Rep. Bennett shines light on mission to quit smoking

Warwick Beacon ·

District 20 Rep. David Bennett is a man on a mission. In fact, it’s a mission that he wished he undertook 40 years ago, when at 23 years old he first started smoking cigarettes.

“I know all the tricks and I’ve used all the excuses,” Bennett said. “I’m tired of the excuses, and I’m finally saying that I need help.”

Bennett talked about how he had tried to quit countless times during his life, sometimes for a couple days, sometimes weeks and even longer. Recently, he said that he was on the campaign trail last September during the run-up to last year’s election and had been smoke free for about seven months at that time. Then the weather got cold and he had to get out his coat.

Inside a pocket was a forgotten pack of cigarettes, and the “little monster” in his head tarnished his months of progress by convincing him it wasn’t a big deal to start up again. That didn’t stop him from feeling ashamed at falling off the wagon – he recalled hiding in the woods so nobody would catch him in the act.

“I thought how stupid is this? I quit another couple of weeks because I embarrassed myself,” he said. “And now I want to quit for good.”

Bennett recognizes that his smoking tendencies amount to more than a simple habit – he openly admits to being addicted to nicotine. So, he’s enlisted help this time around from the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), whom he approached towards the end of last year’s legislative session with a request to hold him accountable to his goal to quit.

The Cancer Action Network suggested that Bennett become a part of an upcoming social media campaign that will follow his journey to quitting smoking. It will be accompanied by a hashtag – #WatchBennettQuit – and be used a means of promoting smoking cessation tools available to Rhode Islanders and all Americans.

One of those tools is the Quitline, a 24-7 hotline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) operated by the National Cancer Institute that will connect you to your regional tobacco quitline based on your phone’s area code. These lines can provide people looking to quit with valuable resources, including tips on smoking cessation and even working with volunteer counselors who can provide support and motivation to resist smoking urges and suggest ways to curb cravings.

According to Robert Dulski, Rhode Island Government Relations Director for the ACS CAN, working with Bennett will also hopefully raise more awareness about the paltry amount of funding that is provided to the state’s tobacco control program. Despite taking in about $198 million in taxes and Master Settlement Agreement money from the sale of cigarettes, Rhode Island only spends about $387,000 of that on smoking prevention. The Center for Disease Control recommends $12.8 million be spent on such programming.

Dulski said that following Bennett’s progress on social media will hopefully add even more accountability. They hope the experience will bring awareness to the difficulties many face when quitting smoking after a lifetime of doing so.

“He just wants to be held accountable, and we’re going to hold him accountable, but it’s more about the educational facet of it,” Dulski said, adding that Bennett won’t be receiving special treatment due to being a state representative. “It’s Dave Bennett, Rhode Islander, trying to quit smoking. He’s a good guy and we want to help him.”

Now in his 60s, Rep. Bennett says that he can finally feel the effects of his nearly half-century-long habit.

“I go outside a lot and I like to go hiking in the woods and I can feel it, I get wheezy,” he said. “I’m getting older and I can feel it now. I never felt it before.”

However, the physical warning signs of his health deteriorating is only a part of the impetus for him to finally crush the pack – for good – this time. Societal pressures have contributed as well. He doesn’t want to keep mints handy when he goes to meet with constituents, fear running into someone he knows fresh off a cigarette or hide in shame for fear of somebody seeing him smoking.

“At my daughter’s house I’m already relegated behind the garage. My granddaughter will hug me and say I smell like cigarettes. It bothers the hell out of me,” he said. “I want to watch my granddaughter get married and have kids, I want to see my daughter get married and have kids – if that’s what they choose to do in their lives.”

Bennett said that he is the kind of person who would walk through a blizzard at 3 a.m. to get a pack of cigarettes when a craving hit hard, but that he recognizes the absurdity of this fact and truly hopes this is the time he can look back on as the real beginning of the end of his smoking days.

“Working with the Cancer Society and going public, I hope this is the one. I think I can do it,” he said. “I have no choice.”

You can view a video of Rep. Bennett pledging to quit smoking when this article goes live on Thursday.