Yul Brenner went before the cameras in 1984 in one his most dramatic roles -- as a lifelong smoker dying of lung cancer who had a message to deliver to the audience: "Just don't do it."
A year later Brenner was dead and three years later poet Gerald Locklin memorialized Brenner's anti-smoking commercial in the poem, "An Uncool Yul", which characterized his widely praised public service message as "an ignominious and mechanical form of immortality."
The "Uncool" poem illustrates the difficulty facing the anti-tobacco movement: The message is difficult to deliver and always open to ridicule. Nevertheless, it does not dampen the enthusiasm of actors -- such as Esai Morales of television's "NYPD Blue" -- who represent the forefront of the Hollywood anti-smoking campaign. Morales spends much of his free time discussing his own experience with tobacco.
Morales is not a smoker but it was not for lack of trying, he told United Press International. His first attempt to smoke in high school turned him "green," he said. That self-described "gut reaction" was enough to turn him off tobacco, but he still lived with smoke because his mother was a smoker.
He recalled that he spent much of teen years trying to get his mother to quit.
"I used to steal her cigarettes, sort of misappropriate them," he said. Although she finally was able to quit the habit, Morales said the process was difficult and at one point his mother "used to sneak cigarettes behind my back" while claiming she was smoke-free.
"I remember how betrayed I felt when I realized she was smoking," he said. His mother's problems convinced Morales cigarettes are addictive.
Richard Marx, the Grammy nominated songwriter, also is a never-smoker who is active in the entertainment industry's anti-smoking drive. Marx told UPI the 1964 U.S. Surgeon General Report on Smoking and Health had an immediate effect on his father, a three-pack-a-day man at the time.
"That report singularly convinced my father to quit immediately. That report was all he needed, although he was very lucky in that he didn't have as difficult time quitting as some. He never smoked again."
In his private life, Marx tries to live a smoke-free lifestyle.
"All of our decisions are based on the non-smoking issue in that we won't go places, especially with our kids, where people can smoke," he said. "It's easier in the United States than overseas, but it's slowly getting better."
When Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general of the United States, kicked the habit it was a pipe, not cigarettes, that he put down.
"When I had my first press conference in 1982," he told UPI, "I was asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter why I had quit smoking my pipe. I told him that the ashes from my pipe were making too many holes in my suits -- so I quit smoking pipe tobacco for economic reasons."
On the other hand, Koop said then Surgeon General Luther Terry, who released the 1964 report that linked cigarettes and cancer, was a two-pack-a-day smoker himself.
"He realized that he had a very hot report that ought to go to the American people," Koop said. "But he was very embarrassed about his own smoking. He quit cold turkey and only after about six weeks when he realized that he probably could make it and not go back to smoking did he release the report."
Koop noted the report, issued in January 1964 -- 40 years ago this month -- actually was not a report of the surgeon general but a report to the surgeon general by an ad hoc committee of people concerned about smoking and health.
Peggy Peck is based in Cleveland and Ed Susman is in West Palm Beach, Fla. They cover health and medicine for UPI Science News. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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