Monday, March 8, 2010

Smoking Lettuce, Redux

An anonymous commenter replied to a video and comments I posted last June (see Smoking Lettuce). My posting has been lax lately, so the reply gets a whole post to itself. 

To briefly summarize, Representative Steve Buyer thinks smoking lettuce is the same as smoking cigarettes. I copied a statement from Buyer's web site stating that the FDA is under-funded and over-stressed and that they have no business trying to regulate a risky product; I agree to the first point and strongly disagree with the second. Oh ... and I might have implied that Representative Buyer is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

But enough summarizing, you can read the original post if you must, let's get on to Anon's comment:

Anonymous said...
...Was he right? About the lettuce?

Well, actually, in the problems he outlined (Cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems) he was right - you WOULD have similar problems. Now, in terms of the 'good stuff' - doubtful. Lettuce obviously wouldn't have whatever it is in tobacco that makes people keep smoking it (though I couldn't profess to know, in that I find smoking repulsive).

His point about the FDA? Yeah, it's overburdened and trying to sink its roots into nooks and crannies whenever it can. And when it tries regulating something that is already known to be dangerous - cigarettes - then it means your money is being spent insuring the 'safety' of a product that is KNOWN to be dangerous. How stupid can you get?!

And in the real world that most people don't like thinking about, the increased price on ciarettes as a result of the regulation would inflate the prices of legal smokes. So smokers get their cheaper cigs from elsewhere with less regulation - and the LEGAL distributors suffer, through no fault but the government's.

So yeah, what's up with Steve? Must be smoking lettuce or something.

Hello Anon,
Thanks for stopping by to comment. I suspect you have a certain political inclination on this, which is fine, but I think your concerns on this issue are misplaced.

You may indeed have similar problems with smoking lettuce, but I doubt there will ever be a serious study on the effects. However, I am certain that tobacco is naturally higher in aromatic hydrocarbons, tars, and has a number of ingredients artificially added (like formaldehyde). Aside from the smoke, chewing tobacco also has links to diseases such as oral cancer, and I am reasonable sure that you can chew lettuce all you want with no particular risk of cancer. So I can't prove that smoking lettuce is safer than smoking tobacco, but I strongly suspect it is true.

The stuff that keeps people smoking tobacco is nicotine, also naturally occurring, except that the tobacco companies strictly control the "dose" of nicotine delivered much in the same way that pharmaceutical companies control the dose of other drugs. If I recall, was the FDA's basis for the regulation of tobacco; tobacco may be naturally grown, but cigarettes are produced to the tolerances of prescription drug, are highly habit forming, are a serious health risk, and are marketed to kids. Now nicotine itself, addictive properties aside, isn't especially harmful, but it keeps their customers locked in a nearly unbreakable habit, and exposing themselves to the other harmful properties over-and-over again, sometimes for life ... and often a rather shorter and less healthy life. Tobacco companies know darn well that if someone starts smoking as a teenager they are much more likely to stay a smoker for life, and generally have a long history of bad behavior when it comes to making a few bucks for themselves. Industries that behave badly deserve the regulations they get.

I will agree that the FDA is over-stressed and under-resourced. I absolutely disagree that controlling a highly addictive drug with dangerous side effects is beyond their jurisdiction. You don't have to look too hard on the FDA site to find something that we know is dangerous and needs to be regulated. We know that high-traffic intersections can be dangerous, right? And since everybody knows this, we can just take down all those silly useless stop signs and traffic lights. Right??  No???

I don't know what to make of Anon's comment about taxes on cigarettes, which are already very heavily taxed already. I worry these taxes tend to be an extra burden on the poor, but I have no sympathy for those in the business of distributing cigarettes. If the distributors don't like it, then there are plenty of other products they can make money distributing.

So to wrap this up; No, Steve Buyer was not right ... about the lettuce.

Addendum: TBA
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