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Thursday, June 5, 2003 02:20 pm

“Smoking should be made very inconvenient”

Dr. Glennon Paul advocates a ban on public smoking

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His name was Johnny.

He had dark auburn hair and was good-looking in a rugged way. A former military man, Johnny was 42 and married. He had two sons, ages 10 and 12. In 1968, one week after Dr. Glennon Paul arrived at the VA hospital in Seattle, Johnny died of lung cancer.

Paul was a young doctor, and back then smoking was cool. It seemed everyone smoked--including Paul. "Doctors and nurses used to smoke," he says. "We didn't know what we know today."

He recalls the glamorous cigarette advertisements. There was the Lucky Strike Girl, Janet Sackman, the Marlboro Man, David Millar Jr., and the guy who walked a mile for a Camel, Will Thornbury. All of them were famous, and all of them would eventually suffer from the products they helped to sell.

Cancer claimed Sackman's voice box and part of her lung. Millar died of emphysema. Thornbury died of lung cancer. Winston spokesman David Goerlitz was only in his 30s when he was disabled by a stroke.

Paul vividly remembers Johnny, because after Johnny died Paul stopped smoking. "I thought, my God, he's checking out in his prime," says Paul, who smashed his pipe and never picked up tobacco again. Now he's become a prominent antismoking advocate in Sangamon County, dedicated to helping others overcome their addiction to tobacco. "I want them to quit," Paul says. "I used to have a partner who wouldn't treat patients if they wouldn't stop. I'm not that bad. Smoking is an addiction. I work with them, and work with them, and I can get them to quit."

Sitting behind a massive desk at the Central Illinois Allergy and Respiratory Clinic, Paul talks about his specialty in allergies and pulmonary diseases. When he started to practice medicine, 50 percent of the population smoked; now only 25 percent smoke. He says most of that decline can be attributed to the higher cost of cigarettes and the fact that it's no longer "cool" to smoke.

"We are winning the war against smoking," he says.

Paul never lets patients forget that he knows they smoke. Sitting up in his chair he rolls his eyes and pretends to take a long drag on an imaginary cigarette. Holding in his breath, he wiggles his eyebrows, leans forward, and asks whether he looks cool. He says young kids will laugh and admit he doesn't look hip. Or he might make a wrinkled face and ask young girls what it's like to kiss an ashtray.

"If nothing else works, I tell them to keep on smoking--'I need the business'--whatever it takes to make them stop," Paul says. "But I keep reminding them all the time."

Paul says the key to getting a person to quit is discovering what makes them smoke. He says it might just be a nervous habit, a crutch, something to keep their hands busy. After years of speaking out against smoking, he's come to the conclusion that it's in society's best interest to make lighting up unacceptable. He argues for a city or state ban on smoking in public. "Smoking should be made very inconvenient," Paul says. "A ban would do that."

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