Motivational speaker shares struggles with tobacco use

Jordan Jones

Jordan Jones

Do the hazards of tobacco use outweigh the benefits?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site says, “Each year, an estimated 438,000 people in the U.S. die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million have a serious illness caused by smoking.”

Rick Bender, motivational speaker and cancer survivor, spoke at SDSU about the dangers of chewing tobacco and other dangers of nicotine on Oct. 27.

Bender started chewing when he was 12 years old. By the time he was 26, he had to undergo major surgery to cut out the cancer.

Bender found a small white bump on his tongue when he was 25. The lump did not go away. Not soon after, he quit chewing. Despite quitting, the bump went away for a little while but came back the size of a dime. It was then that he saw a doctor but still almost died.

He lost a third of his tongue, half of his jaw and 25 percent of his right arm. After a 12-and-a-half-hour surgery, doctors told his family that he would probably not live more than three years.

Bender, now 45, encouraged people to help their friends quit. He told students that it is of utmost importance that if they or their friends ever find a small bump, a little white spot or a reddish spot that does not go away within 10 days, they need to have it examined.

During his travels, he has met more than 100 people from families with relatives that died due to the same cancer he had. He has met 11 survivors that had the same cancer, five of whom lost their speaking ability.

Despite increasing evidence about the dangers of smoking, 20.8 percent of adults smoked cigarettes, according to statistics from 2006 on the CDC Web site.

Tanner Aiken, a landscape architecture major, started smoking because in his experience, 90 percent of people at restaurants were smokers.

Bender said he started to chew because of peer pressure, advertisements saying there was less danger than smoking and because of the association with baseball.

Aiken said he smokes to relieve stress. “It is calming,” he said. “During the school year, it is hard to quit.” Other smokers also mentioned that tobacco calms them when they are stressed.

SDSU Tobacco Coalition conducted a survey where 80 percent of SDSU students polled said they wanted a smoke-free campus. The ultimate long-term goal for the stop smoking coalition would be to make SDSU a smoke-free campus, said Lee Walraven, a health promotions major.

This would mean that people would no longer be allowed to smoke anywhere at SDSU. In 2007, the University of North Dakota became a smoke-free campus. Currently, the coalition is working with a faculty survey. Walraven said that the campuses that go smoke free have a lot of support from the faculty.

Walraven works for the SDSU Tobacco Coalition. SDSU has a grant to work with the state to promote healthier lifestyles by abstaining from smoking tobacco. They are promoting several events to help educate people in regards to tobacco. Some events they help promote include: the 5k Fun Run, the Great American Smoke-Out and speakers like Bender.

For those interested of staying out of the smoke, Cubby’s Sports Bar and Grill decided earlier this year to not allow smoking anymore.

“Easily nine out of 10 were all for it, including the smokers,” said Cubby’s manager Jeremy Deutsch. “(We’ve) definitely seen an increase with kids and families.” Despite the change and inconvenience to some, Deutsch said, “most smokers do not mind stepping outside.” Cubby’s remodeled in June, and when it opened up in July, the management weighed the options and decided that non-smoking was better.

Aiken said that he also prefers non-smoking bars and would rather not sit in everyone else’s smoke.

The health effects are really better for everyone, said Deutsch; when people work for 40 hours a week at the bar, it can really make a difference. Nonsmoking is healthier.

At first, Cubby’s was concerned that maybe there would be less latecomers among college students and young adults. After the change, business has only increased, but Deutsch said that the change to non-smoking might not be the only reason.

“Eventually (nonsmoking) will hit everywhere around here,” said Deutsch.

For the students that are interested in quitting, Quitline has counselors and can provide assistance to help students quit smoking. Not only do they provide counseling, but they may be able to provide some additional resources to help students quit. More information can be found at:

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a Healthy Living Series, which promotes the well-being of students and examines health issues on campus.