Anti-smoking effort has new face

Ex-smoker to appear in ads after quitting with help of state-sponsored hot line program

January 18, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun reporter

Bea Elmore's boss was subtle, but his message was effective.

Nearly two years ago, while Elmore was away from her desk, Judge Robert B. Kershaw of Baltimore Circuit Court placed on it a church brochure in which he had highlighted the word addiction..

Elmore, the judge's secretary, got the hint. A smoker for 36 years, she had tried to quit but failed many times. This time, she told herself, it was going to stick.

It did, with a little help from a state-sponsored hot line - 800-QUIT-NOW - which provided her with free medication and counseling from a "quit coach," who taught her to deal with her cravings.

Yesterday, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene proclaimed Elmore - who said she has not smoked for nine months - the public face of its new Clean Air Maryland initiative, a public-awareness campaign aimed at weaning smokers from their habit and timed to coincide with a state law set to go into effect Feb. 1 that will prohibit lighting up in indoor public places, including bars and restaurants.

"Three-quarters of people who smoke want to quit, and oftentimes they cannot do that on their own," John M. Colmers, the state's health secretary, said at a news conference held to announce the campaign. The hot line, he said, is an "excellent tool" for helping smokers give up their vice.

The state's initiative is being undertaken in partnership with city and county health agencies, the Maryland Association of County Health Officials and the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, the Baltimore health commissioner, suggested that smokers are feeling "anxiety" as the Feb. 1 ban approaches and said he wanted to take advantage of that apprehension to persuade them to stop smoking "and even smell better."

Sharfstein's counterpart at the Baltimore County Department of Health, Dr. Pierre N. Vigilance, said that for smokers, it is "difficult to keep up these resolutions that we make at the beginning of each year," but that they should try nonetheless.

He directed smokers to a Web site, http:--bctobaccofree.org, which points out that smoking is the nation's leading cause of preventable deaths.

In Baltimore County, 22 percent of adults, nearly 9 percent of pregnant women and 18 percent of youths use some form of tobacco, the site says, quoting statistics from the Maryland Adult Tobacco Survey, which reported slightly lower figures for the state as a whole.

Elmore, whose visage will adorn television and radio spots, and ads on buses and taxis, said it had never occurred to her that her battle with tobacco would become public. She had been told so often to stop smoking, she said, that the advice had become routine. But when her boss weighed in, something clicked.

"He considered it an addiction," she recalled. "That upset me a little bit, because when you work for someone as a secretary, you don't want him to see you as someone with an addiction. But after he said it, it moved a cloud out of the way. That put the cherry on top of the ice cream, so to speak."

Of her cravings, Elmore, whose 85-year-old father quit smoking three years ago, said, "I'm hanging in there. The thought will be there, but it's not as intense, and it doesn't happen as often."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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