The World Lung Foundation and the American Cancer Society have compiled in The Tobacco Atlas a damning list of morbidity and mortality inflicted by cigarettes on the world’s people. Cigarettes are powerful drugs, the most addicting and lethal of all drugs. Cigarettes kill far more people than all the illegal drugs combined. In the USA, at least 30 times as many people die from cigarettes than all illicit drugs.
The lists of damage from cigarettes to the health of the world’s people is lengthy:
- Smoking cigarettes contributes to 6 of the 8 leading causes of death.
- “Tobacco accounts for one out of every 10 deaths worldwide”
- Cigarette smoking killed 100 million people during the last century; it may kill one billion during this century.
- Tobacco kills one-third to one-half of those who smoke it. Smokers die, on the average, about 15 years before people who don’t smoke. Chewed tobacco is also often deadly dangerous.
The most popular illicit drug, cannabis, kills zero people. Marijuana does not have a lethal dose and is not associated with morbidity. Actually though, a few people are killed by association with cannabis, usually in SWAT raids. In Malaysia, about one person is hanged each month for cannabis possession. Cannabis smoke, like all smoke, does contain some toxins, but has not been shown to cause cancer. Elements specific to marijuana smoke, especially THC, may be providing protection against tumors. Medical cannabis is now commonly consumed via vaporizer, so all toxins are eliminated.
What if swine flu developed into great plague next year and death swept across the globe leaving behind six million corpses? The world’s people would tremble in fear. We would grimace in mourning and horror among the mountains of the dead. Yet when this mass death is delivered by the artificial plague of cigarettes, the terrible toll is dismissed with a shrug.
Instead, a world-wide crusade is underway, lead by the USA, with the goal of stamping out not cigarettes, but instead the other drugs. Although they cause are the cause one one death for every 30 from cigarettes (in the USA) these other drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, even nearly harmless drugs such as cannabis, are labeled poisons. Those possessing them, at least in the USA and places like Malaysia, are treated with penalties harsher than for real criminals with actual victims.
In light of cigarettes deadly toll, should the USA and other countries prohibit cigarettes and add them to the list of illicit drugs, where they clearly belong? Clearly NOT. The prohibition approach has failed spectacularly, as it did alcohol prohibition in the USA of the 1920s. The difference is that with alcohol the mistake was realized. With the war on drugs, into its 5th decade and with the USA quintupling its prison population into the world’s largest, the prohibitionist, hard-line, lock-em-up stance continues with almost no critical examination.
This ineffective and wasteful prohibition/incarceration model has caused immense collateral damage to American society. As has worked so well in Portugal, drugs should be removed from the law enforcement, zero-tolerance model into a harm reduction approach.
Such an approach has actually worked very well for cigarettes in the USA over the last 20 years. With education, segregation of smoking and higher taxes on cigarettes to help pay for their health toll, smoking has lost much of its popularity. Cigarette consumption has markedly declined in the USA with no arrests or violations of civil liberties.