It may be one of the most startling anti-smoking commercials you’ll ever see.
A slender, bald woman with a deep, scratchy voice speaks directly at television viewers.
“I’m Terrie and I used to be a smoker.
“I want to give you some tips about getting ready in the morning.”
For a moment, the screen shows a photo of lovely, youthful Terrie from 1978, when she was a senior at Forbush High School in East Bend.
Then you watch as the adult Terrie puts in her false teeth, dons a long blond wig and inserts a device into the permanent hole in her neck.
“Now you’re ready for your day,” she says.
This is one of eight national TV ads sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a $54 million anti-smoking campaign.
The ad featuring Terrie Hall, a 51-year-old mother and grandmother from Lexington, is by far the most popular. On the CDC website, her video has garnered 749,000 views – more than twice that of the others.
Terrie hopes to keep people from following her path as a lifelong smoker. She started when she was 17.
“I wanted to be like my friends,” she said in a recent telephone interview. “All of them were smoking. That just seemed to be the thing to do. It made me feel grown up.”
She was up to two packs a day in 2000, when a sore throat led to diagnosis of mouth cancer. She continued to smoke during radiation therapy.
“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Hall said. “I guess I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t know what addiction was.”
Her sore throat got worse, and her voice deteriorated. A year later, at age 40, she was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery to remove her larynx. She has a permanent stoma, or hole in her throat, and a voice prosthesis that must be replaced every few years.
Until she got the “hands-free” device that she demonstrates in the ad, she used to put her thumb over the stoma to close off the air before she could speak.
Her voice is hard to understand at first. But she has no trouble relating to laryngectomy patients in the hospital or to students at high schools and middle schools across the state.
“Some kids cry. Some kids get scared,” she said. “Some kids feel sorry for me. Some kids say, ‘I’m never gonna smoke.’ ”
People recognize Terrie almost everywhere she goes. “You’re that lady on TV,” they’ll say.
Some will add: “When I saw your commercial, I threw away my cigarettes.”
Ann Staples, an official with the tobacco prevention branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health, burst into tears when she first saw Terrie in the CDC ad. They became acquainted several years ago when Terrie was also featured in a statewide anti-smoking campaign.
But Terrie wasn’t bald in that earlier ad.
“She’s always dressed so elegant,” Staples said. “She’s just such a lady in every possible way. It was really hard to see. She is very brave.”
Terrie doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her.
“I thank God every day that I’m here (and) that I can talk and get the message out,” she said.
“I was killing myself smoking … I just hope I save lives.”