Advice From Leonard Nimoy: Don't Smoke

Leonard Nimoy, famous for playing the half-Vulcan, super-logical alien Spock on “Star Trek,” died this morning of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), caused by years of smoking tobacco — even though he gave up the habit three decades ago.

Just a few months ago, he tweeted: Don't smoke. Wish I never had. LLAP. (LLAP is short for “Live long and prosper,” the famous Vulcan greeting Spock frequently used. The proper response: “Peace and long life.”)

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, chronic lower respiratory disease, most of it COPD, killed 149,205 Americans in 2013, making it the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. Chronic respiratory disease killed more people than accidents, stroke, or Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, and is forecast to killing 157,000 people in 2011, more than prostate, breast, and colon cancer combined. Eighty-three percent of those cases, or 130,000 of them, were caused by smoking. About an equal number of people will die of heart disease aggravated by smoking. The total number of deaths attributable to smoking? 480,000.  Although the number could actually be a lot higher than that. Earlier this month, an Australian study found that two-thirds of deaths of former smokers were attributable to having once smoked. Forty-two million adults, or 18 out of every 100, smoke. The good news: that’s down from 21 out of 100 in 2005.

It’s ironic — bitterly so — that a man who became famous playing a character who was the epitome of logic and clear thinking died because of one of humanity’s most illogical flaws: our propensity toward addiction and for risking our health for momentary pleasure. It would be a fitting way to honor him if we could approach the problem of smoking with the kind of logic that Spock would have. As we deal with a whole lot of tobacco-related issues, including how to deal with e-cigarrettes which are putatively safer than traditional cigarettes but whose manufacturers seem intent on proving no such thing, we could use some Vulcan clarity.

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