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Group lights up Great American Smokeout

November 21, 1996

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

As Susan Hooker tossed empty cigarette containers into a flaming trash can at the Longmeadow Shopping Center Wednesday night, she reflected on more than five months of smoke-free living and why she quit in the first place.

"I haven't had a cigarette since June 1," said Hooker, who lives on Long Ridge Drive in Hagerstown. "I did it as a present to my father, who passed away six years ago."

Hooker was one of a handful of people who showed up to burn cigarette butts and cartons in the parking lot of the shopping center. The burning was part of a number of events on the eve of today's American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout.

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During the annual smokeout, the Cancer Society asks cigarette smokers to refrain from lighting up for 24 hours.

Hooker said her father died from heart complications related to smoking. She had been a smoker for 32 years and finally decided to break the habit on June 1, her father's birthday.

"The first two weeks were very hard. It was very hard," Hooker said. "But I'm glad I did it. I'm glad for my family. Plus, I smell better."

When she decided to kick her carton-a-week habit, Hooker enrolled in free classes sponsored by the Washington County Health Department.

Nell Stewart, the coordinator of the Stop Smoking for Life program, said the classes concentrate on a range of methods people use to quit smoking. She emphasized that different things work for different people.

"It involves behavioral changes and, I think, a real determination to stick with it," she said.

Hooker took the classes with her husband, Buzz, who used to smoke about five cigarettes a day.

"I never smoked that much," he said. "I don't think I would have quit if she hadn't."

The classes, which are offered seven times a year, are held two nights a week for four weeks. Stewart said more than half of the people who sign up for the classes are able to quit.

"A lot have tried to quit before," she said. "A lot have tried hypnosis and patches and gum and other programs."

Cinda Cushen Showalter, community executive director of the American Cancer Society's Washington County unit, said the day's activities are designed to raise awareness.

"This is really a lighthearted approach to get people thinking about shaking their habit," Showalter said. "Just as smoking is a habit, not smoking is also a habit."

Showalter said awareness is at an all-time high. Smoking among adults has declined 40 percent since 1990, she said. But despite the warnings, Showalter said, teenagers continue to smoke.

About 3,000 teenagers start smoking each day, she said, and one out of every three teens in Maryland smokes.

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