FIRST-PERSON: Is society rejecting tobacco, but embracing pot?

Posted on Dec 7, 2012 | by Kelly Boggs

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- Pot-puffers in Washington state celebrated their new ability to smoke marijuana legally Thursday (Dec. 6). Colorado will join the Evergreen State and allow airheads to get Rocky Mountain high lawfully on Jan. 6.

I find it quite ironic that while it seems society has grown more accepting of marijuana, it has at the same time ridiculed, scorned and even shamed those who smoke tobacco. The products have come to be viewed very differently.

Tobacco is reviled for the havoc it wreaks on the body's respiratory system and its propensity to cause lung and other cancers -- as well as its link to heart disease. Marijuana is touted by many as being practically harmless to health and void of any negative consequences.

Those who puff on cigarettes are viewed by many as flawed and weak in character -- especially those who smoke around children. Marijuana aficionados, on the other hand, are deemed to be progressive and open-minded.

Perhaps the opponents of tobacco smoking would gladly outlaw all products related to the practice. However, having learned from Prohibition the futility in seeking to ban a product many desire, they have instead gone the route of demonizing those who smoke.

The opposite has been true in reference to marijuana. For the last 50 years the popular culture has lionized the use of "pot" in song and film. "Grass" users during the past half century have, more times than not, been portrayed as hip and cool.

The dangers of tobacco smoking are well documented. For those who smoke, as well as for those exposed to second-hand smoke, the health risks are very real. The use of tobacco -- even the smokeless varieties -- should be discouraged every way possible.

The proponents of marijuana smoking have downplayed the negative consequences of smoking pot. However, a growing body of evidence is showing that marijuana smoking is just as unhealthy as cigarette smoking.

The Internet site ScienceDaily contains a host of articles dealing with the negative effects of marijuana.

One article called attention to a study titled, "A Comparison of Mainstream and Sidestream Marijuana and Tobacco Cigarette Smoke Produced Under Two Machine Smoking Conditions." According to ScienceDaily, the study found "that ammonia levels were 20 times higher in the marijuana smoke than in the tobacco smoke, while hydrogen, cyanide, nitric oxide and certain aromatic amines occurred at levels 3-5 times higher in the marijuana smoke."

Some researchers suggest the toxic substances in marijuana smoke could damage DNA in much the same way tobacco smoke does and thus increase the risk of lung and other cancers. However, more research is needed before a cause and effect link can be substantiated.

Another article at ScienceDaily highlighted a study titled "Bullous Lung Disease due to Marijuana" The report found that a condition which leads to destruction of lung tissue, bullous lung disease, occurs in marijuana smokers approximately 20 years earlier than tobacco smokers.

According to ScienceDaily, the lead author of the study, Australian physician Matthew Naughton, said, "Marijuana is inhaled as extremely hot fumes to the peak of inspiration and held for as long as possible before slow exhalation. This predisposes to greater damage to the lungs and makes marijuana smokers more prone to bullous disease as compared to cigarette smokers."

It seems that with marijuana smoking, as with cigarette smoking, smoke + lungs = bad.

Beyond the health risks of inhaling marijuana smoke, there is the aspect of getting high that is absent with cigarette smoke. In fact, getting "stoned" is the main reason marijuana aficionados smoke pot.

Frontline, a public affairs program distributed via the Public Broadcasting Service, has on its website a page that features "A Fact Sheet of the Effects of Marijuana" produced by the Partnership for a Drug Free America.

The Frontline site lists following regarding marijuana use: "Impaired memory for recent events, difficulty concentrating, dreamlike states, impaired motor coordination, impaired driving and other psychomotor skills, slowed reaction time, impaired goal-directed mental activity, and altered peripheral vision are common associated effects."

A study conducted in 2009 by Veterans Administration Healthcare/Yale University School of Medicine titled "The effect of cannabis compared with alcohol on driving," stated, "Cannabis [marijuana] and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills...."

Drivers in Washington and Colorado now not only have to be aware of drunk drivers, but they also have to be concerned about drivers who are stoned. States don't need more impaired drivers behind the wheel.

So two states, with perhaps more to follow, have embraced the recreational use of marijuana -- all the while cigarette smoking is vilified, even though both are fraught with health issues.

In fact, when you add the "stoned" factor, it would seem that pot smoking has the potential for even more problems than tobacco inhalation. Maybe "ironic" isn't the right word. Perhaps "sad" or "tragic" would be more appropriate.
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Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press, director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention's office of public affairs, and editor of the Baptist Message, www.baptistmessage.com, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).