What Once Was: Singer Loses Career to Cigarette Habit

This story was gathered from David Snyder's visit to Brazil. David reports on CDC programs in action for the CDC Foundation.

Casual in a black tank top and jeans, Suely Ojara blends well with the evening mix of college students and young professionals at a street-side bar in Manaus, Brazil. In the summer heat, she settles back with a cold drink and draws a cigarette from a nearby pack − a constant companion now for nearly two decades.

“I was dating someone who smoked and he influenced me,” says Ojara, 39, who began smoking when she was 20. When they broke up, she says, she began a pack-a-day habit she has been unable to break since.

But she has tried. Years ago she signed up for a university study that promised help for smokers, but the pressure to quit smoking, she says, made it difficult for her to do so. She dropped out of the study, and though she has tried to quit on her own, the results have been little better.

“I never quit totally,” Ojara says. “I used to reduce the number of cigarettes I smoked, and the most I could go was two months smoking two or three cigarettes a day.”

As partners in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, CDC and the CDC Foundation are working to help individuals like Ojara by collecting data on tobacco use and tobacco control measures in Brazil and more than a dozen other countries. The survey data will help improve policies, interventions and public health messaging to reduce smoking in these countries.

While many who smoke experience similar physical effects, Ojara’s story is unique. As a young woman, Ojara says, she made her living as a professional singer, mostly at local bars and clubs. But while many of those she used to sing with have gone on to wider success with their music, Ojara says her cigarette habit soon impacted her ability to sing.

“My voice was like velvet,” Ojara recalls. “But then I got pneumonia because I was smoking a whole pack each day, and I had to take a break between each song.”

Soon, she says, her career ended. As a working artist, Ojara now sells hand-painted tee shirts, often at night in local bars, a lifestyle that keeps her around other smokers.

With just one tee shirt sale tonight, business is slow. Reaching for another cigarette, Ojara offers a smile to passers by and easy conversation for those at nearby tables. She is comfortable and friendly, and used to the uncertainty of life as an artist. But thinking back on her earlier years, and what she lost to her cigarette habit, her easy charm turns for a brief moment to something closer to sadness.

“It bothers me that I can’t sing professionally anymore,” Ojara says. “I had to stop singing, but I couldn’t stop smoking.”


As one of a number of partners in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, the CDC Foundation works with experts at CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to implement the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS). GATS collects data on adult tobacco use and the effectiveness of tobacco control measures among adults in more than 15 countries. Data collected through GATS will help improve policies, interventions and public health messaging to reduce smoking in these countries.

Funding Partner:

Bloomberg Philanthropies

GATS Program Partners:

CDC, World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, RTI International

Bloomberg Initiative Partners:

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, World Lung Foundation Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

CDC Principal Investigator:

Samira Asma, D.D.S., M.P.H. Associate Director, Global Tobacco Control Branch, Office on Smoking and Health, CDC

Terri Heyns, MA, is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.