I am a recovering drug addict. My drug of choice: Nicotine.

     On January 14, I celebrated my 35th anniversary of freedom from the chains of tobacco misery, smoking four packs of Pall Mall’s every day. I smoked constantly and everywhere, in the office, in elevators, movie theaters and yes, even in the shower with a burning butt on the edge of the commode. Every morning I suffered twenty minutes of wretched coughing jags, only to light up after.

     Nicotine is one of the most addictive and destructive drugs in history. For decades, American culture glorified cigarettes as though part of a sophisticated dress code. It was cool. Practically every movie depicted stars puffing on cigarettes; doctors and celebrities received handsome rewards for endorsing the drug; cigarette companies contributed to political parties while they deliberately enhanced the potency of tobacco to keep people hooked.

     My mother smoked Kents with the “micronite” filter, falling for the propaganda they were healthier than unfiltered. She died of cancer, 1966.

     It was all a lie. It was all about money. Cigarettes represented a multi-billion dollar industry. Naysayers and scientists who tried to tell the truth, who tried to warn, were ignored. They were bad for business. Major corrupt businesses create corrupt politicians. In 1964, 43 percent of Americans smoked cigarettes. Today, that’s been reduced to 18 percent.

     Since 1964, when the truthful Surgeon General’s Report was released about the true dangers of tobacco, 20 million people have nevertheless died of smoking related diseases. It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that the secret got out and people were not only informed about health risks, smoking evolved into a social negative. Whether from cancer, emphysema or other related illnesses, we finally became convinced that science did not lie. The business lied. Millions quit.  But, sadly, kids kept smoking, and continued getting addicted. They still do. They believe being young makes them invincible.

     According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoking kills 480,000 a year, 41,000 of them from second-hand smoke. This does not include thousands more who commit suicide in the late stages of painful tobacco-related diseases. I investigated many such cases while working in Dade County Homicide. As a detective, I visited the morgue daily, viewing autopsies and noting the huge differences between pink lungs and those that looked like they were soaked in soot.

     I still hear those voices of yesteryear that dismissed warnings against cigarettes as fear-mongering, over-exaggerating and not as harmless as they say. Most important, keep those cigarettes lit and the money rolling in.

     Sound familiar?

 Yes. Nicotine was “cool.” Now, what’s cool?

     “Marijuana is not harmful,” “It’s not addictive,” “It’s not as bad as alcohol or cigarettes,” “It’s not a gateway drug.”

     Wrong on all accounts, according to studies by the CDC.  A few findings:

  • One in six users, under 18 years old, will become addicted. One in ten for older adults.
  • Marijuana affects brain development, especially with teens. This often manifests in memory problems, attention span, decision making, reaction time and emotions.
  • Smoke from marijuana carries many of the same toxins, irritants and carcinogens as tobacco smoke.
  • Marijuana users are significantly more likely to develop chronic mental disorders

     For a more comprehensive summary, readers should visit web site:

     Gateway drug?  The science jury is out. But I can attest as a 30-year cop and father of a long-term drug abuser, it is very rare to find any heroin or cocaine addict whose first drug was not marijuana.

     Drugged drivers?  From the National Institute on Drug Abuse: “Marijuana significantly impairs judgement, motor coordination and reaction time.”  The big problem for law enforcement is detection of pot. Alcohol is far more obvious.

      Much like the movies of old with cigarettes, irresponsible adults glorify and praise pot as harmless. Today when we go to movies, we’ll view scenes where the actors, even kids, are high, portraying marijuana as an acceptable recreation of modern times. Aye, there’s the problem, because seeds are being planted into the brains of our youth. Adult influence upon young people is where the greatest danger lies.

     Of course, we all know that marijuana has medical benefits. No argument there. But we should be leaving that to medical prescriptions, not the clerk at 7/11.

     On my end, addiction was a nightmare. Quitting cigarettes took years, using various devices, acupuncture, hypnotism and more. But I was relying on those devices and methods to do the work for me. In the long run, cold turkey saved my life. Two years later, I finished a 26 mile marathon.

     Anything is possible.


  1. David Lee Valdina January 18, 2018 at 4:21 pm #

    Cold turkey is reliable, it worked for me. As a society we have gotten away from the notion that with enough will power, most anything is possible. Saying you have no control over addiction is a negative self forfilling prophecy. We need to get back to the notion that an iron will can work wonders for us.

  2. Helen Bennett January 18, 2018 at 4:40 pm #

    My mother died in 1996 at 88. She never smoked. My husband smoked and quit after many decades simply by changing brands. If he couldn’t smoke Larks, he wouldn’t smoke at all. He died at 62 after many serious illnesses, but would have died sooner had he not given up smoking.

  3. Charlie January 18, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

    My father was a chain smoker for the 21 years I lived at home before getting married and moved out. 2 packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day. I never smoked and living in the 2nd hand smoke household for those 21 years has not affected me as I am in excellent health now at age 79. Even being a type 1 diabetic for the last 39 years
    Just lucky I guess.

  4. Charlie January 18, 2018 at 4:46 pm #

    My father was a chain smoker for the 21 years I lived at home before getting married and moved out. 2 packs of unfiltered Lucky Strikes a day. I never smoked and living in the 2nd hand smoke household for those 21 years has not affected me as I am in excellent health now at age 79. Even being a type 1 diabetic for the last 39 years
    Just lucky I guess.

