There were groans from the Pierce College psychology class when the students learned that the old man there as the day’s guest lecturer would be discussing the evils of smoking.
The link between cigarettes and lung cancer is not exactly a breathtaking new scientific discovery, after all. And what could a 73-year-old know about such contemporary issues as Los Angeles’ restrictive smoking ordinance, something that already has been debated to death.
And so as Alex Andres faced the 30 students last week, they slumped resignedly in their desk seats. Fingering a crumpled red-and-white cigarette box, he plunged ahead with his talk anyway.
He announced: “The Marlboro man may be great on a horse, but he isn’t worth a damn in bed.”
With that, there were scattered gasps in the room.
Andres quickly explained that nicotine buildup in the body causes blood capillaries to constrict--and that the effect that has on the male and female sex organs is significant.
Andres had the collegians’ attention, and he wasn’t about to let go. He skillfully shifted into discussing the more dangerous results of a cigarette habit.
“ ‘Not tonight, dear, I have a headache’ can be extended to ‘not tonight, I have emphysema,’ or, ‘I have cancer,’ ” Andres said.
Then he displayed sections of cancer-damaged lung to the now wide-eyed students.
“It’s this way every time he comes here,” said Dick Anderson, professor of psychology and the regular teacher of the introductory-level class. “When they first see him, some of the students say, ‘Who is this old geezer?’ At the end of the class, they’re admitting he’s probably in better shape than they are.”
Andres, a retired insurance man from Woodland Hills, has waged a personal campaign against smoking since he gave a talk on the subject 24 years ago before the Van Nuys Optimist Club. Since then, he has appeared at more than 100 elementary and secondary schools, service clubs and other organizations.
Anderson has invited Andres to lecture in his classes for the last eight years, ever since Andres read a scientific paper on cancer and nutrition that Anderson co-authored.
There is no simple explanation for Andres’ passion about the subject. He said that no one in his family has died of lung cancer. And, although Andres acknowledges that he personally enjoys the taste of tobacco, he said he has never been a smoker--so it is not a case of a one-time sinner suddenly seeing the light.
He has, however, been a man to whom various causes have been a hobby since he quit his Van Nuys insurance firm at age 55. Although others might have been out playing golf, he became an advocate in such subjects as cancer and nutrition, helped organize a San Fernando Valley group in the 1970s that promoted backyard gardens, and more recently has worked as a volunteer at the Sepulveda Veterans Hospital.
His retirement activities also have included personal campaigns against the sport of prizefighting and in favor of legalizing prostitution, and lobbying for a facility in Woodland Hills to recycle newspapers to benefit charities.
But the anti-smoking effort has been his No. 1 cause. Andres tailors his talks to his audiences, toning them down when older women are present. “I’ll use salty language if I have to. If I have to get into the gutter to save a life, I’ll do it,” he said.
“The percentage of adults who smoke has gone down tremendously over the years,” Andres said after the Pierce College class. “But you still see a lot of kids, young girls in particular, smoking. I think fear of atomic war has given kids a hedonistic outlook. They want to be adults in a hurry. They feel that they might not live long enough to be adults.”
Along with his preserved diseased lungs, his dirty ashtrays and other props, Andres keeps a scrapbook of news clippings and correspondence. The documents tell how he was instrumental in the Dodgers’ curtailment of cigarette advertising on the team’s baseball broadcasts in the 1960s.
Although Andres spent years asking city councilmen to enact anti-smoking legislation, he says only that he hoped his efforts helped shape the “terrific” city smoking ordinance that went into effect this month.
Anderson said there is no doubt that Andres has helped shape the personal habits of many who have heard him speak. “He got me off a pipe,” Anderson said. “He’s gotten a number of students here to quit smoking.”
Andres got high marks from students at the end of his 40-minute lecture last week. “My first impression was that it was going to be draggy,” said David Galante, 19, a sophomore. “It wasn’t. His approach is a good way to catch people’s attention.”
Gail Sieja, a 20-year-old sophomore, said: “He was very convincing. He talked to us on our level.”