by Joe DeGweck

There are moments in all of our lives that often define our future and ultimately affect the lives of not only ourselves, but all of those we have been so blessed to know. Our spouses and children, our parents and immediate family, and our friends all share in our lives – the good and the bad of it. They are our lives!

They season the daily episodes that transpire with warming affection and heartfelt purpose. The choices that we make, how we decide to live our lives, often impact the quality of life within our community, within our families.

This article is about making choices. It is about our right, as individuals, to freely choose how we live our lives in this great country, the United States of America. I hope it may inspire you to consider the impact you have on others and the responsibility that you hold toward providing a positive environment for those we hold so dear in our lives. This article is about the leadership within our community, both in the private and public sector, that continues to make choices that collectively enhance our lives in order that we might be healthier and happier in our existence.

The Action

Several weeks ago, Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans, and Colleen Wegman, his daughter, president of Wegmans, made an official announcement that their family-owned food chain would no longer be selling tobacco products. This was a monumental decision. Jo Natale, director of media relations for Wegmans, acknowledge that the sale of tobacco is a “very profitable category” for the company.

Danny Wegman simply stated that this decision was based on the following premise: “As a company, we respect a person’s right to smoke, but we also understand the destructive role smoking plays in health.” Since the company was founded in 1916, Wegmans has fostered its growth by making decisions based on the “pledge for continuous improvement.” They have been committed to the belief that they can achieve their goals by fulfilling the needs of their own people and serving the needs of their customers. This is why for the past ten years Fortune magazine has honored Wegmans by placing them on the list of the top 100 companies to work for. In 2005 Wegmans was ranked number 1 and last year was ranked number 3 on this list. It is decisions such as this that will keep them on top.

Ann M. McCarthy, consumer affairs manager of the Buffalo area division of Wegmans, stated that this decision “was rooted in our continued belief in helping our employees live healthier, better lives.” She also proudly proclaimed, “Our company is very much motivated by family values.”

Ann said “the reaction and response from the community has been “overwhelmingly supportive. It’s wonderful, but it is really just an outcome of a decision that we made initially with our employees’ health in mind.” There is also “a key piece to this decision.”

Wegmans has offered to support smoking cessation classes and programs for their employees and their spouses, in many cases. This includes on-line counseling and nicotine replacement therapy. “Danny and Colleen recognize that for people who want to quit, it is a really, really hard thing to do.” This is their way of supporting them.

This resolution of promise also correlates with Wegmans’ “Eat Well - Live Well” initiative that began as a campaign, several years ago, to help their employees make healthy choices and encourage a healthier lifestyle. It has now been extended to include several other companies in the Buffalo area, with the hope that they can provide healthy choices and beneficial alternatives for their own employees. There are already close to 200 companies in the Rochester area that participate in this campaign. In the weeks to come you will be able to experience another healthy program created by Wegmans and aimed at helping the people of our community. “Eat Well - Live Well” should be just that.

The Reaction

The following paragraphs contain a response from members of the Heart Association and Roswell Park Cancer Institute in regard to the impact that this initiative might have in connection with the hazards of cigarette smoking.

Jim VerSteeg, spokesperson for the Buffalo area Heart Association, applauds this decision and considers it to be an “impactful” and “conscientious” one. “About 440,000 people die of heart disease every year and a huge chunk of those numbers is directly related to cigarette smoking,” VerSteeg said.

There is also scientific data that has shown that the level of HDL, or good cholesterol, is lowered as a result of cigarette smoking. This also contributes directly to the cause of heart and cardiovascular disease, which is the “number one killer of Americans. Western New York, Niagara and Erie counties, specifically, have one of the highest rates of cardiovascular disease in the country,” VerSteeg notes.

It is a known fact that the tobacco we inhale contains arsenic, cyanide, formaldehyde, benzene and ammonia. Tobacco products, unlike other consumer products, have few significant government regulations. “Virtually anything can be added to tobacco products,” he continued. “Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease.”

As a former smoker himself, Jim states that “there is never a good time to stop smoking” but anything that can be done to discourage this habit is welcomed by the medical community. More information can be found by visiting:

Tobacco is designed to be highly addictive. Dr. James Marshall, senior vice- president for Cancer Prevention and Population Science at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, states that “the single most important thing we can do to lessen the toll of cancer in our society is to get people not to smoke.” About a third of all cancers are due to smoking.

“Our estimate is that 80 people a month in Western New York die of smoking induced disease,” Dr. Marshall said. In his working with diverse groups of people in tobacco cessation programs, Dr. Marshall had former heroin addicts state, “Tobacco is harder to get off of than heroin was.” There are “smart” people “who know the dangers” but can’t quit. He believes that Western New York has an opportunity to become a model leader for the rest of the country in alleviating this epidemic throughout our country.

Dr. Michael Cummings, chairman of health behavior at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, states that “about a third of all cancers are caused by smoking.” The medical bills in New York State from smoking-induced disease “run to the tune of about $8 billion a year.” Taxes collected contribute about $1 billion for treatment, leaving a $7 billion deficit.

“It costs every household in the state of New York about $1,000 a year,” Dr. Cummings added. This leads to higher medical insurance costs – both private and public – as well as higher taxes. “I believe in choice,” Dr. Cummings states, but it is a known fact that “cigarettes will kill you if used as the manufacturer intended them to be.” Dr. Marshall also pointed out that if the manufacturer of tobacco products wanted to give its customers a choice, they would remove all the nicotine from their product. He believes that “then people would choose to stop smoking.”

Cigarettes are “designed and engineered to keep people smoking them,” he says. “The delivery system of the tobacco product contributes greatly to the addictiveness of the drug. There is also urea added to tobacco that assists in delivering more nicotine to the brain,” adding to the addictive nature of the drug. Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are due to smoking and 80 percent of emphysema cases are attributed to smoking.

Dr. Cummings leaves with this thought: there is counseling available for those who want to quit. Consider why you smoke and find a way to stop. Other information and statistics can be found at:; and support can be given at the website, or call 1-866-NYQUITS.

I began this article by emphasizing your free right to make choices in your life. As a smoking addict myself, I truly understand the struggle that we all share when it comes to letting go of this harmful and deadly habit. I urge you to follow the initiative of our corporate and medical leaders, as they help in earnest to provide a brighter future for all of us.

I urge you to grasp this opportunity in order that you will someday be able to watch your grandchildren grow into adults and enjoy their lives. The weddings, the birth of future great grandchildren, the holiday celebrations all await you, and the future generations of your family deserve to have you there to celebrate along with them. Make the right choice to continuously improve your quality of life for all of those you hold so near and dear to you. Have a prosperous and healthy future. God bless.

American Heart Association L to R: Kristin Scholz, Jim Verstaeeg, Liz Zulawski, Cronan Long, Bill Alexander, Victoria Johnson, Roseann Stephan, Charmaine Rech        
Ann M. McCarthy Wegmans Produce Customer Service with Steve Andolina Produce Manager        
James Marshall, PhD. Senior Vice President Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences and K. Michael Cummings, PhD. Chair, Health Behavior of Roswell Park Cancer Institute        
American Heart Association Cronan Long        
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