Star of Anti-Smoking Campaign Still Puffs

The ads are shocking in their graphic depiction of the effects of smoking.

Skip Legault, with his tale of two heart attacks, strokes and an amputated right leg, has become the star of anti-smoking posters and commercials blanketing New York since December.

But the 48-year-old former repairman isn't getting the message -- Legault said he still smokes up to a full pack of Marlboros every day.

"I can't stop smoking," Legault told "I've been smoking since I was 8, and I'm afraid to quit."

Legault insisted that his appearance in the ads is not hypocritical, because he never claims he quit smoking. "I don't feel like a hypocrite, because I'm not telling people what to do. I'm not telling them not to smoke. I'm just showing them what happens."

What's happened to Legault since he started smoking at the age of 8 has been a long decline in health. After suffering two heart attacks in his late 20s, he had a stroke in 1993, which forced him to stop working, and at least seven blood clots that led doctors to amputate his lower leg due to gangrene.

"I'd love to walk again, and I'll never be able to do that. Just walk down the street holding hands with someone."

In addition, he's had difficulty engaging in some of his favorite pastimes, like hunting and fishing. "I fell out of my boat once. I put a stick in my eye while I was deer hunting, and a I hit a beaver hole in my four-wheeler and flipped over and was pinned in the creek for an hour until someone came along."

He's seen his commercial many times, which has been airing since December, and it makes him depressed about his condition. "It's been affecting me because it makes me realize how sick I am," he said. "Watching my commercial, I'm reliving it all the time. It's on all the time."

Although they're painful to watch, Legault is proud of the ads. He was prompted to volunteer for the New York Department of Health's anti-smoking campaign by his sister's work with teen smokers and by the death of his 16-year-old daughter, Sabrina, in a 2000 traffic accident.

He started speaking to kids who want to quit smoking through the St. Lawrence County Health Initiative. "I've been going to the schools and doing seminars," said Legault. "I've got hundreds of letters from kids who have written me."

Out of hundred volunteers, Legault and three others were picked as part of a new anti-smoking ad campaign. The next ads will feature people talking about someone in their family who died from the effects of smoking.

The fact that Legault can't quit smoking makes the ads even more effective, said Clyde W. Yancy, the national spokesman for the American Heart Association.

"My own sense is that it enhances the effectiveness of the ads," said Yancy. "When you see someone with two heart attacks like that and they're still smoking, it becomes compelling."

The revelation that Legault still smokes makes the ads comparable to the infamous anti-smoking ads in California, which showed a woman smoking through a hole in her throat, said Stanton A. Glantz, the director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco.

Glantz criticized those ads at first but realized they were extremely effective. "It doesn't make sense to have someone who's still smoking ask you to call the quit line, but it was very effective and generated lots of traffic to the quit line."

The fact that Legault was a persistent smoker was known to the Department of Health before it used him in its ads, according to a spokeswoman.

"He's very open about his smoking," said the spokeswoman . "The message here that we're trying to get across with the ad is that he's an extreme example of what smoking can do to somebody."

The department, which spent $1.8 million on TV ads, and more than a million on print and Internet ads, has already seen an increase in callers to its quit line.