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Thinking through the haze of quit-smoking rationalizations

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So just how long do I want to live, anyway? It's a question I've been pondering since I read a study explaining when smokers can expect to check out, based on when they quit.

I've been trying to stop since the first of the year. Some days, I've smoked few or no cigarettes. On other days, the effort has involved smoking lots but being filled with robust self-loathing.

According to the study, by the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, most people who smoke till they die will lose about 10 years of life expectancy and are unlikely to see 80. Just 38 per cent of female smokers and 26 per cent of male smokers who never kicked the Camel managed eight decades, while 70 per cent of women and 61 per cent of men who never lit up did.

But I'm not sure I'm shooting for my 80s. I'm out of touch and uncool at 42, even when I don my parachute pants and Vanilla Ice concert T-shirt.

By 83, I'll be the guy at the Stop & Shop who doesn't take out his chequebook until all his groceries are bagged and demands a price check on stewed prunes while the line behind him runs out the building.

Puffers who butt out between the ages of 55 and 64 lose about six years of life expectancy, while those who quit between 45 and 54 forfeit four. Anyone who swears off between 35 and 44 sacrifices just about one year, on average.

To know exactly what this means for me, I'd have to know how long I would live had I never smoked at all. This is tough to say, because as far as I know, I don't have any forebears who never smoked. If you found a prehistoric painting of the Fillers on a cave wall, they'd all be chugging fermented taro and tonics, playing gin rummy with painted rocks and smoking something.

My mother died at 65. She smoked like wet wood on a campfire and considered vegetables a delivery system for butter, cheese and dressing. Her only exercise consisted of exercising her right to point out the shortcomings of her children, admittedly a strenuous process. My dad died at 55, but health-wise, he made my mom look like Jillian Michaels from The Biggest Loser.

So I'm in a sweet spot for quitting. If I kick today, I'll only have lost one year of life. The problem is, I don't know just how awesome the tail end of my story will be. Old doesn't look fun in general, but "old, broke and lacking medical treatment" might actually lose out to "dead" on my list.

And what about music? In theory, the tunes in 40 years will be so bad we will scream, "That's not music, turn it off" at our grandkids when they play their stuff. But I would like to meet those grandchildren. I'd like to dance at my daughter's wedding, or at least pop wheelies on my Rascal scooter.

The idea that if I do it now I won't lose too many years, and if I don't, I will, feels very cut and dried. It makes it seem, and rightfully so, that my premature death might well be optional. That's what it seemed like in the case of my parents, and I wouldn't want my daughter to feel about my choices the way I felt about theirs.

Lane Filler is a Newsday editorial writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 $sourceSection0

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