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Lives Lost to Tobacco Motivate Activist's Quest to Help Others

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19. Lives Lost to Tobacco Motivate Activist's Quest to Help Others

Jody Gifford
Des Moines Register
September 12, 2007

Tobacco use took the lives of three of her family members, including her father, before she was a teenager.

Lorene Mein, Mercy Clinic practitioner and co-leader of the Central Iowa Tobacco Free Partnership Coalition. On her laptop is part of her presentation.
Lorene Mein, 36, is an advanced-practice registered nurse with Mercy QuickCare and a co-leader of the Central Iowa Tobacco-free Partnership. She can't bring her family members back, but she's trying hard to keep others from suffering similar losses.

"I would do anything to have my dad back," Mein said. "I'd give anything to hear his voice, to see him and hug him....

"There are 300,000 kids in this country in the same situation I was. We need to stop that from happening to them or anyone else."

Mein talked recently about her quest for a tobacco-free central Iowa.

Q. What is the Central Iowa Tobacco-free Partnership?

A. The coalition is funded through the Iowa Department of Public Health. Its mission is to reduce the numbers of deaths and diseases caused by tobacco in central Iowa because of secondhand smoke. ... We're talking about family-oriented places like bowling alleys, restaurants, parks, places like the zoo, public areas that anyone would be at. We want to make sure we're protecting people's health.

Q. How do you do accomplish the goals of the coalition?

A. We have three sections: education, advocacy and outreach. Our advocacy group is trying to promote its stuff with legislators. Outreach is working in schools, and education is trying to develop quick, easy-to-read information that can be given out at our events.

Q. How widespread is tobacco use in Iowa?

A. In Iowa, about 20 percent of adults are using some form of tobacco products, specifically cigarettes. The numbers go down with chewing tobacco, cigars and pipes.

The share of smokers who want to quit cigarettes ranges between 70 percent and 80 percent. When you look at cigars, chewing tobacco, you see numbers go down. I think that's because we don't have as much education out there that says these are not safe. No form of tobacco is safe in the way it's being used at this time.

Q. How has tobacco use affected your life?

A. My father had his first heart attack when I was 7. He would develop blood clots, and by the time I was 12, he had three to four heart attacks. He ended up having bypass surgery, and on Dec. 21, 1983, he died of heart disease from tobacco use.

I lost my maternal grandfather to tobacco-related heart disease when I was 5. He had multiple heart attacks. I lost an uncle, too. He had a massive heart attack and died, and I can tell you that is not usual.

People think tobacco is just going to kill you. It doesn't. It makes you suffer, and it can make you suffer for a long time, and that's what I saw with my dad.

Q. How did you choose nursing?

A. When I was in first grade, the year before my father had his first heart attack, our teacher gave us a sheet of paper with photos of different professions and we had to choose one. One of the people on the page was a nurse with her little cap and little white dress. I don't know what struck me about that.

When my dad was in the hospital back in the '70s, he was in ICU for extended periods of time and we weren't allowed in. We were too young. When he went to a floor, you had to be 14, but the nurses were so good with him and they knew that he needed to see us, so they broke the rules and let us in.

The nurses were great. They told him jokes; they laughed with him; they consoled when they needed to. They were just empathetic through the whole situation, and I just remember that they were really cool, and I never ever wanted to be anything else.

Q. What sort of advice can you give to people who use tobacco and want to quit?

A. The best thing you can do is ask yourself, "Am I ready to quit?"

If you can say, "I am" - without putting a "but" on the end of it - you're probably ready.

Don't wait until you're sitting in a health care provider's office being told to quit or this is going to kill you.

The first thing to do is decide you're going to do it. It is an addiction - not a habit - and it needs to be treated as an addiction. That may mean that you need counseling or need to be on meds.

When you're ready to do it, talk to a health care provider. If you decide to quit cold turkey, make sure you have someone who can be your support system and not lecture you. Take every advantage of the resources out there.

Jody Gifford is a freelance writer from West Des Moines.


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