Pledge to dying father keeps Lewis Metzner smoke-free

September 30, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Lewis C. Metzner never thought much about giving up cigarettes.

He thought kicking the habit would be too difficult, said Metzner, who began smoking when he was about 11 and began puffing seriously toward the end of law school 20 years ago.

A bout with a virus in early April led to an unintentional break from smoking, but it was a pledge the Hagerstown City Councilman made to his dying father that he believes will keep him free of the habit forever.

Sidney Metzner, co-founder of Conservit Inc., died on Sept. 1 from pancreatic cancer. He was 72.

Lewis Metzner, 45, said in a recent interview in his law office that he wanted his father, who had never smoked, to know that his cancer would prevent his son from smoking again.


As the elder Metzner's health declined, the two talked about Lew quitting smoking for good.

Metzner would update his father on how long it had been since his last smoke - five weeks, six weeks.

Near the end, Metzner and his brother took turns sitting with their father during 12-hour vigils.

During one such vigil, when the elder Metzner was seemingly unconscious, Lew Metzner said he let out a cough.

His father awoke, saying to him, "What are you coughing about? You didn't start smoking again, did you?"

As Sidney Metzner's health declined after his cancer was diagnosed in April, and as Lew's mother was recovering from two back surgeries at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Lew said there were many times he wanted to pick up a cigarette.

But the defense attorney said he told himself he would not be like his alcoholic clients who promised they would stop drinking, but started again.

"Every time I really have an urge to smoke a cigarette I think of my father," said Metzner, who used to smoke at least a pack a day.

He pulls out the top drawer of his desk at his 103 W. Franklin St. office and sees the pack of Capri with 11 cigarettes remaining.

The pack is there to remind Metzner that he never intentionally gave up smoking.

"I applaud him," said Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who publicly quit smoking for the great American Smokeout on Nov. 20, 1997, only to pick the habit up again during the Christmas holiday.

"It's a habit that is extremely hard to break. It's tough no matter what. I'll do it yet," said Bruchey, who said he has cut back from 1 1/2 pack a day to half a pack.

Metzner, of 322 E. Irvin Ave., said that as a former smoker, he will not preach to others about smoking.

People who have never smoked cigarettes shouldn't criticize those who do because they don't know how hard it is to quit, he said.

Metzner stopped smoking on April 8 when he became ill. When he was feeling better, it hit him that for the first time in 20 years he had gone four days without a cigarette.

He wondered if he could make it five days, then six.

Then on April 17, nine days after his last cigarette, Metzner learned his father had terminal pancreatic cancer.

Metzner said when he heard the news, he had an "extremely strong desire" to smoke a cigarette, but didn't.

"Smoking a cigarette because you just found out your dad had cancer is a pretty lame reason to start smoking," Metzner said.

Help for smokers who want to quit

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