Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jan 2014
Source: New York Daily News (NY)
Copyright: 2014 Daily News, L.P.
Author: Richard Cohen


Will pot legalization introduce more people to cigarettes?

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, will
power 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 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? Cervical cancer? They, too, can
be caused by smoking. Can you imagine anything more economical: almost
any disease you can name 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
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% of Americans smoke, down from 42% in 1965. But the decline
has leveled off, and with it has come an appreciation of just how
unhealthy smoking is.

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 in the country club and appropriately reviled. Instead,
they are welcomed and respected and, of course, well

If you read the websites 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. 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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