It was a difficult time, he says, but he had lots of support from family, including his late wife, Selma, and son, Barry. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it,” he adds. “So I better do something else.”
Already outside the studio, he was working as executive director of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association, lobbying for issues relating to TV and radio. Those ties brought him in touch with the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, which signed him as a spokesman.
Now, Mehrman spoke to countless school groups using his handheld electrolarynx. Appearing in radio and TV ads, he was even featured nationally in a 2001 Superbowl commercial. While the electronic rasp of his “voice” alone could serve as an indictment of smoking, his approach never leaned on that. Instead, he alerted kids to a factor having a more immediate impact on young minds — the cost of smoking.
A pack-a-day habit can cost $10 a day, he says. “And all you’ve got left at the end of the month is $270 worth of ashes. ... If you don’t want to (quit) for your health, do it for your wealth.”
These days Mehrman laments the cutbacks in funds for the anti-cigarette effort, but he hasn’t cut back himself. His media savvy is key to Brooksby’s anti-smoking campaign. He spends all his spare time in the retirement community’s TV studio and even serves as a speaker.
“Bob did a video,” notes Brooksby spokeswoman Dani Baldasarre. “That’s been a big part of the effort.”
New Brooksby residents, as well as employees, are alerted to the smoke-free status, meaning no smoking inside or out. Longtime residents continue to smoke, but, again, Mehrman and others let them know just how much the habit can cost. (One employee who quit smoking was able to buy a new car with the money she saved, Baldasarre notes.)
Asked why he continued smoking even while his voice was his best asset, Mehrman explains that he and his colleagues believed smoking gave their voices a deeper, richer tone. Today, with a sadly ironic shake of the head, he says through his electrolarynx, “It sure as hell did deepen it.”