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Tom West: Just playing the odds on smoking ban

The first time I ever smoked a cigarette, along about fifth or sixth grade, I was so filled with guilt that I went home, took my dad into my room and told him what I had done.

The first time I ever smoked a cigarette, along about fifth or sixth grade, I was so filled with guilt that I went home, took my dad into my room and told him what I had done.
This caused him quite a bit more harm than it did me. First, he had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing in my face. Second, he developed a nasty blister on the palm of his hand while he shielded his pipe from view during my angst-ridden confession.
He turned 85 last week. He was a pipe smoker most of his adult life, not giving it up until a little over a year ago when he nearly died from pneumonia.
For whatever reason, some of the Wests seem to have powerful anti-cancer genes. My grandfather, a two-pack a day man, died at age 87. The story in the family is that he succumbed after they put him in the hospital for two months and made him quit smoking. All that oxygen killed him, family members joke.
Then there's my dad's older sister, Melissa. Melissa turned 87 the other day. For her, a Rob Roy and a pack a day will get you there.
On the other hand, we almost lost my brother, a smoker, at age 50. He had a heart attack, was not expected to last the night, survived, had two angioplasties, a mini-stroke and finally heart bypass surgery, all before he was 52. Since then, he has been a model patient. The cigarettes are gone, and he walks on his treadmill religiously. He's in better shape today, at age 61, than he was when he was 31.
And my dad's two younger brothers and younger sister, chain smokers all, each died before age 60, victims of respectively a heart attack, a stroke and throat cancer.
Me? I smoked my last cigarette in eighth or ninth grade.
I'm not sure why. All I know is that I am a lot wealthier today than I would have been if I had had to budget $1,000 to $2,000 per year for cigarettes throughout my life.
Maybe it was because back then athletics were important to me, and it was against the rules to smoke. I didn't want anything to come between me and making the team.
However, I did have a couple of teammates who smoked. Only a couple.
One of them was almost a freak of nature. The first time he ever ran the 880-yard dash in ninth grade, his time was 2:01. He broke the mile record at our high school by about 25 seconds, running it in 4:24. That's not world class, but it would still be good by today's standards.
One day the track coach found out that his star smoked a pack a day. After practice, he took him in the equipment room off the locker room, closed the door, threw him up against a wall, punched him a few times and ordered him to quit smoking and start running up to his potential. It was the kind of thing that would have gotten the coach fired today.
It did put the fear of God in the runner for about six months, but he was hooked, and went back to smoking. Today, in his early 50s, he has had a bleeding ulcer and heart problems.
As for my other smoking teammate, they are thinking of naming a memorial golf tournament for him. He had had heart problems since his 40s. One day he was out for a round of golf. He flicked his cigarette off to the side of the first green, lined up his putt and keeled over, dead of a heart attack at age 51. It's a great way to go, but a little early for my taste.
Weighing all that anecdotal evidence, I come down on the side of some sort of smoking ban for Duluth. I trust that when the city council finally crafts an ordinance, the playing field will be even for all types of establishments so that everyone can still compete. But my basic reason for favoring a smoking ban is that I know life is a roll of the dice, and I might live to 85 like my dad, or I might drop dead tomorrow like my old teammate. If I had my druthers though, I'd rather live to 85 so I can see some grandchildren grow up or enjoy a few years of retirement.
And just like I knew when I was a kid that I had a better chance of making the team if I took care of my body, I know that medical research says my chances of reaching 85 are better if I don't have to breathe second-hand smoke from others. I'm just trying to improve my chances without having to ban myself from some of my favorite restaurants.
Tom West is the executive editor of the Budgeteer News.

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