Be well, Marsha: 09/29

Smoking’s deadly consequences

 By Marsha BonhartHis name is Brian. I met him as he was sitting in his wheelchair on the sidewalk of a hospital in northwest Ohio just over a month ago. Dressed in a hospital gown and robe, I teased him about smoking on the grounds of the medical facility.“Don’t you see the sign?” I asked jovially. “No smoking,” I said, as I continued to smile. His reply shook me. I was so taken aback by his matter-of-fact answer.“Nah, it don’t matter,” he replied. “I only have a few months to live, anyway.”

The words were cruel to hear and I am sure they were excruciatingly painful for him to speak. At age 43, Brian, a father of five, was in stage 4 of lung cancer—he said he was terminal.

He showed me the long surgical scar on his back—a sign of the operation that, in an effort to save his life, doctors performed to remove the cancerous tumor. Brian was quite frank about the cancer and its spread. There have been many surgeries and hospitalizations, he said, and now with the cancer in his brain and bone, doctors are ceasing any surgical orders—they want him to be as comfortable as possible.

In fact, this time, it was his bone that landed him in the hospital. An infection in his femur wouldn’t heal, so he had to be super infused with antibiotics. He was telling me about all of his maladies, admitting that they were caused by smoking cigarettes. He claimed he was suffering from a huge nicotine addiction that started when he was just 13 years old.

“I wish I hadn’t started smoking,” he said. “I know, and doctors told me, it’s because I was smoking a pack a day for the last 30 years is why I am dying.”

Research shows smoking cigarettes during childhood or adolescence can have maximum long-term negative health effects. If you start young, the addiction has a greater chance to continue into adulthood, and you are at an increased risk for respiratory illnesses and stunted lung growth and function. Many who start young are addicted by the time they are 24. The American Lung Association reports nearly six and a half million child smokers will die prematurely from smoking related disease, and the best way to prevent those illnesses and deaths is to not start in the first place.

The organization continues with the message that, among adults who smoke, 68 percent began smoking at age 18 or younger and 85 percent started when they were 21 and younger. Each day, nearly 39 hundred children under the age of 18 try their first cigarette and nearly 1,000 of them become new, regular smokers.

The effects of smoking are communal. Not only is it harmful to the smoker, but also to the people around them. Research has long since shown the effects of secondhand smoke are equally as lethal as primary exposure. According to the Lung Association, second hand lung exposure to cigarette smoke contains hundreds of cancer carrying agents, each year causing 41 thousand deaths from heart disease and lung cancer.

Brian is not blaming second hand smoke—he knows his smoking at an early age led to his present condition. His greatest concern now is whether he will live long enough to celebrate his 44th birthday in November and whether his 2 year old son will remember him.

“There’s nothing I can do now,” he said. His health is failing quickly but he wants his mission and legacy to help prevent others from making the same mistakes, to keep them from smoking at an early age and hopefully, he says, avoid it totally. He wants desperately to realize his plan to be an anti smoking ambassador, talking to pre-teens about the dangers of tobacco products. But his body is giving signs of giving up, and even though when I called to speak with him one day and he was actually out of the house visiting a cousin, he says he spends more time resting and counting his days.

He showed me the bloody hole in his leg that won’t heal because the cancer has infiltrated his bone. A slight accident hitting furniture or a stumble means, for him, bruising and sores that combined with severe fatigue have become his body’s persistent companions, as he says, “all because of cigarettes.”

So back to the sign on the outside of the hospital wall: “No Smoking,” it read, and there was Brian, sitting in his wheelchair, puffing away on his cigarette. Each addicted draw serving as a cruel reminder of how he lost his health to the number one preventable death.

I have only spoken to Brian a couple of times over the phone since the day I met him in his wheelchair. He is usually too exhausted to say much but as short as it is, his message is always simply, the same—“Don’t smoke. It will do nothing but harm you.”

The American Lung Association has more information to help you stop smoking and to keep you from starting. 1.800.586.4872 or

Be well,


Marsha Bonhart is a veteran television news anchor and health reporter who feels it is her mission to help you stay healthy. She says she battles her seriously addicted craving for salty potato chips. Reach her at

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