Dear Readers:

I apologize for starting the new year with a column that is totally without a laugh, but I would rather save your life than amuse you. Here is a letter that could give you a longer life, and a much better one.

Dear Ann:

I was once a smoker. Today, I am a laryngectomee. In plainer words, a neck-breather. "Disgusted in Cleveland" asked, "What gives Ann Landers the right to tell smokers they stink?" He complained about being made to smoke outside in freezing weather, because the building where he works does not allow smokers.

Maybe if "Disgusted" had to look at a hole in his throat every morning, he might change his attitude. Keep yelling at the smokers out there, and if you need an assistant "cheerleader," I will hop a flight to Chicago and stand right beside you.

Dwight from Danville, Calif.

Thanks for the offer, but please, don't come to Chicago. The weather is much better in California. Here is one more, which I promise will be the last on this subject for a long time:

Dear Ann:

I smoked for 46 years, and told myself I enjoyed it. Meanwhile, my sinuses were blocked, I hated the lousy taste in my mouth, my breath stank, I ruined clothes and furniture, and did without things I really needed to support my tobacco addiction. On Thanksgiving 1998, I gave myself the best gift ever. I quit smoking. I can breathe through my nose again, my mouth no longer tastes like a sewer, my hair and pillowcases smell fresh, and I'm alive again.

L.S.

As one of the world's most vehement tobacco foes, I applaud your comments, and am delighted to share them with my readers.

Dear Ann:

I am responding to the letter from "Lawrence in Burbank, Calif.," who commented on the use of laugh tracks in television programs. He thought it was insulting, because it suggested that the average viewer didn't know when to laugh.

Ann, the reason laugh tracks are used is because it has been scientifically proved that when OTHER people laugh, you are much more likely to enjoy the scene or the joke than when you are laughing by yourself. Things seem a lot funnier when you are aware that others are enjoying them, too.

I am not in the television industry, but I have learned about this phenomenon in my psychology class, and want you to know it is not some dumb idea, as you suggested, but a well-thought-out concept to help viewers enjoy programming more.

Psych Student in Georgetown, Tex.

You get an "A" for your observation. Go to the head of the class. I personally do not care for laugh tracks, because I resent being urged to laugh at something I do not consider funny. However, laughter is indeed contagious, and much more enjoyable when shared with others. Walter Lippmann said, "Laughter connects us, and helps us appreciate one another. It is a universal language that needs no interpreter."

I can tell you from personal experience, when I was in the Soviet Union in 1959, Vietnam in 1969 and in the People's Republic of China in 1974, humor was the common thread that connected me with people worldwide.

I have always believed that laughter is good, not only as a social lubricant, but for physical health. A fine physician once told me, "He who laughs . . . lasts." I believe it.

To find out more about Ann Landers and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

(c) 2000, Creators Syndicate Inc.