Question:

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?

Answer: 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.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com,

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