Joel Spitzer: 28 Years of Service
On November 10th, Joel Spitzer, ACS volunteer and Stop Smoking Clinic Coordinator at Rush North Shore Medical Center spoke to 350 8th grade Wilmette Junior High School students about the dangers of smoking. If you were interviewing Joel on that day, he probably wouldn’t be able to tell you the number of anti-smoking speeches he had made or the number of kids and adults that he has tried to reach with one simple message. “Don’t start smoking and if you are….Stop!” Joel has been an ACS volunteer for 28 years, since he was 14 years old.
“It’s more difficult to get teenagers to quit smoking. They haven’t experienced the long term effects. When we see adults at the clinic, they’re here because they have already
experienced the problems of smoking,” states Mr. Spitzer. The adults that Joel sees at the clinic realize they are addicted and they want to stop but they need help. “Teenagers don’t realize they have a problem, they can still do what they’ve always done, their sports and running around.”
We’ve only recently realized how the cigarette industry has been manipulating the ingredients in cigarettes, to make them more addictive. Since it’s hard for kids to admit they have a problem they aren’t motivated to stop. Joel has experimented with teenagers observing adult non-smoking clinics. He’s hoping that they will under stand that smoking is addicting; that it’s not fun gasping for every breath. They hear stories first-hand from adults who want to quit but can’t and may die of lung cancer if they don’t. That is not the message that Joel was trying to get across to 350 Middle School students in Wilmette last year. He was trying to tell them not to start. Realizing that it’s more difficult for teenagers to stop, Joel tries to get the message across loud and clear.
He brings a slide show and on a large screen flashes statistics. Statistics such as cigarette smoking causes more deaths every year than the combination of all of the deaths in WWI, WWII, The Korean and the Vietnam Wars combined.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, cigarettes kill 418,690 Americans every year, which is more than those killed by alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, and illegal drugs combined. Joel occasionally runs into apathy from parents. “At least my kids not doing drugs, he’s only smoking” is a commonly heard phrase. After reading the above statistics, you know Joel’s response would and should be, “but smoking is the deadliest.”
At Mather High School, Joel, 14, may not have looked like the typical ACS volunteer. “It started as a school project…learning about the dangers of smoking.” He wanted to lecture to different groups about smoking, at elementary and middle schools wherever he could get the message across. Joel teamed with the American Cancer Society who provided him with materials and helped to arrange appearances.
It was also the beginning of a partnership with Don Zeigler. In 1971, Don worked for the ACS in Chicago and helped arrange Joel’s anti-smoking programs in local schools. Today, this dynamic duo works together at the Good Health Program at Rush North Medical Center.
You may ask what would motivate a person for such a long time. Joel states it simply, “I always felt as if teaching about smoking was a calling. I had a knack for presenting this material to any age group at any educational level and I discovered that I could change people’s behavior. I felt I was probably saving their lives…. that feeling has never changed.”
Article published in 1999 American Cancer Society North Shore Area Spring Edition Newsletter