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Local Man Watched Life Go Up in Smoke

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RALEIGH — It is estimated that smoking costs citizens $100 billion a year in health expenses and lost productivity. The national tobacco settlement will help states offset those costs, but the ultimate goal is to keep costs down by preventing people from lighting up in the first place.

After 38 years of smoking, Robert Harris developed emphysema, survived two collapsed lungs and had a stroke. He says he watched his active life slip away.

"As years went on, it got worse and worse and worse," Harris said. "I don't work. I don't fish, and I don't hunt."

But he feels lucky to be alive. "There's a lot of people who are not here today because they smoked," he said.

Unfortunately, people like Harris who already have smoking-related illnesses will not get any direct benefit from the national tobacco settlement. However, architects of the plan say some of the money will go towards preventing these illnesses.

"It will be a new day for providing prevention education." says Deborah Bryan of the American Lung Association.

The American Lung Association is optimistic that education about smoking risks can improve public health.

"We have long known that the way to truly impact smoking-related disease was to prevent the initiation of use," Bryan said.

Harris says if he knew about the dangers of smoking when he started, his life would be very different.

"We shouldn't have any tobacco, we shouldn't have smoking - that's it in a nutshell," Harris said.

One of the biggest concerns is teen smoking. Across the country, 3,000 teenagers start to smoke every day. About 30 percent of teens in North Carolina smoke. That number is higher than the amount of adults who smoke in the state.

The goal is to prevent them from starting by educating them about the health risks.

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Amanda Lamb, Reporter
John Cox, Photographer
Jason Darwin, Web Editor

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