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By Jack Ganssle

Smoking: For fools only

Summary: Light `em if you've got `em. And prepare for an awful death.

It's 5 AM. The phone rang not long ago; my wife, who has been in Rhode Island all week helping care for him, broke the news. Her brother died. He was 58. Old, perhaps to some. Much too young to us.

Expected? Yes. He'd been battling lung cancer, the result of 40 years of smoking. The insidious disease had been cured, reoccurred, tamped down again, reemerged as brain cancer, and recently exploded throughout his body. The awful addiction possessed him. Only the cancer had been force enough to cure him of the habit, much too late.

He was the family's patriarch. He kept the siblings together despite distance, time, and the silly stresses that so often break families. In Rhode Island winters, before we were married, my wife was a poor single mother struggling to keep the apartment warm. But she'd sometimes find her heating oil tank filled, a gift without a card from Tom.

He'd been a lobsterman, but had moved ashore after many years of his family worrying about every low pressure system. His boat, chartered to another fisherman, had been lost but a wonderful drawing of it hangs above their mantle. Alumbing kept the family solvent. I have no idea what will replace that.

Does incontinence sound like fun? Then smoke. How about a morphine drip? Or a disease that rots out every organ? Smoke! There is no tomorrow!

I've been fortunate to have avoided that habit, and really don't think about it much. Trips to some countries, though, have always scared me with the haze that seems de rigor. Young Americans have thankfully missed the smoke-filled rooms that were once all too common. Somehow, though, Philip Morris still trades at $45 per share.

Since Tom was diagnosed, every time I see a young person puffing part of me wants to grab that idiot and do something - what I have no idea - to convince him or her that that coffin nail is the beginning of the end. When I was in high school it was considered adult-like to knock of a pack a day. We were dumb. And too many kids today are still making the same addictive mistake.

If you smoke: STOP! The cost is indescribable, and I will not sully this page with a description of how awful the end will be. There is no upside. It is not cool. You will die, probably much too young,

Life is astonishingly short and incredibly wonderful. Don't make it shorter.

Published June 21, 2010