Saturday, June 20, 2009

Smokers grow old too

OK. It’s official. I am now a senior citizen. I have reached the age after which roughly 72% of deaths occur. I am (blubber, blubber. sob, sob.) growing old.

Growing old, in many ways, can be a pain in the ass. And, unfortunately, the process of aging can’t be halted. OK, there is a way it can be stopped, but I would argue that dying is not a suitable alternative to the inconvenience of growing old. In my opinion, suffering a few additional aches and pains as I wake up and crawl out of bed in the morning is preferable to not waking up at all.

Growing old, after all, is an unavoidable phase of the life cycle; you’re born, you grow old, you die. Unless, of course, you skip the growing old part and die prematurely. And, that brings us to the real focus of today’s ramble.

The anti-smoker cult tends to believe that smokers die prematurely even if they follow the natural progression of the life cycle and grow old before they die. For example, if a smoker dies at the age of 90 from a smoking related disease, he (or she) is considered to have died prematurely. If he gets hit by a bus, well . . . that’s merely unfortunate. And, if a non-smoker dies at age 90 from the same smoking related disease, it’s a mystery; at least to the disciples of the anti-smoker cult.

I have this information on good authority. Health Canada reports on their website that: “More than 37,000 people will die prematurely this year in Canada due to tobacco use”.

That’s a pretty sobering statistic, until you take a closer look at the data. For example, of the 40,000 plus Canadians who died from IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) in 2002, over 21,000 deaths occurred after the age of 80. Yet, only the 1,400 deaths past the age of 80 attributed to smoking, were classified by Health Canada as premature and preventable.

This naturally raises the question of what they mean by “premature”.

Most dictionaries define premature as “occurring, growing, or existing before the customary, correct, or assigned time; uncommonly or unexpectedly early.”

So has Health Canada solved one of the great mysteries of life? Have they designed a computer program that can determine the customary, correct or assigned time of death? Is their much vaunted SAMMEC program capable of assigning a “Best Before” date to smokers?

Well, no; not really. They just decided that everyone who dies from a smoking related disease which can be statistically attributed to smoking dies prematurely.

So when old Uncle Bob buys the biscuit at 105, with a beer in one hand, a smoke in the other, and some twenty-year old beach bunny giving him a full body massage, they’ll say, “Yep, if only he’d only quit smoking at 104, we could have prevented his death.” Uh-huh.

But, the good news for smokers is that smoking attributable deaths are also classified as preventable, suggesting smokers have a chance of survival. Non-smoker deaths, on the other hand, are, apparently, not preventable, so they’re just plain screwed. One day they‘ll wake up on the wrong side of the grass, having their mail delivered by a mischievous gopher and wondering what in hell happened to them.

Maybe then they’ll understand that, sooner or later, all God’s children take their place in the choir.

And, just in passing, super-centenarian Henry Allingham turned 113 earlier this month. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Mr. Allingham is now the the world’s oldest man. He attributes his long life to cigarettes, whisky, wild women and a healthy sense of humour. Uh-huh.

I figure I’ve got three of those four criteria working in my favour. I had to give up the wild women forty odd years ago when I got married. I had no desire to die a premature death.

But, I wonder . . .

When the venerable Mr. Allingham departs this mortal coil, as we all must, will Health Canada try to convince us his death was both “premature and preventable?”

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