interviews with other folk, a visit to City Hall for the Smoke Free Philly Day proclamation, and then onto the Piece de resistance. A gathering at the Philadelphia Medical Society to give a talk to not only the medical community in attendance, but also about 250 5th graders who were asked to come up with an anti-smoking poster for their event. I was also asked to judge the posters, which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not been depicted in some of them. There were posters of the Marlboro Man on a horse as a skeleton. There was the Newport “Alive with Pleasure ” couple in coffins. And then me, a cartoon character hanging off the mountain as Americas Best barfing. For some reason I was uncomfortable with this part of my itinerary. I proceeded to the microphone, and I began with ” I am so sorry for my involvement in trying to get kids to smoke”. It just came out. I couldn’t stop saying it. “I am sorry that I confused you with associating smoking with healthy behaviors like mountain climbing, since even you as kids know smoking and mountain climbing don’t go together”. It was a hoax. Just like that. It was DONE. I went home drained that night to a grabbag of emotions as well as the useless crap they gave me during the day.
Within the next 48 hours I appeared on almost every major local newsfeed as they didn’t have Youtube. I made the cover of The Weekly Reader, the paper given to elementary kids. I was chauffered to New York City to appear on CBS’s This Morning with Harry Smith. Then onto the Joan Lunden set, down the street to Bill O’Reillys program, Entertainment Tonight, an interview with Bob Herbert from the New York Times. A week or so later a phone call from Sam Donaldson. Dan Rather, and Peter Jennings who wanted to name me ABC’s Person of the Week. A film crew would fly to Florida and film my family and I. Notification from the World Health Organization that I was being awarded the Medal of Honor by C. Everett Koop, Ron Davis, from the Ofiice on Smoking and Health. I was now the Golden Boy for all these people and organizations. Was my story really that interesting? All I did was quit smoking (kinda). What was happening? HOLY CRAP,I was making this up as I went along. Of course, I was also being told what to say…….it’s just that I brought something new to the party. I could spew facts and data and numbers and people heard me because it was the approach that was different, fresh and new. The announcement coming from me that over 400,000 Americans died every year from smoking. Health care costs along with lost productivity reached 65 Billion Dollars every year. The announcement that it was my job to get kids to smoke was being heard. The media even “seemed” to show an interest which is unusual. The media could say that 400,000 Americans died annually, but they have to say it. I DIDN’T HAVE TO SAY IT, BUT I DID. Most people know the media will show one death to be a tragedy, but 400,000 is “just a statistic”. Apparently, not that big a deal, huh??? Was anything the Antis were saying true? Wheres the Proof? How do you know kids were the target market? These were questions I was being asked. For some reason, the press listened to me . The platform was there for me to tell the Anti-Smoking movements story. I did it and I did it well apparently. Then I went to testify in Congress, but not without having to move my family out of town for a while. I guess I was being paranoid.
Did I mention how important my family is to me? Not only was I stressing out from quitting smoking, now I’m really PISSED OFF. You don’t want to MESS with my family. I have rules against that. R.J Reynolds was not happy with me. What to do? What to Do?