Tobacco has taken its toll on Haines resident Jim Hamp. His wife and mother both died of tobacco-related cancers, and Hamp is dying from emphysema.
A longtime charter and commercial fisherman, Hamp, 68, now has to wear a nasal cannula (a plastic hose that pumps oxygen from a tank into his nose) and rarely has the energy to visit is boat.
Some days he barely has the energy to reach across the kitchen table. After smoking for 50 years, Hamp said he’d trade all the pleasure he got from cigarettes for one more good day of breathing. Now that he’s dying, Hamp wants to warn young smokers about what awaits them.
“Tobacco is just a matter of time. It doesn’t matter who you are,” Hamp said. “Why tempt how long? You’re playing with your life.”
Even though he sold cigarettes when he was growing up, Hamp said he didn’t start smoking until after he went to college. He said both of his parents smoked and it was the accepted thing to do. When he was in the military, more than 200 of the 244 soldiers in his company smoked. Within a year of starting, Hamp said he was smoking 1 1/2 packs a day.
Hamp managed a marina in Michigan, then moved to Anchorage in 1980 after visiting a friend and settled in Haines in 1983. He said he was extremely active until his early 60s and working a 16-hour day was nothing.
But seven years ago, while pulling a shrimp pot, Hamp said he “folded up.” He said it was like someone “put a plastic bag over his mouth,” he wasn’t in pain but he couldn’t get any air. “It was like I’d been punched in the stomach, that’s one way to describe it,” he said.
Hamp said he was real close to respiratory arrest. When he went to the doctor, the tests found scar tissue from pneumonia and emphysema. He was told if he quit smoking, he might have four or five years left.
After several failed attempts at quitting on his own, Hamp called SEARHC Tobacco Health Educator Jane Weagant. She helped him cut down to a couple of cigarettes a day, but the addiction is too powerful for him to completely give up smoking.
“I know it’s killing me, and it’s shortening what life I have left. But it still is very difficult to quit,” said Hamp, who hopes his story can help someone else quit or decide not to start smoking. “If I had to do it over again I wouldn’t start.”
The SEARHC Tobacco Program can be reached at 1-888-966-8875 (Southeast region) during normal business hours.
The Alaska Tobacco Quit Line number is 1-888-842-QUIT (842-7848) and is available 24 hours a day.