ANDERSON — Jack Kress, 52, took a long drag on his cigarette letting the smoke fill his lungs and curl around his face.
“They are just nasty,” Kress said. “I only smoke half a pack a day — I’m down to nothing.”
On Saturday, Kress, who lives in Anderson, was standing outside the Village Pantry, 112 E. 14th St., smoking his cigarettes — exactly 50 years after the U.S. Surgeon General said smoking causes illness and death.
Today, warnings are printed in large letters on advertisements and on every cigarette pack with the Surgeon General’s warning.
Warnings that could be written in a foreign language, as far as Kress is concerned.
“I can’t read or write,” Kress said looking down at the glowing end of his cigarette.
Kress said he wants to stop smoking, but said it has been difficult.
“I really think I could quit, but it helps with my nerves,” he said. “I hate smoking them. They take all your air — they are just bad.”
According to an annual report the state files with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 percent of the adult population are smokers. Nationwide, smoking among adults is between 9.3 percent and 26.5 percent. Indiana is ranked 50th among the states for its high population of smokers.
More than 30 percent of the adults in Madison County are smokers.
In the last month, 10 percent of the nation’s youth aged 12-17 smoked a cigarette. More than 11 percent of the youth in Indiana smoked a cigarette.
“What research shows is unlike alcohol and other drugs, tobacco actually trends with lower economic status,” Karesa Knight-Wilkerson, executive director and tobacco control coordinator for Intersect, 630 Nichol Ave. “People who lack a high school diploma or live in poverty have higher tobacco use rates.”
Knight-Wilkerson said survey information collected in Madison County shows monthly use of cigarettes in students is higher than both the state and national averages.
Nationally, only 4.9 percent students in the eighth grade use cigarettes. Across the state, 7 percent of eighth-grade students reported using cigarettes, and in Madison County, more than 9 percent admitted to smoking cigarettes.
More than 17 percent of students nationwide in the 12th grade report using cigarettes, 19.5 percent reported using cigarettes in the state, and 26.1 percent reported using cigarettes in Madison County.
Kress said he smoked his first cigarette when he was 12. Since then he has stopped smoking occasionally, but has not been able to break the habit.
According to the CDC, about 8 percent of smokers benefit from free tobacco cessation lines. Less than 1 percent called the quitline in Indiana. Madison County hospitals also offer tobacco cessation programs for free.
“We know it takes a tobacco user an average of seven to nine times to quit and stay quit for more than one year,” Knight-Wilkerson said. “The important thing is that they are recognizing the need to quit and are making that effort.”
Knight-Wilkerson said there are several tobacco cessation methods available to Madison County residents. She said the best source for quitting is to call 1-800-QUITNOW or visit www.eQuitNow.com.
More than 443,000 people die each year from smoking or from exposure to secondhand smoke and more than 8.6 million people have a serious illness caused by smoking, according to the CDC.
When the Surgeon General’s warning was issued 50 years ago, almost half of the nation’s population smoked and no one thought twice about selling cigarettes to children.
“We grew up in a different time in the ’70s,” Kress said. “They used to sell cigarettes to me when I was a kid.”
James Davidson, 56, Anderson, said he has smoked for more than 30 years.
“I just had some tests and my lungs are a little foggy,” he said. “I wish I would have never touched them — period.”
But he is still smoking.
“I think about quitting all the time,” Davidson said. “I don’t know. I should just throw them down and quit and I want to — I just haven’t been able to stop.”
Paul Magner, 60, of Anderson, said he has tried to quit smoking several times.
“I started smoking when I went into the Army,” he said. “I was 20.”
A cancer survivor, Magner said he will continue to smoke although doctors told him he cannot be a candidate for chemotherapy again.
“No one ever told me to stop smoking until I talked to a pain therapist,” he said. “But when I told him everyone in my house smoked, he said there was no reason to stop.”
Both of Magner’s parents died from cancer and his twin sister is also a smoker.
“I’ve tried the patches and the gum — that stuff just don’t work,” said Pauline Magner, Paul Magner’s twin. “It’s putrid.”
Pauline Magner, who started smoking when she was 15, said the first time she smoked a cigarette it gave her a terrible headache.
“I did it to be with the in crowd,” she said. “I learned to like it.”
Michael Hawkins, 23, Anderson, said if cigarettes were nastier to smoke it might be easier to give them up.
“If they tasted like black licorice that might make more people quit,” he said. “I’m trying, slowly, but I’m trying.”
Hawkins said that when he was in middle school he attended classes on drug abuse and swore he would never smoke cigarettes.
He picked up his first cigarette when he was 15.
“I don’t know, I just did it to fit in,” he said. “It’s a hard habit to kick.”
Davidson said government regulations on the health and risks of smoking are confusing.
“If it is so bad for you, why are they making it legal to sell pot?” he asked.
Knight-Wilkerson said it is troubling to see some of the changes being made.
“My thoughts on marijuana legalization is that for those states that have legalized it, they are seeing many more incidences of impaired driving and employers are struggling because people are smoking during their time off, but marijuana stays in the blood stream for several days, causing people to ‘be impaired’ at work,” she said.
Looking back to the past 50 years and looking forward, Knight-Wilkerson said it is obvious that times are changing.
“If tobacco was discovered in today’s society, it would have never been legal,” she said.
Like Traci L. Moyer on Facebook and follow her @moyyer on Twitter, or call 648-4250.
Stopping the habit All three hospitals in Madison County offer free smoking cessation services. The following is the contact information for each: Community Hospital - Anderson 298-1660, speak with Michelle Cook St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital - Anderson 649-2511, speak with Michelle Richart St. Vincent Mercy Hospital - Elwood 552-4600, speak with Brenda Carey Other services offered include: The Indiana Tobacco Quitline, a free phone-based counseling service, 1-800-quit-now. The American Cancer Society's Freshstart program, 641-2600 extension 124. SOURCE: Intersect Inc.