“Live long and prosper.” The Vulcan salute is immediately identifiable with the actor Leonard Nimoy and his most famous character, Mr. Spock. The beloved cultural icon was admired for his sterling character on Star Trek and off-screen as well. In recent years and up until his last few months, while suffering the debilitating effects of a respiratory illness, he took steps to ensure that others would indeed “live long and prosper” by speaking clearly about the role that smoking played in the illness that caused his death.
Nimoy started smoking, like many, when he was young. He managed to quit more than 30 years before his death, but not early enough to prevent the respiratory disease that took his life late February. Nimoy took great pains to show us that cigarettes are a deadly addiction – encouraging followers on Twitter to quit or never start. While he was just one of the 480,000 people in the U.S. who will die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases in 2015, he will surely be among the most well-known and widely missed by an admiring public. That makes the steps he took to tell his story so vital.
Tobacco is one of the toughest addictions to overcome and by far the most deadly product available. About 14 million major medical conditions in the U.S. can be blamed on smoking. Yet, despite that inescapable fact, more than 42 million Americans still smoke.
And it isn’t just smoking. Smokeless tobacco products, like those used by sports legend, Tony Gwynn, and other professional baseball players, are linked to oral cancer and other illnesses. Like Nimoy, Gwynn was outspoken before his death last year in naming chewing tobacco as the cause of his cancer. His efforts to speak the truth give meaning to the efforts of a coalition working to eliminate tobacco consumption on and around American baseball fields. Knock Tobacco Out of the Park will succeed, in part, because icons like Gwynn and Nimoy shared their stories and demonstrated the painful cost of tobacco-related illness.
The glamour and appeal of smoking and the power of nicotine addiction are forces that we work to counter every day at Legacy. Even that first cigarette does damage to your body and can spur a life-long addiction and struggle. Nimoy could not imagine what would happen to him five decades after he smoked his first cigarette. By sharing his story, he may help other smokers comprehend the illness and death that lie in wait for them.
As fans remember Leonard Nimoy and Tony Gwynn for cherished memories and contributions to our shared culture, we celebrate them as ambassadors of truth and of knowledge in the fight to build a future where illness and death, caused by the use of tobacco, are things of the past.