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Posted on Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 5 a.m.

To marry or not ... a smoker

By Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

My mother recently said, "I would seriously reconsider marrying someone who smokes," referring to my intended after her close friend died at 55.

She has a very valid point. What kind of ultimatum can I give here (if any)? I have only ever said, "I hope you consider quitting soon because I want to be married to you longer than 20 years and I would like you to see our children get married." Should I allow it to happen naturally, on his time, or throw out a threat?

-- Anonymous

How you handle this depends solely on what you think you can live with. While smoking obviously brings the risk of premature death, it's not quite so black-and-white that you'll bury a smoker young and rock gently on the porch with your octogenarian nonsmoker.

Plenty of people make an informed choice to marry someone who has a higher than average risk of dying young, be it through illness or habits or choice of profession. They just calculate emotionally that they'd rather have this person for a short time (with hope of a long time) than not at all.

It gets a lot trickier when you're also making a choice for people who have no say in the matter: your someday kids. Plus, you also have to trust your partner to be meticulous about not exposing them to smoke or smoky clothing.

But, again, it's not as if society expects cops, firefighters and soldiers to remain childless just because they risk their lives for a living. They're simply expected not to be reckless (like anyone else, actually) and to plan ahead in case something goes wrong (like anyone else, actually).

These are just thinking points, but they'll get you started toward an opinion you can live with. When you have that, then you talk to your beloved smoker about it.

--0-- --0-- --0--

Re: Smokers:

Police officers, firefighters and soldiers are defending our country, and arguably doing good. Smoking does no good whatsoever, other than feeding a drug addiction.

-- Anonymous 2

But I wasn't making a moral argument. I'm talking about a pure emotional calculation: "Am I ready to hitch my life to this person's, as-is, knowing his/her choices could make 'till death do us part' a reality sooner rather than later?"

Now, the typical spouse also accepts that a cement truck could do the parting for them one fine morning, despite all the yoga and bran cereal in the world. So that has to factor in as well to the it's-not-so-black-and-white argument.

Just to re-illustrate my point, let's compare the smoker not to heroes, but instead to a motorcycle enthusiast, or a gourmand with a family history of heart disease, or the inventor in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" who strapped a rocket to his back to see if he could fly. Not heroism, just humanism that tempts death more than usual.

Sure, I can advise against them as marriage material, and tsk-tsk them for having kids, but that runs counter to everything I believe. I believe there's no one shape or size for a good decision, except that it's made with eyes open -- even when that means signing up for a foreseeable, premature loss.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

(c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group



Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:35 p.m.

This was an issue for me when I married. I had two children and I did not want us to smoke around them. But I remember when we came up with the quitting idea that it was really about wanting our relationship to express on every level the love we felt for each other. I had always gone outside for my occasional smoke. My intended was a more committed / addicted smoker and he struggled through sweats and shakes to quit. It was hard but he did it. We are healthier for it.