ANNAPOLIS – Elizabeth Bellavance stayed seated for five hours Thursday to spend three minutes asking a House committee to support several bills to discourage children from smoking.
Evoking the memory of her late husband, former Salisbury State University President Thomas Bellavance, she urged lawmakers to sharply limit cigarette vending machines and penalize over- the-counter tobacco product sales to minors.
Mr. Bellavance died of lung cancer February 10, at age 62. Their first grandchild is due in April, Mrs. Bellavance said, and her husband had expressed a desire to stay at the university for at least five more years.
“I’m here on his behalf, really,” Mrs. Bellavance told the committee. She said she did not want to see talented people like her husband “being snuffed out before their work is finished.”
He started smoking when he was 12, “using his allowance in an old-fashioned vending machine at a gasoline station near his home,” said Mrs. Bellavance, whose voice did not detectably waver.
Throughout his life, “he was just at a loss when he didn’t have cigarettes.”
She recalled his words, uttered in the hope of preventing children from picking up the habit: “`It’s too late to reform people like me.'”
The 59-year-old Mrs. Bellavance lamented seeing new freshmen each year, “coming at the age of 17 or 18 with already formed habits.”
Mr. Bellavance tried methods such as hypnosis, videos and nicotine patches to quit, but never could, she said.
“He had every no-smoking tape you could imagine,” she said.
She described finding notes her husband wrote on a variety of subjects eight days before he died.
“Alongside those notes were still more plans for quitting smoking,” she said.
Mrs. Bellavance testified at the request of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who had sent her a condolence message last month.
At the conclusion of her remarks, she showed committee members a photograph of her husband with a child, taken before he lost his hair to cancer treatment.
Mrs. Bellavance was one of 120 people to testify concerning 13 smoking-related bills. Advocates of the bills she favors said they hoped to make it more difficult for children to get tobacco products and to penalize both children and vendors when they do.
Opponents said the bills were bound to be ineffective, financially burdensome to small store owners and tobacco farmers, and unnecessarily obstructive to adults.
Interviewed after her testimony, Mrs. Bellavance spoke of a modest goal.
“It wasn’t easy, but it makes me hopeful, if at least one vote can be affected,” she said.
Mrs. Bellavance said testifying was difficult. “My voice was shaking,” she said. But “the hardest part was just trying to capsulize what I wanted to say in three minutes.” -30-