Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terrie Hall, anti-smoking advocate, dies

Terrie Hall, a Lexington, N.C., grandmother who appeared in one of the most startling anti-smoking commercials you'll ever see, died Monday, 13 years after being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

Terrie Hall
She was 53, and had appeared in one of eight national "Tips from Former Smokes" TV ads sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a $54 million anti-smoking campaign.

But Hall's ad was by far the most popular. Last year, when I first wrote about her, her video on the CDC website had garnered 749,000 views - more than twice that of the others.

In the Associated Press article about Hall's death, Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, called her a "public health hero... She may well have saved more lives than most doctors do."

Last year, she also received the Surgeon General's Medallion, one of the highest honors in public health.

Hall was a lifelong smoker, having started when she was 17.

"I wanted to be like my friends, " she told me last year. "All of them were smoking. That just seemed to be the thing to do. It made me feel grown up."

She was up to two packs a day in 2000, when a sore throat led to diagnosis of mouth cancer. She continued to smoke during radiation therapy.

Her sore throat got worse, and her voice deteriorated. A year later, at age 40, she was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery to remove her larynx. She had a permanent stoma, or hole in her throat, and a voice prosthesis that had to  be replaced every few years.

Until she got the "hands-free" device that she demonstrated in the ad, she used to put her thumb over the stoma to close off the air before she could speak. 

In the CDC public service announcement, Hall, a slender, bald woman with a deep, scratchy voice speaks directly at television viewers.

"I'm Terrie and I used to be a smoker.

"I want to give you some tips about getting ready in the morning."

For a moment, the screen shows a photo of lovely, youthful Terrie from 1978, when she was a senior at Forbush High School in East Bend.

Then you watch as the adult Terrie puts in her false teeth, dons a long blond wig and inserts a device into the permanent hole in her neck.

"Now you're ready for your day, " she says.

When I spoke to her on the phone last year, her voice was hard to understand at first. But she said she had no trouble relating to laryngectomy patients in the hospital or to students at high schools and middle schools across the state. 

"Some kids cry. Some kids get scared, " she said. "Some kids feel sorry for me. Some kids say, 'I'm never gonna smoke.' "

People recognized Terrie almost everywhere she went. "You're that lady on TV, " they'd say. 

Some added: "When I saw your commercial, I threw away my cigarettes."

But Terrie didn't want people to feel sorry for her. 

"I thank God every day that I'm here (and) that I can talk and get the message out, " she said last year. 
"I was killing myself smoking ... I just hope I save lives."


Unknown said...

she was really brave putting herself out there.... i found more pictures here..rip terrie

Anonymous said...

Hers is just about the only anti-smoking ad that anyone remembers. God bless her soul and may her impact continue to be felt.

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