Blarney! Midtown Drunks Say TV’s Antismoking Spokesmodel Has Traded Ciggies for Booze and Playing the Ponies

The face of Rolando Martinez, and the hole in his throat, have been viewed by millions in antismoking ads put out by the New York City health department that began airing locally last year.

In one ad, Mr. Martinez, a longtime smoker who was diagnosed with throat cancer at age 39, is featured in the shower wearing a protective white bib around his neck. In another he’s shown walking along a pool in which his children play in the water. “I never thought that anything could keep me from the water,” he says through a voice box.

But Mr. Martinez, now 54, is hardly a beacon of clean living: He apparently spends his days drinking beer and betting on horses at the Blarney Stone in Midtown East. “He a regular there,” said one patron who’s seen Mr. Martinez at the bar numerous times. “He comes during the day. The bartenders know his name and know to get him his Heineken on ice, which I guess is easier on his throat.”

Added the source, “I noticed he really likes playing the ponies.”

The fact that an antismoking spokesmodel is drinking and gambling has bothered fellow customers. “It’s like he’s traded one vice in for another,” said Chris Nelson, 31, a self-described “tavern dweller.” He added: “There’s a code of ethics among people who enjoy vice—to denounce one and enjoy others is just kind of hypocritical. Apart from that, it’s just sad.”

Blarney bartender Rich Bonfiglio said that Mr. Martinez—who could not be reached for comment—is in fact quite popular with regulars. “He’s very well liked … always interested in what other people have to say,” Mr. Bonfiglio said. “He tries to reach out to people who smoke, but he doesn’t push the envelope.”

And as for the ponies: “I gotta say, I’ve seen him catch more good tickets than bad ones. He’s got the lucky touch.”