Aug. 10, 2005 — -- Peter Jennings, who spent his career informing the public before succumbing to lung cancer on Sunday, has now prompted scores of well-wishers to vow to change their lives in his honor by giving up their smoking habits.
The death of the "World News Tonight" anchor at age 67, along with his candid admissions about his own smoking habit, has drawn renewed attention to the dangers of lung cancer, which claims more than 168,000 American lives each year.
"Do you think it would have been as hard for Peter to give up smoking if someone would have told him 36 years ago that his life was already half over?" asked Heather from Florida in an online posting on ABCNEWS.com's message board.
"So I will soldier on today on this quest to stop smoking … Thanks for giving me the wisdom to realize this now Peter."
Another message board user wrote: "I am in the process of quitting smoking and hearing this news was a real eye-opener for me. I am now trying to get my husband to quit as well."
It's a theme that has caught on with well-wishers since Jennings' death. By Tuesday morning, the ABCNews.com message board was peppered with postings and e-mails from smokers promising to quit the habit as well as supporters of the anti-smoking cause.
"Mr. Jennings' death is a reminder to me that we must continue to be vigilant and we will persevere in our effort to help the many of Americans living with lung disease and those who still smoke cigarettes," John Kirkwood, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, wrote on Monday.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States are related to tobacco use. A stunning 87 percent of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to tobacco use, according to statistics compiled by the Cancer Society.
The numbers are striking, but for those who continue to smoke statistics may not be enough of a deterrent. For some, the death of the respected news anchor may change that.
"At 9:00 I smoked my last cigarette out of the pack I had, and of course knew I needed to run out and get more," wrote Jodi in Kansas City. "Shortly after that is when I saw the news about Mr. Jennings. I never went out and got more cigarettes and won't today either. If Mr. Jennings wanted to impact people and make a difference about smoking and people stopping, he did with me yesterday."
It is impossible to gauge the overall impact Jennings' death will have on smokers, but his willingness to share his experience and explain it to viewers may have personalized some smokers' fears.
Jennings began smoking at age 13. He smoked for most of his adult life but quit in the 1980s before slipping up and smoking in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In his reporting, Jennings was devoted to educating Americans about the dangers of tobacco use, including producing a one-hour special on the subject last fall.
Jennings publicly explained his smoking history to viewers when he announced his diagnosis on the April 5 edition of "World News Tonight." That announcement and his subsequent death may have served as a wake-up call for viewers that tobacco use has consequences.
Dana Reeve, the widow of Christopher Reeve, announced on Tuesday that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Reeve, who is not a smoker, said she is undergoing treatment and is optimistic about her prognosis. Over the years, other well-known smokers have succumbed to lung cancer, including Walt Disney and Sammy Davis Jr.
Though admirers have publicly declared plans to quit, the Cancer Society estimates that only 5 percent to 10 percent of smokers are successful in any given attempt. Finding outside help or using prescription drugs or over-the-counter products like nicotine patches can be beneficial.
"You can double your chances of success if you use anything to help you -- like a drug or a support group," said Cancer Society spokesman David Sampson.
The odds of success may be sobering, but many mourners drew strength from Jennings' struggle, saying they felt the best way to honor his death would be to persevere.
"I kept my date with the patch yesterday, and his memory will help keep me strong," wrote one poster. "I have smoked for approx. 36 years and know if I fail this time I will surely die the same way he did. Thank you for the strength you are giving me Peter."
Jill McGinnis, 35, of Columbia, Miss., had been a smoker for 15 years when she heard about Johnny Carson's death earlier this year. She was moved to stop, and with the help of nicotine gum was able to stay away from cigarettes for several months before lapsing again. She said Jennings' death has pushed her to try again.
"It really brings it home in the sense that you realize that there are real people that are there who are public and recognized, and if it happened to then it can certainly happen to me, too," she says.
"It's a wake-up call, for sure."