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Bills honored for smoking ban

Smoking cost Leonard C. Pleasant his voice box and part of one lung.

A big, beefy guy with a heart of gold, Pleasant was an Erie County sheriff's deputy who tirelessly told his story about the dangers of smoking to local students.

Ron Osborne, 78, of Hamburg, a fellow member of the New Voice Club of the Niagara Frontier, remembers the effect Pleasant had on young students at what, at the time, was Lincoln Academy School 44 on Broadway.

"He had 40 kids bawling their eyes out with his story about the hazards of smoking," Osborne said. "A guy that size, talking to little kids and getting them to the point that the teacher was handing out Kleenex."

Pleasant died in August 2008 at age 71.

On Tuesday, he was remembered as the Leonard Pleasant/New Voice Club Tobacco-Free Advocate of the Year award was given to the Buffalo Bills, who recently banned smoking throughout their facility.

Six members of the New Voice Club, most talking with artificial larynxes, sat in the back of the Bills' media room Tuesday to pay tribute to the Bills and Pleasant, their former colleague.

Speaking with a robotic-sounding voice, Carl J. DePalma, club president, explained how most of the members communicate.

"We lost our larynx from tobacco products, smoking," DePalma said. "The larynx has been removed, and for us to speak, we use an artificial larynx. That's how we communicate now.

"When we were growing up, everybody smoked," he added. "Had we known then that there were over 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes, 250 of which are carcinogens, none of us ever would have smoked."

Andrew Hyland, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, talked about the message that the New Voice Club has spread through the schools.

"It's their way to try to tell kids that smoking isn't so cool, despite what you might see or hear from the tobacco companies," Hyland said. "Leonard and the other members of the club are living proof of what tobacco use can do to someone."

In addition to DePalma and Osborne, club members Clarence Lott, Charlie Roszak, Bud Carroll and Joe Corbi attended the news conference.

In June, the Bills announced that they were making Ralph Wilson Stadium entirely smoke-free. Previously, smoking had been permitted outside stadium walls in designated areas near the ticket gates. Smoking still will be permitted in the parking lots.

"This is all about our fans," said Russ Brandon, Bills CEO. "We listened to our fans, who want a healthier environment at Ralph Wilson Stadium."