Putting family first

Anti-smoking campaign highlights woman’s story

Tiffany Roberson lost her mother to lung cancer in 1994, when Roberson was 16 and a junior in high school.

Her mother, Mary Roberson, had been a smoker for many years, although she stopped smoking a few years before she died at age 48.

Roberson said that she and her older brother hadn’t liked their mother’s smoking.

Still, when Roberson herself was a young single mother and in college, she picked up her first cigarette and kept smoking for the next decade or so.

“I look back now and I don’t know how I didn’t make the connection,” Roberson said, referring to her mother’s own decision to smoke.

More than a year ago, though, Roberson stopped smoking. The reason? Her daughter, Jaelin Walker, then 16.

She couldn’t risk visiting on her daughter the same sorrows and struggles that she herself had suffered at the same age.

Roberson’s story is part of the second phase of the “Tips From Former Smokers” ad campaign launched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month.

The CDC initiated the first 12-week phase of the campaign in March 2012. Compared to the same time period in 2011, overall call volume to the CDC’s 1-800-QUIT-NOW phone line more than doubled during the campaign, according to the agency.

People are probably most familiar with Terrie Hall, the womawn who had her voice box removed because of cancer and who appeared in the first phase of the campaign. She appears in this one, as well, sharing with a brutal and frank honesty the aftermath of her cancer caused by smoking.

Roberson and her daughter got to meet Hall, when they filmed their part of the campaign in New York on Oct. 24 and 25 last year.

“She is funny! She cracks jokes and is very friendly and down to earth,” Roberson said of Hall.

The aim of the second phase of the ad campaign is to encourage people to stop smoking, raise awareness of smoking’s negative impact on health and encourage nonsmokers to protect themselves from secondhand smoke, according to the CDC.

Looking back at her own mother’s story, Roberson said that her mother, a schoolteacher in Natchitoches, worked until the week of her death.

“She tried to hide the severity of her illness as long as she could,” Roberson said.

“It affected me so much. It was just she and I in the house. The most I could do at that age was just to try to do as much around the house as possible,” she said.

She “didn’t have the life and emotional experience” to speak with her mother about her illness, she said.

“I knew she was very sick. The coughing was very awful to listen to. Toward the end, she just complained of being in pain,” Roberson said.

After her mother’s death, Roberson went to live with her father; her parents had divorced a few years earlier.

Soon Roberson was out on her own.

Over the years, she tried to quit smoking.

“I would make attempts. I finally understood ... the addiction to the nicotine,” said Roberson, who taught in East Baton Rouge Parish schools for several years and is currently taking a break from teaching.

Roberson said she had been angry about her mother’s smoking, but she began to gain new insight when she tried to give up the habit herself.

“Finally I understood — this is really difficult,” Roberson said.

And her mother had grown up in an era when smoking was glamorized.

“I think this generation is really more educated about the dangers,” Roberson said of her daughter and her peers.

At the CDC website, by clicking on the link “All Tiffany’s videos,” viewers can hear and see her daughter’s heart-wrenching expression of relief and gratitude that her mother has stopped smoking.

In her attempts to stop smoking, Roberson had a breakthrough when “I was able to tell my story to a friend of mine ... It was the first time I opened up about how scared I was, trying to take care of my mother and how painful it was to see how ill she got.”

“It’s still hard. I still miss her and want to talk to her,” Roberson said.

She began to see that “here I am putting myself in the position and possibility of meeting the same fate and leaving my daughter” with the same struggles.

A nicotine replacement patch product was an important key to her stopping smoking, as was the support of family and friends, Roberson said.

A friend of hers who works in the state Department of Health and Hospitals told Roberson about the CDC’s “Tips From Former Smokers” ad campaign and encouraged her to try to participate.

Roberson emailed in her story to the CDC in August 2012.

“My mother died in 1994 ... I didn’t think they’d be that impressed. I sent a simplified version” of events, she said.

But the CDC was impressed and began a correspondence with Roberson that ended in an invitation in early October to be part of the campaign.

They invited her daughter, too, and Jaelin, 17, who attends high school in Natchitoches, where her father lives, discovered she loves New York City.

Roberson said that she was “all kind of anxious and nervous” at first, about the filming of the ad, a daylong project.

But someone involved with it said the magic words to soothe her, when they told her, “This is an opportunity to share with your daughter.”

ä ON THE INTERNET:

Tiffany Roberson’s ads and story:

http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/stories/tiffany.html.