  5. Donald January 18, 2018 at 5:38 pm #

    I too was addicted to cigarettes. I had a two-pack a day habit, until I decided in 1981 to just quit. I had several false starts when I would quit for a few weeks and then pick them back up; but in 1982 I finally just decided I did not like the addiction. So, I just quit “cold turkey.” I put them down one day and never picked them back up. Was it difficult? You bet! But I have now been clean for 35 years, longer than I was addicted. Now I don’t even like to be in the same room with a cigarette. I can’t believe how badly they stink! Also, how badly the breath of smokers stink. Addicted use of marijuana can have some of the same debilitating effects of cigarettes, e.g., lung cancer, lip cancer, emphysema, etc. The best advice I can offer smokers of either is to get off and stay off!

  6. angela spencer, md January 18, 2018 at 7:16 pm #

    In addition to the dangers listed above, marijuana causes abulia (a total lack of drive/energy/initiative resulting in loss of will power ) which are detrimental to the future and the carrier of a young person. I saw it often in my practice. Furthermore, marijuana is still new enough not to know or realize all its harm, yet. Generally speaking, in medicine it is considered just as harmful as tobacco smoking. I found this fact combined with the anergic state are predicting a worse than cigarette smoking outcome.

  7. Jan Siren January 19, 2018 at 11:02 am #

    Having used both tobacco and marijuana (though a half century has passed since my use of either), I believe myself capable of seeing through the exaggerations of the marijuana advocates and the fear tactics of the opponents. Yes, there are exaggerations and fear tactics still – should we be surprised at that? People die every day from the effects of smoking tobacco, that’s well documented, but statistics on “deaths from marijuana” are far less well founded.

    Let the research be focused on developing a reliable detection method for marijuana impairment that can be applied as quickly on the roadside as the breathalyzer test for alcohol, let its use be authorized there (and only such other circumstances as public safety is involved); otherwise, let’s quit spinning our wheels over this issue.

    Jan Siren

  8. Helen Frigo January 19, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    Thanks, Jan Siren: I’ve never tried marijuana-too naive, happy with coffee and chocolate.
    But now old, with so many aches and pains, I’d sure like to try one of those brownies.

  9. Jan Siren January 20, 2018 at 11:29 am #

    Helen (and anyone else),

    Marijuana is not a “numbing agent.” If you have aches and pains, when you use marijuana those are just as subject to being amplified as are the good feelings. Watch out!


  10. Helen Frigo January 21, 2018 at 11:29 am #

    Thanks again, Jan Siren, for the added info. And you’re right, impaired driving has to be stopped. The cell phone use and texting have to be included. Even what seems to be an increasing problem of eating while driving. But Louis Armstrong was put in jail for using marijuana, long ago, and now how many others have also been locked up? Some man in Jensen Beach was reported by a neighbor that he was growing marijuana plants on his back porch. The police raided at one in the morning. 2 women with back pain took their case to be allowed to grow marijuana for their own use, all the way to the Supreme Court, and lost. Marijuana should be regulated like liquor and cigarettes, and discouraged with education, too. We all end up paying for jailing people, in many kinds of ways. Police profit from property they confiscate from marijana growers? Prosecutors go on to politics as heroes for being tough on crime? There seems to be profit in keeping Marijuana illegal, and branded as worse than heroin, too.

  11. Lesley January 21, 2018 at 1:28 pm #

    When I was undergoing my hypnosis training for smoking cessation, we learned that tobacco companies were legally permitted to treat the tobacco with a 2% solution of cocaine and other addictive (flavor-enhancing) substances. No wonder it is so difficult to kick the habit. Every smoker inhales a solution of habit-continuing drugs along with the nicotine.
    I wonder how long it will take for marijuana manufacturers to try the same.

  12. Mackie January 21, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

    After 32 years in law enforcement I am convinced that Marijuana is a gateway drug. The big difference between an alcoholic drink, and marijuana is that alcohol is a water soluble drug and marijuana, like nicotine are what we call fat soluble drugs. The fat soluble drugs can stay in your system much longer. THC tetra hydra cannibal has over 20 poisons identified in it that cause all kinds of havoc with your body in the long run. Some of these ongoing studies of the effects of marijuana have been going on for well over 50 years. Heavy usage has left users thin, pale, and boys showing breast of a young teenage or prepubescent girl, along with a low energy level at accomplishing basic studies have shown that one marijuana smoked weed can be equal to more then 5 cigarettes. there are more factors that address marijuana even more in-depth then here that I have read, but the bottom line is stay away from it. I still can see numerous acquaintances that changed physically and mentally over the years that was extremely destructive to everyday life.

  13. Helen Frigo January 22, 2018 at 11:49 am #

    Even if marijuana is a “gateway” drug, should you go to jail for using it? You don’t go to jail for nicotine, even if you’re smoking in a closed car with children. And so many years I’ve been reading how rarely drivers impaired by alcohol receive jail terms, even if they kill someone. The only reason young people want to try marijuana, and be able to get it, is because it is illegal. A friend’s 13 year old bought a marijuana cigarette home, whereas his father said there was no way he himself would be able to buy it anywhere. You have to be 18 to buy cigarettes or alcohol, and those laws seem to work. Why can’t we do that for marijuana?

  14. freewoman January 23, 2018 at 8:54 pm #

    So much attention paid to marijuana and nicotine

    while the elephant in the room – alcohol

    which causes more addiction, illness, death and unhappiness

    is being ignored.

    Why? Because the lobby promoting alcohol use is so very wealthy and can barely be challenged? and those enjoying their sundowners would be extremely offended if it came down to even suggesting that alcohol poses a problem.