Commentary: Terrie Hall: A Powerful Voice Lost to Tobacco
Last week, a really important voice in the fight to save lives from tobacco use was silenced. Terrie Hall passed away on Monday, September 16, following years of battling tobacco-related cancer. She was one of the brave Americans who have told their stories publicly in the Tips from Former Smokers campaign by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All of us who worked with her on this campaign witnessed firsthand her remarkable courage, passion and tenacity. She had just taped another ad for the campaign. Sadly, it will be her last.
Terrie was one of the 440,000 Americans who lose their lives due to smoking every year. Every loss no doubt has its own remarkable story, but I can’t help but think that Terrie’s story was especially unique. A North Carolina native, she grew up on a tobacco farm and picked tobacco leaves as a child. She started smoking as a teen and continued for decades until her first oral cancer diagnosis. Even after she lost her hair, her teeth and her voice box, this former cheerleader was still beautiful. And she was funny. Her courage and love of life inspired everyone around her. She said in one of her ads that she wished she’d taped herself talking before she was forced to speak with an electrolarynx because it made her sad to think that her voice – or the remnants of the voice she was left with after her many surgeries – was the only one her grandson ever knew.
But what a voice it was. Her honesty and unfailing optimism were plain to anyone who saw her ads and certainly to all of us fortunate enough to have known her. She hoped that if her story could convince just one teen from starting to smoke or motivate one adult to quit, her battle would have been worth it. And boy, was she effective. The 2012 campaign ads doubled calls to state quitlines from smokers eager for help to quit, when compared to calls in 2011. New research just published in The Lancet found that an estimated 1.6 million American smokers made a quit attempt due to The Tips from Former Smokers campaign. Among these smokers, an estimated 100,000 smokers will quit for good. Terrie had a big hand in that and, thankfully, she learned of those incredible results before she passed.
At the organization I work for, we say that a legacy isn’t something you leave behind when you die, but something you build every day you live. By any measure, Terrie Hall built an amazing legacy. Her ads caught you off guard. She made it hard to look away or change the channel because she was just so genuine. You had to hear her out. Her voice wasn’t easy to listen to but it told us everything we need to know about tobacco. She saved lives and we’ll miss her with all our hearts.
Senior Vice President, Communications
PHOTO [L-R]: Julia Cartwright and Terrie Hall