Don’t despair if you’ve failed numerous attempts to quit smoking cigarettes. If smoking cessation seems to require superhuman effort, that’s because it does!
In 2000, Reuters cited a report by doctors who said, “Nicotine is a powerfully addictive substance on a par with heroin and cocaine and should be controlled like a drug or medicine.”, British doctors said on Tuesday.
In ascending order of the slavery of substance abuse:
Five to ten percent of the population is alcoholics.
Less than 50 percent of cocaine and heroin users are addicted to one or both drugs.
Seventy to eighty percent of smokers are addicted to nicotine.
These unlikely statistics do not come from some bogus lobby like NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), which is nothing more than a front for people, healthy or terminally ill, who want to get high on marijuana without criminal penalties or the increased cost of illicit drugs. There is an effective and acceptable alternative to marijuana. The substitute is the prescription drug Marinol, which comes in tablet form and contains THC, the psychoactive ingredient that provides the euphoria or “high” of marijuana.
In fact, Marinol is more effective than marijuana for treating pain, nausea, and wasting syndrome and you can get it online from koalitymedicinals.com or from your local retailer legally as well. THC-in-a-tablet is also safer than smoking grass because the cannabis plant may be tainted with fungi that damage the lungs of patients with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV or AIDS. But the marijuana vs. Marinol debate is a subject for another blog.
The culprit du jour is the most dangerous health threat in America today, cigarettes and the 60 carcinogenic chemicals hiding inside the product’s delivery system, waiting after a 30-year incubation period to damage the heart and lungs of its victims. The suspicious 80 percent addiction rate of tobacco users no longer seems suspicious when we learn the statistic’s impeccable source, Neal Benowitz, M.D., Chief of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Benowitz also supplied the addiction rates of the other drugs listed above.
So it’s not hysteria or the scare tactics of the Reefer Madness variety to report that nicotine is more addictive than heroin — a claim I too presumed was delusional until I learned of Dr. Benowitz’s research and credentials. The pharmacologist concluded that nicotine is much more dangerous than heroin, the popular Bogeyboy of zero-tolerance advocates who clamor for incarceration instead of rehabilitation for alleged drug offenders.
The reference to “zero intolerance” in this column’s subheadline represents a lame pun on zero tolerance, the legal theory enshrined in law that mandates imprisonment for first-time drug users regardless of what illicit drug is found in their possession or bloodstream and regardless of the amount of the drug. A single marijuana cigarette will send the convicted to prison as surely as kilos of heroin will.
The punishment is a draconian variation on the penalties imposed by, among other state ballot propositions, California’s 1994 Proposition 184 and Washington state’s 1993 Initiative 593, better known as “the three strikes, and you’re out” laws. Zero tolerance laws allow defendants only one “strike” and then “they’re in…” the penitentiary. In a 2002 study by Mary Rowe and Corinne Bendersky published by the Cornell University Press, the researchers maintain that “little evidence supports the claimed effectiveness of zero-tolerance policies.”
There are obvious reasons that heroin and other narcotics are legally proscribed and incur stiff criminal penalties while cigarettes are available at liquor stores everywhere. There is no lobby for heroin or crack cocaine users, while tobacco producers and the growth industry of prison construction support the criminalization of drugs. The motivation for prison-construction companies comes from an indisputable statistic provided by the U.S. Department of Justice: 36 percent of the federal prison population consists of non-violent drug offenders.
The most lethal drug dealers, cigarette producers, and their partners in profits, the prison construction industry, fund lobbyists who persuade legislators to lock ‘em up and throw away the key. The larger the number of incarcerated addicts the fatter the balance sheets of prison builders. Drug offenders, of course, aren’t the only moneymakers for prison constructors.
NationMaster, a database whose contributors include the CIA and the United Nations, reports that the U.S. imprisons more people per capita than any other nation, including Russia, which ranks second. At No. 155, totalitarian Cuba isn’t even a contender in the incarceration sweepstakes. Opponents of Communism will also be disappointed to learn that neo-Stalinist China weighs in at 71.
Corporate tobacco competes with the corner drug dealer for those unfortunates with addictive personalities. A rich man’s $34 Cuban cigar is the poor man’s crack, which retails for $3 a gram. That’s not the bargain it may seem because the high from $3-worth of crack lasts five minutes. If it weren’t for its dangerous effects on users, the crack would be a perfect product whose customers keep coming back for more — every five minutes.
Heroin remains the most dangerous drug in the popular imagination but not in the world of empirical research because street drugs are legally prohibited, whereas, at $7 a pack, cigarettes are merely prohibitively expensive.
No one goes to jail for lighting up a Marlboro. They end up in cancer wards. Smokers face a grim prognosis. On average, they live 14 years less than non-smokers, while each cigarette smoked deducts 11 minutes from the life expectancy of a smoker, according to a 2004 report in the journal BMJ, published by the British Medical Association.
If the anti-tobacco crowd had any political clout and if any other product shortened the lives of its customers so dramatically, cigarette possession and manufacture would be felony offenses. The victims of three-pack-a-day habits who weren’t deterred by prison time or health problems might be deterred by the increased cost due to criminalization and the additional risks street dealers who sell cigarettes would face.
