Remember when cigarettes were the “in” thing? Teenagers like myself joined millions of kids aiming to be “cool.” Boys carried packs of Lucky Strikes in their t-shirt sleeve. Girls smoked daintily. My mother smoked Kents with the micronite filter because they were “healthier.” She died of cancer at age 55.
Throughout the 1930s to the 1990s, movie characters were usually filmed and photographed with cigarettes dangling from their fingers and lips. Images and billboard ads depicted Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart and scores of other stars glorifying cigarettes as a tool for sexiness. Some medical doctors prostituted themselves by promoting the use of nicotine. Magazine ads were common, many portraying physicians holding a cigarettes saying something along the line of: “More doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette.”
For nearly a century, no one listened to nay-sayers trying to convince us how nicotine was bad for our health, that it was addictive and potentially lethal. We didn’t listen. We didn’t believe nicotine was addictive. Meanwhile, cigarette companies exploded with profits as they enhanced the content of nicotine. Politicians were barraged with warnings and data, but that didn’t matter so long as the companies installed a new notice on the side of packs, warning that “cigarettes could be harmful to your health.”
Finally, toward the end of the 1980s, the verdict was in and everyone knew it, including manufacturers and politicians. No more ads, no more promotions. Rather, new ads told the horrors of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and cancer, all related to smoking. The cigarette business started to diminish.
Marijuana has since risen into prominence as the new cigarette of choice, as folks refuse to believe that weed is harmful. Sound familiar? Too many people were serving time in prisons who were otherwise not criminals — sad but true. We began seeing casual scenes in motion pictures where kids and adults used pot routinely, much like cigarettes of yore. More and more, celebrities promoted pot as not only harmless; it was useful in the treatment of numerous diseases.
What the purveyors of pot failed to realize was how much marijuana was being psychologically glorified by adults, including family members, to young people. Here lies the potential damage to kids as young as age 10, because youthful users could likely grow into adults addicted to something worse. And that’s our fault. Out of ignorance, we have given legitimacy to recreational pot. Adult users have spread propaganda that harmless pot is not a gateway drug to harder substances. It’s true that not all pot users move up to harder drugs. But it’s also true that most addicts on heroin, cocaine and other hardcore narcotics started their drug life with marijuana.
Studies by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found several health risks in using marijuana, including:
► One in 10 users will become addicted;
► Marijuana affects the brain, particularly learning skills, attention, decision making, emotions and decision-making;
► Smoke from marijuana contains many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke. Smoking marijuana can also lead to a greater risk of bronchitis.
In 2016, marijuana was legalized in Florida for medical purposes. We’d be ignorant to believe that users will limit usage to medicinal purposes only. Recreational use will likely explode when and if marijuana is fully legalized.
Without question, marijuana is a mind-altering drug. Thus, it would seem only proper to allow pot for medical purposes requiring a doctor’s prescription, much like other pain killers and mind-altering drugs.
Enforcing laws for illegal possession of small amounts only, should be restricted to fines, counselling and other consequences besides jail time. Driving vehicles while high on marijuana should receive the same penalties as driving while drunk.
I’ve known youngsters who were affected by liberal parents who turned a blind eye to their children using pot. Those kids grew into full-fledged drug addicts.
We should do all what we can to avoid glorifying or sanctioning recreational pot for impressionable youngsters, especially preteens and early-teens. Those are the vulnerable years that can be negatively altered for life.
We must protect kids. It’s our job.
Marshall Frank is a retired police captain from Miami-Dade County, author and frequent contributor to Florida Today, where this column first appeared.