Eighty-three years after Reefer Madness and 48 years after Richard Nixon declared war on drugs, marijuana is finally dangerous.
All those years of winking at its use, of joking about its ubiquity, of listening to people characterize it as a gateway drug when we all knew that it was probably safer than cigarettes, less addictive than alcohol, and less deleterious than sugar—all that has come to this: marijuana can kill you.
And the irony, if one is needed, comes from the fact that it wouldn’t kill you if tobacco hadn't become so good at it that we had to do something. Yes, in this decade we’ve gotten a handle on tobacco use by converting smokers to vapers. Hurray!
Then people filled the e-cigs with THC and got sick. D’oh!
But it’s worse than a Simpsons' punchline.
As of today 33 deaths in the United States have been linked to vaping, and more than a thousand people have become seriously ill, many of them hospitalized. How much lung damage is accruing among other vaping devotees may not be known for years, just as (and stop me if this sounds familiar) we didn’t know the dangers of smoking for a good long time.
Also eerily similar to smoking is the tactic of luring young people into using the product so that sales could continue on and on and on.
I do blame the tobacco manufacturers and e-cig companies, but I realize they have a bottom line like everyone else. And I also believe that there may have been—initially at least—good intentions on the part of e-cig producers to curtail tobacco use and that others have corrupted them.
The public at large is not blameless. We gag when stuck in traffic behind a diesel, wave dishtowels in the air when we burn the toast, and complain when the wood burning stove down the street stinks up our house. But filling our lungs with burned...well burned something: that's something we’re willing to accept?
There have been learning curves for virtually everything that harms us, from the environmental—coal dust, asbestos, smog; to the chemical—heroin, opioids, Darvon, Vioxx; to the foods we eat— cholesterol, salt, and for some dairy and nuts. We're just entering the e-cig curve, and most people probably hope that the device itself is safe and it's the additives causing the problems. That would be the best souton for all involved: we don't want to trade one cause of lung disease for another.
I grew up at a time when my biggest fear, one inherited from my parents, was polio. Where I went and what I did as a child often depended upon my chances of contracting the illness. Public swimming pools were extremely dangerous—a polio breeding ground.
Then, like a miracle, it all went away. Vanished. A researcher named Jonas Salk had invented a vaccine, and we were suddenly home free.
I think about this now when I read of parents who refuse to have their children inoculated. I don't mean those who demur on religious grounds, but the ones who view a program of inoculations as government overreach. If it's a statement they want to make, how about refusing garbage pick-up—show those refuse collectors they can't just come by and pick up your trash thank-you-very-much. Or maybe refuse to allow a firefighter into your house to extinguish flames. There are many ways that we can underscore government overreach without imperiling the lives of children.
In my elementary school—the now long-gone Benjamin Franklin in New Britain—we had one polio victim that I knew of. (I have no idea how many other victims lived their lives in iron lungs or moved about in wheelchairs. Handicap access then was not what it is now.) This boy walked with a limp because he had polio.That was his story. I never delved deeper into it, I don't know if he got better, and I don't even remember his name. He was tall, I think.
It's unlikely that his parents turned down the other inoculations—smallpox, diphtheria, et al.—and I'm fairly certain that, had the Salk vaccine been invented in time, they would not have turned that down either.
Admittedly the residue of the decades-old thimerosol scare may linger for some, and it isn't my place to question people's motives, just their actions. But these refusals endanger children's lives. I think of those MAGA hats and the great America to which these people want to return, but it was the America of polio and scarlet fever, where breast cancer was a death sentence and hearts were expected to fail by the age of 60. Aspiring to return to that is not a decision that should be made hastily, not with so many lives at stake.