By Ned Wicker
When we think of drug addiction in America, we automatically see images of street drug trafficking, Mexican mob wars, inner city houses with boarded up windows and seeing clips on the news about some young person dying of an overdose. But we don’t necessarily think about the most addictive drug of them all—nicotine.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) knows all about nicotine and for years has warned that it is “the most heavily used addictive drugs and the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death…” The NIDA also points out that cigarette smoking “accounts for 90% of lung cancer case.” Nearly 50,000 people die each year from second-hand smoke. But cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco are perfectly legal in most states if you are 18 or older.
Despite what overpaid tobacco industry CEOs will tell you, nicotine, according to the NIDA is HIGHLY addictive. Aside from the long cancer, the smoking of cigarettes causes lung cancer, emphysema and bronchial disorders. Cardiovascular disease is another problem because of the carbon monoxide in the smoke. In the 1960’s, when this writer started smoking, the warning labels are mandated by the U.S. Government. Warning: Cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health.
It was a mild reminder that people had gotten sick from smoking, yet it was very much a part of the culture. Movies especially dramatized smoking, as the leading man lit two cigarettes and gave one to his leading lady. Lauren Bacall lighting up with Humphrey Bogart sold millions of theater tickets. Sean Connery, as 007, was always smoking. John Wayne, The Duke, rolled his own. People want to be like their heroes, and so people smoked just because they thought it was cool, or teenagers thought it made them look “more mature.”
Cigarettes, the most widely used delivery system for nicotine, are by their very nature harsh and unpleasant. But the tobacco companies know what to do to make them more acceptable, if not pleasant for their customers. He additives, filters and other manufacturing improvements have improved the system.
When the crackdown on smoking began in the United States, to the point know where in many public places smoking is banned entirely, the industry turned to foreign markets. I remember living in the Philippines during my time in the U.S. Navy. The domestic cigarettes were terrible, even though they carried American names and branding. But the American brands were vastly superior. They were dirt cheap, so we used them for bargaining. It was amazing what a carton of Salem’s could deliver.
When I was young, it seemed like everybody smoked. The efforts by U.S. health officials to curb smoking, especially among young people, have rendered some good results. Still, teens are curious. The NIDA web site reports, “The NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 7.1% of 8th graders, 13.6% of 10th graders, and 19.2% of 12th graders had used cigarettes and 4.1% of 8th graders, 7.5% of 10th graders, and 8.5% of 12th graders had used smokeless tobacco at least once in the month prior to being surveyed.
And while rates of smoking have been declining since the mid-nineties, those declines have been slowing in the last two years. Source: Monitoring the Future (University of Michigan Web Site)” There was a craze a few years ago to sue to the tobacco companies. It was entirely misdirected, as those who became addicted to cigarettes and subsequently died got very little money. Lawyers, sensing lame prey, hunted in packs and devoured countless hundreds of millions.
States reaped bagfuls of money from cigarette cases, but little went to public health or education. Politicians gloried in the victory over the evil empire, wallowing in pork while the problem of smoking persisted. States apply heavy cigarette taxes and benefit from those who cannot quit, or who don’t want to quit, regardless of the health consequences. Still, if I smoke and contract lung cancer, I can always blame somebody else because the lawyer will fight to get his share.
The Addictiveness of Nicotine
Study after study has proven the addictiveness of nicotine. We largely ignore these studies because we can sue. Maybe we just don’t believe it will happen to us. As one who smoked for over 25 years, I have always hated the former smoker who sets out to make sure that nobody else smokes.
I chose to quit one day when I woke up in Cleveland and discovered my throat would not open up, making it difficult to talk, a bad condition for a radio announcer. I didn’t smoke for a few days while I improved, so I just tried to stay off them one day at-a-time. That was in 1991. I also understand that had I not wanted to quit, it wasn’t going to happen.
That gets me back to one very important point. The government can spend billions on education, which is fine, but parents need to teach their kids to avoid tobacco. Adults need to understand that kids watch us, closely. They’re not stupid. Tobacco companies will always go after their profits.
It’s the individual who needs to be responsible for his/her own behavior. People who smoke are at risk of cancer and other dreadful diseases and at the end of the day, those of us who choose to smoke need to weigh that risk and accept the consequences.
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