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Event shows how smokers’ money goes up in smoke

Lab rat from TV ads helps get message across

SHARE Event shows how smokers’ money goes up in smoke

Lab Rat 204, the furry gray rodent who has disgusted people in commercials for three years with his yellow teeth and bad breath, is still warning Utahns not to fall prey to the nicotine trap.

"Since quitting, I've saved loads of money," said Frank Garrish, the Utah actor behind the rat suit. "I've since picked up some new digs and the chicks love me."

Garrish also spent time last week promoting the annual World No Tobacco Day, which is today. The World Health Organization has titled the event "Up in Smoke: Tobacco's Cost to the Family."

A display of items that a two-pack-a-day smoker could afford if the money spent on cigarettes were saved for one year showed off a full-component stereo system, a DVD-TV, a laptop computer, a camcorder and an Apple iPod. The total value was $2,920.

"What we're trying to do is make people realize the long-term impact relative to saving and investing what they would spend on tobacco," said Todd Berg, a private client consultant with Charles Schwab and Co.

"If a 25-year-old, two-pack-a-day smoker chose to put their tobacco money in the market instead, they could retire with more than $1 million at age 65," Berg said.

Lab Rat 204 was the brainchild of a creative director at Utah-based Crowell Advertising. The 17 different anti-smoking commercials they have produced have caught the attention of 97 percent of Utah's schoolchildren and teens, officials said.

A report by the U.S. Surgeon General on the health consequences of smoking and tobacco use coincides with today's anti-tobacco effort.

"We need to cut smoking in this country and around the world," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary Tommy G. Thompson. "It's costing us too many lives, too many dollars and too many tears."

The report, the first formal statement on tobacco usage since 1964, reiterated that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in America.

"What we are finding is that the diseases caused by smoking are more widespread than we ever thought," said Lena Dibble, Utah Tobacco Control Program representative. "Smoking and tobacco use alone kills 440,000 people every year."

In addition to the 960-page report called "The Health Consequences of Smoking," the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a new interactive scientific database of more than 1,600 key articles cited in the report, available through the Internet at www.surgeongeneral.gov.

"If we are going to be serious about improving health and preventing disease, we must continue to drive down tobacco use," Thompson said. "And we must prevent our youth from taking up this dangerous habit."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com