Massachusetts Town Wants to Ban Tobacco; But What About Pot?

A Sunday Associated Press item carried at its national news site informs readers that the town of Westminster in north central Massachusetts is seriously considering a ban on tobacco products. The Boston Globe covered the story in a lengthy report on October 28, and the Washington Post carried a brief item at its GovBeat blog that same day.

None of those three items addressed an obvious question: If it's okay to ban the sale of a product primarily on the basis of the harm it causes when smoked, what is the justification for legalizing marijuana throughout Massachusetts and elsewhere? Many Bay State observers believe, based on the number of nonbinding referenda passed and the changing public mood, that pot legalization is perhaps two years away.

Amy Crawford's Associated Press item quotes a town health official and a spokesperson with the American Lung Association (presented in reverse order from their appearance in the article):

Citing a report from the U.S. surgeon general, (town health agent Elizabeth) Swedberg said that if tobacco use continues unabated, 5.6 million American children who are younger than 18 today will die prematurely because of smoking. Change, she said, "has to start somewhere."

"To my knowledge, it would be the first in the nation to enact a total ban," said Thomas Carr, director of national policy at the American Lung Association. "We commend the town for doing it."

Well, if the Lung Association is so excited about Westminster's potential tobacco ban, one has to assume that it should be just as vehemently opposed to marijuana legalization. After all, its own web site has the following things to say about smoking pot:

Tobacco vs. Marijuana

Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals. There are 33 cancer-causing chemicals contained in marijuana. Marijuana smoke also deposits tar into the lungs. In fact, when equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco are smoked, marijuana deposits four times as much tar into the lungs. This is because marijuana joints are un-filtered and often more deeply inhaled than cigarettes.

Marijuana and the Lungs

Marijuana smoke is also an irritant to the lungs, and frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by people who smoke tobacco. These include coughing and phlegm production on most days, wheezing, bronchitis, and greater risk of lung infection, although most of these may go away after stopping smoking marijuana. Frequent marijuana smokers also have more healthcare visits both overall and for respiratory conditions compared to nonsmokers. While research has not shown a clear increase in risk for lung cancer among marijuana smokers, results have been mixed for heavy, long term use.

Smoking marijuana may be associated with the formation of large air sacs in the lung, called bullae, which can lead to shortness of breath and, if they rupture, death. Similarly, there are reports of sudden lung collapse or air pockets forming between the lungs among marijuana smokers.

Or, as stated succinctly in a separate CBS report published in 2011: "The American Lung Association says pot smoke has more carcinogens than cigarette smoke. Pot smokers also tend to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers do, which increases the lungs' exposure."

CBS also cited a UCLA study which did not find a pot smoking/lung cancer correlation. But even that study's author has recently indicated that "evidence is mixed concerning possible carcinogenic risks of heavy, long-term use."

To be fair, I should note that officials in the immediate area of Worcester County are among those who oppose pot legalization. But it's clear that their views would be rendered impotent if voters legalize marijuana statewide.

The person who alerted me to this media blind spot has an interesting question:

Isn't it strange how the current push by the left to further dumb down our society through legalizing marijuana never gets looked at as a health/safety hazard the way smoking or drunk driving are?

I would change "never" to "only rarely," but the question is a good one — and it doesn't have a good answer.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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