Smoking stinks but fat jiggles

March 16, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

For those women who have asked the age-old question, "What's a little lung cancer if I can keep my trim figure?" the answer may be: Not much.

Last week came the news that fatness is rapidly catching up to smoking as the nation's No. 1 killer, and likely will take over the top spot in "when the roll is called up yonder" status in another year or two.

According to news accounts, "Although tobacco is still the top cause of avoidable deaths, the widespread pattern of physical inactivity combined with unhealthful diets is poised to become No. 1 because of the resulting epidemic of obesity." Suddenly that Troy McClure self-help video "Smoke Yourself Thin" doesn't seem so wacky after all.

The problem, of course, is that for a lot of people, it's not a question of being smoke free and fat free, it's a question of being smoke free OR fat free.


Pick your poison. Give up the smokes and boom, instant 20 pounds. Per thigh. Give up the food and pretty soon you're singing "tall and tan and young and lovely, the Girl from Emphysema goes walking..."

I, of course, have the perfect plan. Currently, I am a non-smoker who eats all he wants. As I get deeper into middle age and my now-robust metabolism goes skidding off the road into a bridge abutment, I will simply begin to smoke. I'll be too far along in life for smoking-related illnesses to ever catch up to me, and will be long gone to what I suppose the government would call an "unavoidable death" well before the old pulmonary sacs have a chance to turn black. That's a brilliant thought. If only I could think up another 169.8 pages to pad it with and a catchy title, I'd have a best-selling book.

I don't know what Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control, would say about this plan, but she would probably find flaws in it. She seems to find horrible, horrible flaws everywhere she looks.

Already, she is calling the death-by-porkiness trend "a tragedy."

Well, it is and it isn't. Maybe the real tragedy is that so many people are living into their 90s after spending a miserable life consuming nothing but wheat germ and sprouts, and jogging when they could have been watching "The Sopranos."

The Centers for Disease Control is all hung up on the length of your life. Quantity over quality. Like living to 100 is the best possible thing that every American could hope for, regardless of how much fun or lack of fun the person had getting to 100.

You've seen people who are 100 years old. Do any of them look happy? No. They look like they want a cigarette and a cheeseburger. The government only measures how long we live; it never measures how many times a day we laugh.

Think of it guys, would you rather live 70 years as Hugh Hefner, or 80 years as Jared, the terminally annoying Subway nerd?

There ought to be some kind of years/happiness ratio we could tap into by which the length of your life wouldn't be the only measure of virtue. For example, I'm thinking 1 year of eating three gallons of ice cream a week would equal 1.3 years of eating nothing but steamed turnips.

'Course, the folks over at that Great Satan, the Ad Council, won't see it that way. Brace yourselves for another wave of taxpayer-funded slogans. We're all sick of the "Smoking Stinks" campaign, so maybe we can look forward to something equally profound on the obesity front, like "Fat Jiggles."

But even as the government warns you about the dangers of fast-food restaurants, it is hastily passing laws that will prevent you from suing them if you get fat.

Look, if you want to be dangerously obese, be dangerously obese. Feast and be happy. I don't care. Besides, it will leave more Social Security money around for the rest of us. And the next time the government leaders remind you about your bloated eating habits, feel free to remind the government leaders about their bloated spending habits. Your perceived lack of "self control" and "personal responsibility" is certainly no worse than theirs.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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