If you are stupid, then start smoking.

Not what we have, but what we use;
Not what we see, but what we choose;
These are the things that mar or bless
the sum of human happiness.
-Joseph Fort Newton

Christmas is a time for good news and happiness. It is about love and family and a few days of holidays. We want to forget about the realities of life. It is time to eat, drink and be merry – hopefully within safe limits.

But if you look at the news on a daily basis, there isn’t much to cheer about. Everyday people are getting sick or dying. Sometimes it is our own fault that we get sick. Sometimes we are struck by lightning – so to speak. Just pure bad luck.

One example of self-inflicted illness is caused by smoking. Just a few days ago it was reported that Alberta’s former premier – Ralph Klein – is suffering from emphysema and loss of memory.

The media report says, “Ralph is 68 now and smokes. He’s been smoking since his days as a young teen from a broken home on the mean streets of Tuxedo Park and we’re talking real smoking. As premier, Ralph was going to try and quit on one of those weedless days or weedless weeks proclaimed by the anti-cigarette crowd. It’s years ago now.”

Well, I remember that day when he declared he wanted to quit smoking because I wrote a column about it in January 2004. He said his grandchildren want him to give up the bad habit.

Before that, on August 25, 2003, the Medicine Hat News published a letter I had sent under the heading, “Ten reasons for Klein to butt out.” I had written in response to Klein’s publicised argument that smoking was a lesser evil than drinking. I believe this was after he had stopped drinking.

Now Klein’s advice to the public is, “If you are stupid, then start smoking.”

Klein is a very respected and successful politician. This reputation was achieved because he did what he said he would – in politics. And I thought for the sake of his grandchildren he would quit smoking. But in personal life things are not always that easy.

Nicotine is an addictive drug. It causes dependence and tolerance. Once you are hooked on it, it takes control of your mind and body. There is craving for more and more nicotine.

If you try to deprive your mind and body of nicotine then you get very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. These are: irritability, anger, impatience, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, increased appetite, anxiety and depression.

Smoking is also habit forming. It becomes part of our routine – cigarette on waking up, cigarette after a meal, cigarette with a drink, cigarette with coffee, cigarette before a bowel movement, cigarette after sex (remember Austin Power joke – do you smoke after sex? Get the pun?), cigarette to relieve stress and so on.

One can successfully quit smoking. You need three things: motivation, counseling and nicotine replacement therapy. As a caring society, we can only create awareness and support system to help people quit smoking. But in the end, the success or the failure depends on personal motivation.

Studies have shown that self-motivation, counseling and nicotine replacement therapy achieves the highest rate of success, 40-60 percent in the initial phase and about 30 percent at the end of one year.

Be smart and be healthy. Do not smoke. We wish Mr. Klein good health and happiness.

Merry Christmas to you all.

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