Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jan 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Richard Cohen


On Jan. 1, Colorado began permitting the legal sale of marijuana. Even
before that, the nation's news media had swung into action, arguing
just about everything - marijuana is dangerous or not dangerous, a
gateway drug or just a lot of smoke. Nothing I saw mentioned why I,
for one, will not smoke marijuana. I'm afraid it would lead me back to

Once I was addicted to cigarettes. (I suppose I still am.) I tried to
quit numerous times - hypnotism, acupuncture, hypnotism again,
willpower and shame and mortal shame - but for the longest time,
nothing worked. I felt enslaved - sucking this poison into my body,
soiling my lungs - and enraged at an industry that encouraged me as a
youth to smoke and, despite all the health findings, continued to give
me that encouraging wink: Smoke. Go ahead. Such sweet pleasure!

Now the latest surgeon general's report shows that cigarette smoking
is even worse for us than we once thought. To all the usual diseases -
lung cancer and heart disease - can be added diabetes, colorectal and
liver cancers and, irony of ironies, erectile dysfunction. The
Marlboro Man needs some help.

Boris D. Lushniak, the acting surgeon general, tacked on some more
horrors: vision loss, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis, impaired
immune function and cleft palates in children of pregnant women who
smoke. Did I mention bladder cancer? How about cervical cancer? They,
too, can be caused by smoking. Can you imagine anything more
economical? Almost any disease you can name is in a single package.

The managers and directors of tobacco companies must wonder at their
good fortune. The nation is engaged in a great debate about marijuana
- - is it dangerous, addictive? - while tobacco is not only legal but
widely available and not discussed. Smoking, the surgeon general says,
is responsible for 480,000 premature deaths a year. That's a bit more
than the population of Kansas City, Mo. - dead, dead and very dead
every single year.

About 18 percent of Americans smoke, down from 42 percent in 1965. The
decline has leveled off, but with it has come an appreciation of just
how unhealthy smoking is. Tobacco is about the only product you can
think of that, when used as directed, can kill you.

To my knowledge, Karl Marx never considered tobacco companies in his
criticism of capitalism. Yet almost 150 years after he published "Das
Kapital," these companies are selling a carcinogenic delivery system
to what are, after all, nicotine junkies. How's that for exploitation,
Karl baby? What other industry can claim so many lives and so much
misery? Beginning with its early efforts to suppress medical findings,
what other industry has such a splendid history of lying to the public?

Yet the people who run these companies are not shunned, denied
membership at the country club and appropriately reviled. Instead,
they are welcomed and respected and, of course, well compensated. If
you read the Web sites of the various tobacco companies, you would
think that they are in the business of fighting smoking and that new
smokers somehow materialize out of thin air. The word "responsibility"
is a leitmotif. This is an outrageous restraint of trade; these
companies leave little hypocrisy for anyone else.

I started smoking as a kid, 13 or 14 years old. After some years, I
tried pipes and cigars as a cigarette substitute. No good. Pipes were
impractical when I was in the Army - I couldn't light them up or put
them out fast enough to suit the average sergeant - and cigars were no
improvement since I tended to inhale.

The truth is I loved to smoke. But now I can hardly bear to watch
Bogie light up in some film-noir classic without seeing it as
foreshadowing his death from esophageal cancer at the age of 57. And
when I see kids on the street smoking, flipping off health concerns
with the arrogance of youth, I want to slap them silly or, at the
least, delay their walk with a lecture on what the surgeon general has
found. But mostly I want them and everyone else to ask how we can have
a national debate on marijuana and ignore the annual mountain of
cadavers from smoking cigarettes. It, for sure, is a gateway drug - to
an early grave.  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D