Among many things smokers, nonsmokers share: no guarantee

RE “STUDY notes how key it is to use nicotine aids correctly’’ (Letters, Jan. 16): What is not said can sometimes be as misleading as what is. Such is the case in which Dr. David A. Meyerson implies that cigarette smokers are “guaranteed’’ to suffer from cancer, lung or heart disease, or serious disability. What he does not say is that nonsmokers - if they are fortunate enough to die of natural causes - will almost certainly suffer from one or more of these same maladies.

While smokers and nonsmokers contract and die from the same diseases, smokers on average do live shorter lives. But even in this regard, there are wide variations. Studies of people who attain extreme old age consistently include smokers. Ongoing research, for example, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine on people 95 and older found that 60 percent of the men, and 30 percent of the women, indulged in tobacco. The oldest participant in the study, who died at age 109, had smoked for 95 years. A French woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122, gave up cigarettes only five years previously.

Health advocates, in their efforts to influence the public’s behavior, are prone to exaggerate the benefits of certain habits and the harms of others. In medical science, however, as in life, almost nothing is “guaranteed.’’