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A SMOKER IS NEVER TOO OLD TO QUIT THE HABIT

SHARE A SMOKER IS NEVER TOO OLD TO QUIT THE HABIT

For our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband took me to a fine French restaurant, where Rolls-Royces and Mercedes Benzes are plentiful in the parking lot and women wear mink despite the warm California climate.

The meal was pleasant, but I couldn't enjoy it because of the smoke that blew in our direction from the next table. I felt like saying, "Stop! Don't believe the cigarette industry."Study after study has linked smoking to lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes. The tobacco lobby would have us believe that smoking is a matter of personal choice, and their newly launched campaign, the "Great American Welcome," defends a person's right to smoke (and the industry's right to reap profits).

I'm broad-minded and believe that people should be free to pursue the lifestyle they wish as long as it doesn't endanger themselves or others. But smoking is not only a long-term danger to the smoker but also to nearby nonsmokers. Each year, billions of dollars are spent on health care for people who make the often-fatal decision to smoke.

I also wanted to say to the woman at the next table, "It's not too late to stop." Researchers at the Univ. of Washington and the Mayo Clinic found that even people in their 70s could greatly reduce their risk of heart attacks and death if they stopped smoking.

This study involved a comparison of 807 people aged 54 and over who had quit smoking and 1,086 people who continued to smoke. During the six-year study period, 210 of the quitters and 391 of the continuing smokers died. That's 26 percent of the quitters vs. 36 percent of the continuing smokers.

Cigarette smoking is considered the major avoidable cause of death in the United States. In 1984, the National Centers for Disease Control reported more than 300,000 smoking-related deaths. If the facts don't convince you, visit any cancer center. You will see "human skeletons" waiting for a dosage of therapy in hopes of keeping themselves alive a little longer.

Smoking is not glamorous or sexy. It's a killer. But it's never too late to stop. - Elyse Salend

QUESTION: I have recently taken up golf and have benefited from the exercise it affords. Any tips for maximizing my enjoyment of the game?

ANSWER: To prolong your golfing life expectancy regardless of age, experts recommend giving yourself enough time to fully complete your backswing. And to help maintain agility in your legs, walk when you play rather than riding in a cart.

Teacher and senior-tour pro Bob Toski offers the following pointers for a longer, more successful golf life:

- Keep your grip pressure light.

- Relax your arms at address so they can rotate freely in a full swing.

- Set your weight predominantly on the right side to give you more time to shift to the left for maximum power (opposite for a lefthander).

- Stay light on your feet.

QUESTION: A while back there was a lot of hoopla about "notch babies" not getting their full Social Security entitlements. Since I'm an individual in this category, I'm wondering whether a solution was found to resolve the inequity.

ANSWER: At this time, the "solution" is to maintain the status quo. A recent study by the National Academy of Social Insurance recommended that Congress neither reduce benefits to those getting the unintended windfall nor raise them for everyone else.

The report focused on a category of Social Security recipients known as "notch babies," born between 1917 and 1921. Their benefits in some cases were $200 a month less than those of people born earlier. The inequity lies in the fact that those born before 1917 are getting higher benfits than Congress intended, not that others are receiving too little. An estimated one million people affected by the benefits notch feel a "substantial impact" from the situation.

The discrepancy in benefits arose when Congress adopted a new formula meant to keep Social Security benefits at a constant percentage of a person's average pre-retirement earnings. People born before 1917 were allowed to use the old method of calculation. The result was a benefit rate that peaked in 1981 at 56 percent of average earnings, about 15 percentage points higher than Congress had intended.

Why not fix the inequity? The study panel estimated that it would cost up to $300 billion to equalize everyone's benefits, and that would create new notches affecting those born in later years. Also, it would be difficult and expensive to find those who got windfalls and politically difficult to cut their benefits.

The heartening news for those born between 1917 and 1921: The report concluded they are at an advantage compared with people born after them.

Send questions about growing older to On Aging, P.O. Box 84256, Los Angeles, CA 90073. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; individual answers cannot be provided.