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Answering challenge, local leaders set out to kick their smoking habits

State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, of the  3rd Legislative District, has accepted a challenge from Ben  Stuckart to quit smoking as part of the Spokane Regional Health District’s Challenge to Stop Smoking. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
State Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, of the 3rd Legislative District, has accepted a challenge from Ben Stuckart to quit smoking as part of the Spokane Regional Health District’s Challenge to Stop Smoking. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart says he can feel his lungs beginning to wither.

The 45-year-old’s coughing is getting worse, particularly in the morning.

A pack-a-day smoker, Stuckart is often puffing on filtered Camel cigarettes, though it’s a habit he’s tried to kick in the past.

“This addiction is doing nothing for me,” said Stuckart, who has smoked since he was 18. “I’ve tried to quit a few times in my life. By doing it publicly this time, there will be more accountability.”

Stuckart recently accepted the Spokane Regional Health District’s first Stop Smoking Challenge, which encourages smokers to make a quit attempt by Nov. 16, the date of the annual Great American Smokeout. The event is put on by American Cancer Society to raise awareness of smoking-related disease.

Roughly 18 percent of Spokane County’s adult population considered themselves smokers in 2016, according to the SRHD, and 52.9 percent of those have attempted to quit in the last year.

Stuckart, who will be updating his progress on social media, has called out other local leaders to join him in the challenge, including state Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, and Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan.

“I’ll be happy if they quit, even if it’s just for a day,” said Stuckart, who has slated his first quit day for Sunday.

Fagan said he’d consider it. Ormsby said he’d give it “the ol’ college try.” The habit, he said, is not something he’s proud of.

A smoker since he was 16, the 58-year-old Ormsby burns through two packs a day, burning a hole in his wallet in the process.

“I’ve contemplated its economic impact on my life,” he said, noting that less than 5 percent of his colleagues smoke.

Smoking has served as a relief mechanism, he said. Outside of work, there are few moments when he doesn’t have a cigarette between his fingers, he added.

Ormsby is still healthy, he says, but also realizes he’s an aberration in this regard.

“My health has been pretty good, considering,” he said. “I was blessed with good lung genes, but I know I am in the minority. Smoking is an ugly addiction.”

Fagan echoed Ormsby’s concerns on the downsides of tobacco use.

Though these days he’ll pop out for a smoke between meetings at City Hall, he once managed to quit for five years, he said.

But will Fagan stub out his cigarettes for good?

“That is to be seen,” Fagan said. “ I do acknowledge that is not good for your health and makes everything smell.”

Fagan’s wife has kicked the habit and wants him to do the same, he said.

“I have my kids to think about. My grandkids to think about. These things do cross my mind,” Fagan said.

According to the health district, tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death and chronic disease in Spokane County, Washington state and the United States. The total annual health care cost in the state directly caused by cigarette smoking is estimated to be $2.8 billion.

In 2016, 15 percent of women in Spokane County smoked during pregnancy.

“Hundreds of lives are lost each year in Spokane County due to smoking, and for every person who dies, many more local people live with an illness caused by smoking,” CHAS Health Clinical Director Dr. William Lockwood said in a news release. “We cannot afford to continue watching the human and economic toll from tobacco rob our community.”

Ormsby praised Stuckart for helping bring this issue to the public and said he hopes to see the area youth take heed.

“We want to set an example and be role models for our youth,” Ormsby said. “I am very conscious of minors seeing me smoke. I know it’s not a good thing.”

The health district said it will announce other community leaders who have pledged to quit smoking in the coming weeks.


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