Woman spends last days filming TV ads warning about dangers of smoking

Tuesday, January 4th 2005, 8:39 am
By: News On 6

RAINELLE, W.Va. (AP) _ The 42-year-old woman made her point quickly, because she had so little time left.

``I have lung cancer,'' Janet Wells said. ``They told me that I would die within a matter of a few months.''

The doctors were right, although they underestimated her death. The wife and mother got nine months instead of six to tell her story in television ads warning of the dangers of smoking.

After learning that her cancer had spread to her spinal cord and brain, Wells sat down last February to tape several interviews for the state Division of Tobacco Prevention, funded by money paid by the tobacco industry through an agreement that settled lawsuits in 46 states.

``I hope some people, especially other mothers of young children, can come to understand just how deadly their smoking is,'' Wells said in one of the two ads. ``I didn't know lung cancer spread to your brain. I didn't know cigarette smoking would cause brain cancer. It does.''

The first advertisement aired just before Wells died on Nov. 24.

Wells said ``it put her mind at ease'' to find out that calls to the state's quit lines had surged by 40 percent after the ad aired in 21 eastern counties, said Jean Tenney, regional coordinator with an anti-smoking group.

Like many West Virginians, Wells began smoking in her early teens; the state Department of Health and Human Resources says 28.5 percent of high school teens smoke, and that continues through adulthood with the state consistently ranked near the nation's top for adult smoking, with a rate of 28.4 percent in 2002, fourth-highest in America.

The department estimates smokers cost West Virginia $1.8 billion a year in health care and occupational costs and that more than one in five residents die each year because of smoking-related illnesses.

Wells was initially reluctant about the campaign. She approached Tenney's group shortly after finding out the cancer had spread to her brain, but wasn't immediately enthusiastic about going on camera.

``She felt she already looked too bad to do anything,'' Tenney said. ``But to me she was very beautiful.''

In the interviews, Wells discussed a future that she knew she would not get to experience.

``I've got projects that I never got around to, and need to get done. I can't do them now,'' she said. ``I have a very long to-do list that that lung-cancer has really fouled up in a big way.''

The state is preparing to rebroadcast the ads to more state television markets this month to encourage New Year's resolutions, and plans to share the recordings with other states' anti-tobacco campaigns.

Wells, who coordinated reading programs at Rainelle's elementary school, knew how hard it'll be to convince anyone to break the habit.

She tried unsuccessfully to quit many times before finally stopping along with her husband, Dwight Wells, with help of state-supplied nicotine patches. By then, though, it was too late. The cancer had taken hold.

``I know what it's like to be a smoker,'' she said, ``and know how hard it is to quit.''