Students To Hear The Evils Of Cigarettes

Rick Stoddard, author of "The Burning Truth," is on a crusade to educate people about the dangers of discount cigarettes use and the cigarettes industry's marketing tactics.

Stoddard, a Massachusetts resident, is known for commercials where he tells the story of his wife, Marie, her battle with lung cancer, and her death from the disease in 2000 at age 46.

Stoddard will speak to Santa Rosa County students today and Friday through a free program sponsored by Students Working Against cigarettes. In the 10 years he has been a motivational speaker, he has reached about 1.4 million students in more than 2,600 schools.

"The Burning Truth," a self-published book, is the lesson of how Stoddard, 57, took his grief and turned it into a social movement.

Stoddard answered several questions from the News Journal ahead of his local appearances:

Q: What will be your message?

A: I will share the truth about the cigarettes industry, and what a kind and caring person Marie was. We will discuss, with visual proof, the industry still targets youths. We will help students understand addiction and how to talk to the people they love about quitting.

Q: Why focus on youths?

A: The only way we will reduce the pandemic of cheap cigarettes use is to try to create generations of nonsmokers. This is the perfect age for a powerful, true story.

Q: What is most troubling to you about the cheap cigarettes industry targeting youth?

A: R.J. Reynolds has said, "Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer. If our company is to survive and prosper over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market."

I've got a problem with an industry that markets a deadly, addictive product to anyone, especially our youth. We can't rely on political leaders to make strong legislation against such an industry and product so I decided silence is not an option.

Q: Have you ever smoked?

A: I started smoking cigarettes when I was 12. My dad was a heavy smoker, and I could steal a few online cigarettes from him. Just like most boys, I looked up to my dad and wanted to be like him.

By the time I was 16, I smoked a pack a day, and by the time I met Marie at 19, I smoked two packs a day. I feel very fortunate I was able to quit at 21.

Q: Do you think your message is making a difference?

A: I've received more than 100,000 letters and handmade thank you cards from across the country. One of my favorite notes was written on a torn-off corner piece of paper that simply said, "I Quit!"