Non-smoking banners are displayed on the iconic Bird's Nest National Stadium in Beijing. File photo. [Photo/Xinhua]

Why do people take foolish risks? Why do people cheat on their spouses, even though they know they may blow up their marriages if they are caught? Why do people cheat at school, even though they know if they are caught, they will be expelled?

Why do cigarette smokers take risks? If a person smokes cigarettes, the chance smoking will eventually kill them is 50 percent. Smokers are not heroes. They pollute the air we are breathing by filling it with secondhand smoke. They sadden us when they prematurely die.

Yesterday, I heard a smoker with a PhD scoffing at the dangers of smoking by pointing to a famous Chinese general who lived to an old age. Maybe his doctorate is in the wrong area to help him understand the danger. Mine, however, is heavy in applied Stochastic processes, which deal with chance events. After 37 years of studying probability, I know that life is random. If we are talking about science, we cannot point to anecdotes as proof. We may only ask, “what are the odds?”

Once during a college summer spent firefighting, I experienced terribly heavy smoke and had to evacuate because we couldn't breathe. I was surprised when our crew boss lit up a cigarette minutes later. I was told he later died of lung cancer. He had a good heart. May Doug rest in peace.

Cigarette smoking reduces the average lifespan by 10 years. I sympathize with the plight of cigarette smokers; it would be hard for me to quit coffee. Once I scolded a hitchhiker I picked up for smoking, and he replied, ”But I quit cocaine!” We all have our own personal addictions. Smoking cigarettes, however, happens to be a particularly deadly one.

Nicotine is more addictive than cocaine. During my time at IBM, a manager for seven years quit only when told his smoking caused bronchitis, and would kill him within a month if he did not give up the habit. He used nicotine patches and was able to do it, and is now living in retirement in Memphis. If he had not quit, he would have died in 1997. I would advise any cigarette smoker , “Switch to e-cigarettes .”

The US Academy of Science recently released a report saying e-cigarettes are a very effective way for smokers to quit. It concluded they are much safer than traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes are preferable, as they haven’t been proven to cause cancer. The one warning the report gave is young people should not vape e-cigarettes and thus get addicted to nicotine. But switching from tobacco to e-cigarettes is a no-brainer. This issue is not very personal for me. I do not smoke, my parents never smoked, nor do my siblings smoke.

It is, however, very personal for my good friend, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, Joseph Hui. He will be coming to give a talk at the the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in April. He urged me to write something, as his father died a very painful death, caused by smoking. Hui hopes no one will suffer the same agony he had, watching friends and loved ones die such a preventable death.

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