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Old news, or: smoking kills -- in a pig's eye

22nd October 2008
We frequently bring you stories about centenarians and post-centenarians who smoke.
The oldest human ever, Jeanne Calment, an acquaintance of Van Gogh who passed away in her sleep in 1997 at age 122, smoked daily for many more years than most of us will see between the cradle and the grave. Life expectancies have grown enormously over the past century, until recently an era of smoking freedom by the way, but very few of us will live to 100 or more.

Prior to the twentieth century, centenarians were truly anomalous, but not, as the vintage New York Times article linked with here illustrates, altogether unknown. Isaac Brandenstein saw Napoleon (with a bandaged head) as the little general trooped through Germany in retreat from Waterloo, and he regaled Times reporters with this story on the occasion of his one hundredth birthday, 29 November 1890.

The birthday boy's story, headlined “Smoked for nearly a century: a centenarian on whom tobacco has had no bad effects”, explains that Isaac, from the age of fourteen and ever thereafter, smoked incessantly throughout each day, from before breakfast, until bedtime, usually about nine or ten in the evening, although “if he were busy or sat down with congenial spirits to a game of cards he would sit up all night.”

Mister Brandenstein, like many Jews in the nineteenth century seeking to trade discrimination in the Old World for the lauded opportunities of a freshly established USA, settled in New York City. Upon his arrival in 1845, he peddled dry goods on city streets, his previous occupation in Germany, and he did indeed prosper, ultimately running his own store on Avenue A for many happy years.

Today, of course, if he smoked in his own store he would be arrested. Times, and oppressions, change. The truth, however, is a constant. There are risks to excess in eating, drinking, smoking, and many other things free people choose to enjoy. What today’s strutting fanatics tell you about such risks is, well, fanatical. It is absurd on its face.

The twenty-first century, like the eighteenth in which Isaac Brandenstein was born, and the nineteenth in which he long lived, and the twentieth in which today’s readers breathed, and smoked, in freedom, offers fresh opportunities to defeat oppression.

Help us destroy vicious antitobacco, its crazy lies, hate campaigns, and assaults on your personal integrity and liberty. Never submit to fanatics. Choose for yourself. Live as Isaac Brandenstein did centuries ago, well and long, in freedom and dignity. At age 100, Isaac opined to reporters that “he had never taken particularly great care of himself”, but all in all, he surely did just fine.

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