A three-pack-a-day junkie until I quit 30 years ago, I can confirm the experiences of anyone who has endured the six-month hell of nicotine withdrawal. But in a saner world where tobacco is recognized and criminalized as the poisonous blight, it is, cigarette smokers, like any other drug addicts, will rob liquor stores, embezzle company funds, snatch purses from little old ladies, sell their children as sex slaves to pay for a carton of smokes, and commit all the other crimes associated with the underclass’ illicit drug use and the compulsion to steal in order to finance the next fix.
If you want proof, not speculation, regarding the addictive power of nicotine, consider the selfish, life-endangering behavior of hospitalized smokers whose friends smuggle cigarettes into the medical facility. I know because I was one of the lunatics and a good/bad friend of a terminal smoker who guilt-tripped me into sneaking cigarettes into his hospital room.
He was dying, so I figured it was too late to give my friend the same 20-year lecture about the ugly death from lung cancer suffered by my father, whom I nursed during the two years he coughed up more phlegm than Mt. Vesuvius belches smoke. As I transported unfiltered Camels into the hospital, I felt as though I were granting a dying man’s request, which is impossible to refuse.
This is your lung on a drug, nicotine. The white area represents cancerous tumors. The black areas show discoloration caused by smoking.
A non-smoker’s lung
During my smuggling operation, a nurse told me that what I considered an act of charity for a dead man was actually irresponsible lunacy that could have filled the entire hospital ward with corpses. The nurse explained that the ubiquitous oxygen tanks were more combustible than old rags soaked with gasoline. (I’ve always wondered who soaks clothes in gas and for what purpose.)
A single spark from a cigarette could set off a chain reaction of exploding oxygen tanks, killing everyone in the ward, possibly in the entire building if it caught on fire. After the nurse’s informative lecture ended, so did my uninformed but well-intentioned smuggling of legal contraband.
The macro equivalent of sneaking a cancer-causing drug into a cancer ward comes from more shameful statistics: Every year in the U.S., 15 percent or 30,000 lung cancer victims who never smoked die from second-hand smoke generated by “first-hand” smokers with whom non-smokers share close living quarters. More lung cancer casualties who never smoked die than leukemia, ovarian cancer, and AIDS patients combined, according to a 2007 study, “Lung Cancer in never-smokers: A different disease,” in the monthly oncology journal, Nature Reviews Cancer. Lung cancer patients dying of the effects of second-hand smoke are innocent victims of their alleged loved ones who value their fix over the lives of their unloved ones.
Among smokers and non-smokers alike, the prognosis for lung cancer patients is grim, with a survival rate of only 14 percent five years after diagnosis. Ninety percent of lung cancer deaths are directly attributable to long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, first- or secondhand. It’s not hype or hysteria to call tobacco poison and accuse its producers of poisoning the American people. They are 21st-century reincarnations of the Renaissance Borgias.
Expose and shame tobacco company executives out of business.
How do we end the scourge that Washington and state tobacco lobbyists perpetuate?
I can think of two possible solutions that will never happen because of interference by Big Tobacco and the legislators it buys. For a large enough campaign contribution, the most ardent advocates of, say, affordable health insurance will become whores for any industry, no matter how repugnant.
I watched with disgust and disbelief Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, Sicko, an infuriating indictment of the corrupting power of money on politicians. Moore filmed Hillary Clinton, whose 1993 attempt to provide affordable healthcare went down in flames fanned by Republican obstructionists, as she accepted a $900,000 check from an umbrella organization of lobbyists for health insurance companies.
The cliché is sadly true: (Almost) everyone has his or her price.
A candidate for canonization by a Pope who was a member of Hitler Youth, Mother Teresa lent her moral imprimatur to right-wing Latin American dictators because they made massive contributions to her charitable organizations, according to a BBC documentary, Holy Cow. What’s a little torture and murder when their perpetrators subsidize leper hospitals in Calcutta?
One solution to a plague that kills more people than AIDS: Tax cigarettes out of existence. Or make it a luxury available only to rich and upper-middle-class nicotine addicts.
As a liberal, or should I say “progressive” since the “L-word” has become almost as unmentionable these days as the “N-word, I normally oppose regressive taxes, i.e. taxes that burden the poor more than the rich because everyone pays the same tax rate regardless of income. But if there’s such an animal as a benign regressive tax, it would involve an exception to my opposition to taxes charge the poor the same tax rate as the rich. Federal income taxes are called progressive because wealthy citizens pay a higher percentage of taxes on their income than the middle class or poor.
Slapping an additional 100 percent tax on a $7 pack of cigarettes probably wouldn’t stop a well-heeled nicotine addict from paying for his fix. A $14 pack of cigarettes might, however, motivate many middle-income and poor smokers to give up their fatal habit. Unfortunately, the tobacco lobby isn’t the only guilty party that prevents cigarettes from being taxed out of existence.
Federal, state, and municipal governments are also addicts. They are addicted to the $100 billion annual revenue from cigarette taxes. You might presume that a 100 percent tax increase would turn government officials into big boosters of a new tax that would add another $100 billion to their coffers. But the decline in tobacco sales after doubling the cost of a pack of cigarettes might give boosters second thoughts about the increased tax rate. And with the added douceur of a bribe, er, a large campaign donation, would turn tax boosters into tax busters.