BATESVILLE — On the eve of Nov. 15's Great American Smokeout, Mel Calvert remembers when he smoked three packs a day and hated himself for it.
The first time he tried to kick the habit, the Batesville resident and nine friends each put $20 in a pile, vowing to split the money between those who remained nonsmokers after 90 days. Calvert and one other quitter each pocketed $100. He avoided cigarettes for a month to show he could, then renewed the habit. “After six months, here I am short of breath again and I'm a singer. Experts will tell you nicotine is harder for many people to quit than heroin. First of all, heroin is illegal and nicotine isn’t. Cigarettes don’t give you a euphoric high ... they calm your nerves. They relax you. They’re insidious.”
There was a turning point. “When I finally faced the fact I was addicted, that’s what got me. I looked myself in the eyes in the mirror and said, 'You're an addict.’ And I don’t like it. I’m going to do something about it.”
After researching how smoking affects health in 1976, Calvert developed a seven-step quitting system that worked for him. “It was easy, one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in my life,” says the man who describes himself as a “showman, pilot, ex-U.S. Army officer and church cantor.”
Without nicotine, “I started feeling better immediately. A lot of people think, ‘It’s too late for me.’ Not true. Within five years, your lung cancer death rate decreases by almost half" (please see box for other health benefits of giving up cigarettes).
At first, Calvert "didn't even think of marketing" his method, but coached others. Then a decade ago he wrote “How I Quit Smoking and Lived to Tell About It.” He reports, "I sat down at the computer. Seven days later I sent it to the publisher. It’s a short book ... we sold out every copy” at a Barnes and Noble in Florida, where he lived at the time, donating proceeds to Student Crusade Against Tobacco started by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Jacksonville, parishioners, including Calvert and wife Sunny. “We helped a lot of kids.”