Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jan 2014
Source: Times-Tribune, The (Scranton PA)
Copyright: 2014
Author: Richard Cohen, The Washington Post.


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 will not smoke marijuana. I'm afraid it
would lead me back to cigarettes.

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 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 wink:
Smoke. 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 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? 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 f ortune. 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 g e neral s ays, is responsible for
480,000 premature deaths a year. That's more than the population of
Kansas City, Mo. - dead, dead and very dead every year.

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

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 in the country club and reviled. They are welcomed and
respected and well compensated. 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 smoking, flipping off health concerns with the
arrogance of youth, I want to slap them s 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 debate
on marijuana and ignore the mountain of cadavers from cigarettes. It,
for sure, is a gateway drug - to an early grave.  
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