Most of us probably never heard of an actor named Eric Lawson.
But those of us older than 45 saw him all the time.
Lawson died the other day at age 72 from respiratory failure caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
What makes his death noteworthy is that from 1978 to 1981, the ruggedly handsome actor was “The Marlboro Man,” appearing in print advertisements and epitomizing the independent American cowboy — always with a cigarette.
It was the cigarettes, his wife, Susan, told Variety, that killed him.
“He knew cigarettes had a hold on him,” she said. “He knew, yet he still couldn’t stop.”
Lawson said he began smoking at age 14. The teenage years are when most people who smoke take up the awful habit. Peer pressure and the desire to appear cool or grown-up overwhelm the science that links smoking to cancer, heart disease, emphysema and many other diseases.
And nowhere is it more galling than right here in Otsego and Delaware counties.
Fifty years after Dr. Luther Terry’s Surgeon General’s Report that put the lie to the despicable health risk denials of the tobacco companies, 16 percent of Otsego County residents surveyed said they smoke every day.
New York state’s average is 11 percent.
The number is 22 percent in Delaware County.
Even more horrifying is that 30 percent of pregnant residents of Otsego County surveyed said they smoke.
Thirty percent! Three in 10 mothers-to-be who don’t have sense enough to look after their own health callously care more about their smoking than about their unborn children.
It might be right there on the side of the pack they open: “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking By Pregnant Women May Result in Fetal Injury, Premature Birth, And Low Birth Weight.”
Some excellent efforts have been made locally and nationally to reduce the number of young people who smoke, but more needs to be done.
“We need to focus on kids because that’s where it all starts,” said Dr. Lee Edmonds, chief of pulmonology at Bassett Medical Center. “For every smoking-related death — and there are 1,200 a day — two kids have their first cigarette. It must be driven by peer-related forces, because first experiences with cigarettes are not enjoyable. It’s not something they start because it’s fun. People cough a lot their first time smoking.”
One good idea promulgated by local anti-smoking advocates is for the state Legislature to ban tobacco products in pharmacies. Another is to rein in the tobacco industry’s $214 million New York state marketing campaign by restricting where cigarettes can be displayed in stores.
The fewer future Marlboro or Camel or Lucky Strike men and women — or boys and girls — the better.