Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played the iconic character Spock in the Star Trek television series and films, passed away last week from chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, also known as COPD. He was 83.
Spock’s Vulcan salute, accompanied with the phrase “live long and prosper”(LLAP), was recognized around the world as a symbol of friendship and good wishes.
So what does the passing of an elderly movie star have to do with kid’s health? Kids, teens and adults were fans of Nimoy’s beloved character, Mr. Spock. In his final months, he reached out to his fans with a farewell warning.
Nimoy attributed his COPD to years of smoking, even though he quit three decades ago around the age of 50. A few months ago he tweeted a simple but cautionary warning to young adults and teens, “Don’t smoke. I did. Wish I never had. LLAP.”
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.
I personally know how COPD can slip into your life and kill you, even years after you’ve crushed out your last cigarette butt. My mother died of COPD 20 years after she quit smoking. She smoked from the time she was in her teens till her 60s. While she did live to be in her 80s, many of those years were spent gasping for air and hooked to an oxygen tank. She also warned her kids and grandkids not to smoke. Like so many other teens, they didn’t listen. Now, they wish they had.
An online article by Forbes’ Matthew Herper, eloquently states the difference in the fictional character of Spock and the man, Leonard Nimoy, and how we can honor both.
“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-cigarettes which are putatively safer than traditional cigarettes but whose manufacturers seem intent on proving no such thing, we could use some Vulcan clarity.”
As much as the phrase “ this is a teaching moment” has been misused and over used, I think it applies in this case. Many pre-teens, teens and young adults know and appreciate the Spock character and the man who played him all these years. What they probably don’t know much about is what killed him.
As they say, the door is open and this might be an excellent time to talk about smoking with your child. Whether it’s cigarettes, e-cigarettes or chewing tobacco. They are all highly addictive and each holds it’s own serious health issues. E-cigarettes are still being studied for health complications. More in-depth research is beginning to expose the chemicals used to vaporize the nicotine that is inhaled into a user’s lungs. The findings are not good.
It’s hard for many kids to care about the possible long-term health effects of something that feels so good at the moment. But irritating symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath and loss of stamina will start adding up. If you smoke, you will experience all of these symptoms at some time.
COPD is incurable. There is nothing that can reverse it. Typically it occurs in people 65 and older, however, 2 percent of COPD cases involve men aged 18 to 24 and 3 percent involve women in the same age group. The numbers increase slightly for people aged 25 to 44 with 2 percent of cases in men and 4.1 percent of cases in women.
My niece-in-law died from COPD at the age of 48. She first showed symptoms at age 22 – she started smoking at age 12.
People who have never smoked can develop COPD from second-hand smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust. However, smoking accounts for 9 out of 10 COPD –related deaths.
Now is a good time to use some of Spock’s clarity of details to talk with your child about smoking, whether it’s with cigarettes, e-cigarettes, paperless tobacco, hookahs or anything else that is inhaled into the lungs.
Nimoy’s last tweet reminds us that life is bittersweet, “"A life is like a garden," he wrote. "Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP"
Not smoking doesn’t guarantee a long life, but it certainly helps one live a healthier life and that’s a blessing every child deserves.
Sources: Matthew Herper, http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2015/02/27/want-to-live-long-and-prosper-dont-smoke/
Kristeen Cherney, http://www.healthline.com/health/copd/age-of-onset#Overview1