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For Great American Smokeout, Make a Plan to Quit

November 18, 2013

“Practically everyone that I knew smoked some kind of tobacco product,” said Lewis McTush. “Almost every man in my family smoked cigars or cigarettes and it was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Lewis McTush, ex-smoker and  health advocate, works to eliminate smoking and secondhand smoke in workplaces for entertainers, servers and bartenders.

McTush, 63, an entertainment agent from Stone Mountain, Ga., grew up surrounded by secondhand smoke. He was an athlete, and he said he spent his early years trying to encourage his family members to quit. Although he knew the harmful consequences of tobacco, he started smoking cigarettes when he joined the U.S. Air Force.

“It was the cool thing to do,” he said.

But before long, his own use of tobacco and the secondhand smoke surrounding him caused major health consequences. He decided it was time to quit.

“I initially stopped when my youngest daughter was born in 1989, and I managed to stay tobacco free for two years,” said McTush.  “As soon as I started smoking cigarettes again, I experienced shortness of breath and what I could only determine to be asthma attacks.”

Eventually he had a heart attack and a mild stroke related to years of tobacco use.  His health problems caused him to need an artificial aortic valve replacement. He also watched his two brothers and his father suffer and die from tobacco-related cancers.

“It took me one month to stop drinking, but it took me 10 years to stop smoking, the first time I tried,” said McTush. “I still [regret] the day that I ever started to smoke.”

Now an ex-smoker, McTush is fighting a new battle to save his friends and fellow veterans from the health dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. He is a staunch advocate for no-smoking ordinances in all public places in Georgia.  

He is an advocate for DPH’s Breathe Easy Fulton and BreathEasy Augusta campaigns to support smoke-free workplaces for everyone, especially for entertainers.  McTush launched in 2013 to allow entertainers to speak out against the hazards of secondhand smoke on behalf of servers and bartenders, whose livelihood depends on working in toxic environments with fumes and odors.

“Being in the music business for the past 40-plus years has given me a real education and ringside seat to the devastation and harmful effects that smoking and secondhand smoke has caused me, my family and my peers,” said McTush.

Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25-30 percent and their lung cancer risk by 20-30 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tobacco-related illnesses account for more than 10,000 deaths in Georgia every year.

McTush knows that quitting takes practice, but it can happen no matter how long it takes. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) along with the American Cancer Society is encouraging smokers to make an effort to quit for the Great American Smokeout on Nov. 21.

The anti-smoking day allows public health professionals and health advocates to promote a day of no smoking and to offer cessation resources. According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are most successful in kicking the habit when they have support.

Also beginning Nov. 21, DPH is also providing nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to all 18 public health districts in Georgia. Adult Georgians ages 18 and older regardless of health insurance status are eligible for an annual, free four-week supply of NRT. Smokers can call the Georgia Tobacco Quit Line at 1-877-270-STOP (7867) for more information and to start receiving NRT.

McTush is hoping that smokers will get the message during the Great American Smokeout and make plans to quit for life. Tobacco use is never good no matter how long you smoke. It’s important to quit and quit for good.

“I would not wish the health problems of smoking on my worst enemy,” said McTush. “But for me, life goes on. I have been blessed to have lived this long.”