Employer encourages staff to quit smoking

Rebecca Holt of Clovis, co-chairman of the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, was challenged by Ronald Dickson, owner of R&D Truck Service Center, to quit smoking 17 years ago during the Great American Smokeout. (Staff photo: Tony Bullocks)

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

Ronald Dickson will issue checks today to his employees at R&D Truck Service Center in Clovis, but they won’t be paychecks. Instead they will be an incentive to quit smoking.

In honor of the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, Dickson will write checks, equal to the price of a carton of cigarettes, to each employee who smokes. The business owner said he postdates the checks for two weeks. If the employee refrains from smoking for 14 days, then the check can be cashed.

“It’s on the honor system,” Dickson said. “I don’t think anyone would cheat me.”
Dickson said today marks the 18th year he has tempted his employees with cash to get them to break the smoking habit. “I really just encourage people,” he said, “but it (quitting smoking) has to come from within.”

In November 1989, Rebecca Holt, who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day for nine years, decided to take her employer’s challenge to quit.

“I was coughing and always sick,” Holt said, “and I hated smelling like smoke.” She said she quit cold turkey on that day and hasn’t smoked since. “I never lit up again,” she said.

According to www.cancer.org, every year smokers across the nation take part in the Great American Smokeout by smoking less or quitting smoking for the day on the third Thursday of November. The event challenges people to stop using tobacco and raises awareness of the many effective ways to quit smoking for good.

Once a smoker himself, Dickson understands the plight of smokers well. The Clovis business owner began lighting up at the age of 18 and the habit stuck for 18 years.

“I was a heavy smoker,” Dickson said. “I’d smoke two or three packs a day.”
Wheezing and his daughter’s pleas led him to kick the nicotine habit.

“My family was on me to quit,” Dickson said. “My kids really put me on a guilt trip.”

Unfortunately his first attempt to stop smoking was unsuccessful when one moment of chivalry led the 60-year-old once again to begin lighting up.

“For some reason I lit a cigarette for an employee,” Dickson said, “and I was right back where I started.”

According to the American Cancer Society, smokers quit an average of seven times before stopping for good.

The defining moment for Dickson came six years later, haunted by vivid dreams of falling asleep with a lit cigarette, Dickson decided to quit for good. “I never smoked in my house or in bed,” he said, “but I would wake up scared thinking there was a lit cigarette in my bed and it became my greatest fear.”

Eight years have now passed and Dickson is still smoke-free. Now his goal is to offer support to his employees as they too try to kick the habit for good.

“I’ll do whatever it takes (to help employees stop smoking),” he said. “I’ll get them popcorn … whatever it takes.”