Marsha Lapin, 49, activist who crusaded against tobacco, ++ guns

September 11, 1998|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Marsha Lapin would not let her life end without meaning. She had smoked cigarettes for more than three decades and last summer was diagnosed with lung cancer that doctors said would kill her.

So she made the last months of her life the most important. She wrote letters to politicians and legislators, railing against cigarettes, and she counseled and pleaded with youngsters to avoid smoking, friends and relatives said.

Mrs. Lapin, of Ellicott City, died Monday of lung cancer at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care in Towson.

"She died at 49 with lung cancer. That's pathetic," said her husband, Joel Lapin, whom she married in 1983. "If she was going to go down, she was going to go down with meaning, and she did."

Mrs. Lapin started smoking at age 12 and didn't stop until the early 1990s, her husband said. In 1996, she began her anti-cigarette crusade.

"Worst case, six months. Best case, a year, maybe two," Mrs. Lapin said of how long she might live during an interview with The Sun in March. "The doctor said it's a miracle if I go longer than that. But I told him I'm a believer in miracles."

During her crusade against tobacco companies and cigarettes, Mrs. Lapin wrote numerous letters to activist groups and politicians in hopes of getting them to pressure tobacco companies to stop targeting youngsters in their advertising.

In March, she testified before a legislative committee in NTC Annapolis on a proposal to raise cigarette taxes by $1.50 a pack. That, she believed, would hinder youngsters' ability to buy them.

The measure was defeated, but her testimony was moving.

"There is not one day which passes that I am not aware of living with cancer. My feet and fingers are always tingling and feeling like pins and needles," she told legislators.

"I am always dropping things and losing my balance, and my voice becomes hoarse. I should not be submitting my medical bills to my insurance company. They should go directly to the tobacco companies to be paid by them."

She had planned to testify before Congress in Washington this summer but canceled because of failing health.

Vincent DeMarco, executive director of Maryland Children's Initiative, a coalition of 300 organizations working for a tax increase on cigarettes and to reduce smoking among youths, said Mrs. Lapin was one of the group's leading speakers.

"Her illness affected her body but not her spirit," Mr. DeMarco said. "The tobacco industry really has caused a lot of misery; her legacy was that we in Maryland are going to do something about it."

She also worked with Maryland Children's Initiative to reduce gun violence.

A Baltimore native, the former Marsha Helfand graduated from Pikesville High School in 1966 and received an associate of arts degree from Catonsville Community College in the mid-1970s. At her death, she was six credits short of graduating from College of Notre Dame of Maryland.

She was a counselor at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s when she worked in sales at Hamburger's clothiers until the early 1990s. She worked in the business office at St. Agnes Hospital until the mid-1990s, when she became a horticulturist for Plant Design Inc. in Ellicott City.

But her activist work took much of her time.

"She was truly an inspiration," Mr. DeMarco said. "She was a person who devoted her life to making the world better."

Services were held Wednesday.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her parents, Abraham and Selma Helfand of Baltimore; a brother, Carl Helfand of Owings Mills; and a sister, Lynn Fuchs of Israel.

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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