Smoking, Life Expectancy and Mr Spock

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Cassie and I were both sad to hear of the recent passing of Leneord Nimoy. He was certainly a talented actor and director and seems to have been a genuinely nice and interesting human being. Of course he will be best remembered as the actor who played and evolved the character of Mr Spock who is surely now a cultural icon of our time, even among people who never read or watch science fiction. I’d guess his face and aspects of his personality and values are as well known globally as Micky Mouse and many past and present politicians and religious leaders. No mean feat! And while he was in theory emotionless; his dedication to logic and science combined with his struggles with and examination of emotions, actually made him a high class of human. He made us think and was in many ways a worthy role model. Well done Mr Spock! Well done Mr Nimoy!

He died of Chronic Obstructive Pulmanary Desease, attributed by many (including himself) to smoking although he had given up over thirty years ago.

We do not dispute that smoking may have been a significant contributory factor to Leonard Nimoy’s death and, as regular habitual smokers, that gives us reason to pause and think about our smoking habit. Even more so as a mother of a teenage daughter who has recently taken up smoking, it does give me cause for concern. Certainly the anti smoking propagandists have been quick to use the example of Leonard Nimoy as a further warning about the potential dangers of smoking. It seems that Leonard himself blamed his deteriorating health on smoking to some degree and we respect him enough to take his opinion seriously. However, that does not mean we have to agree with his conclusions.

On one level I think Leonard Nimoy’s fate poses a problem for the anti smoking lobby. Normally their message is that it is never too late to stop smoking and indeed that to stop smoking is always a good idea. However in this case it would seem that the message is that it is pointless to stop smoking because the fact that you smoked will still kill you in the end. I will concede that is a gross over simplification but it is no worse than the over simplification that smoking is always the worst thing you can do for your health.

On a more factual basis though, let’s consider the fact that Mr Nimoy was 83 when he died. As sad as his passing was to many of us, and as much as he will be missed; at that age death is not exactly a stranger. Eighty-three is well above the average life expectancy in the world for a man born in the 1930s. Sure some will live longer and a relative few might live more than twenty years longer, but most won’t. In truth most of the people born in the early1930s are dead already. And most of them died well before they were eighty.

You could look at Leonard Nimoy and say that despite the fact that he was once a regular smoker (and had alcohol problems) he lived longer than most of his generation did.

The simple truth is that we will all die. There are various charts you can look at to find out your life expectancy and many of them will state that you are not expected to live as long as average if you smoke. But it is still true that some smokers will live longer than the average for non smokers and some non smokers will die much younger than the average. Moreover unless we are killed in an accident or are murdered we will all die of some disease or failing of the body. That is life. The cynical part of me thinks that one day every disease known to humanity will be “attributed to” or “connected with” smoking. Of course that is rubbish.

We are not immortal! No matter how many risks we reduce, we will still one day die.

I accept that Cassie and I are very likely to to die of some illness which is “associated with” smoking. And now I must accept the same may well be true for my beloved daughter. I don’t accept however that this means any of us will necessarily die younger than the average for people who don’t smoke.

None of us know how or when we will die, we only know that we will.

We are just coming to terms with the premature death of Cassie’s mother due to complications caused by early onset dementia. She died too young and her death and final years were difficult and often undignified. This is one illness that is not (yet) associated with smoking. She did smoke occasionally when she was younger but stopped a long time ago. We know of another person who died in his fourties of cancer despite never having smoked. Of course everybody knows of people who died young due to accidents or illnesses which were nothing to do with their lifestyle choices. Death is unpredictable and often seems very unfair. No matter how many risks you try to remove there is never any guarantee of a longer life.

Perhaps we are strange but we actually think it is unhealthy to live your life trying to avoid all risks of illness and death. Mr Spock and the Vulcans have a famous saying; “Live Long and Prosper.” I guess that is not the worst maxim for life but our legend would be “Live well, Live fully and Enjoy!”

We would like to live long lives but that can’t be guaranteed for anybody. However for us smoking is one of the many ingredients that adds to the pleasure of life.

We continue this blog because we think some people have their values confused and we don’t agree that smoking cigarettes is always a bad lifestyle choice. And some of the anti smoking propaganda is really stupid if you look at it critically rather than accepting it like sheep.

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