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Tobacco Road

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A while back, in response to one of my Drug articles. we received a letter from a reader who cautioned against irresponsible journalism. Let me state here that I am as irresponsible as anyone, though my writings are the result of incessant, reckless-careful research.

The letter took the Alcoholics Anonymous line of thinking, whereby we remind each other whenever possible that one addiction easily replaces another. Detox and Re-tox.

This is undoubtedly true. Many prefer a small orchestra of addictions. The question is: Who's conducting? And what fires do we play with in spite of our many burns? There's an old Harlem piano record from the 1920s with this interesting title: Got My Habits On. The reference is to clothing. Fine threads; a well-tailored suit. But I find a revealing alternate meaning in the words. We wear our habits perpetually. Even naked, one is tied to what one uses.

I'm crazy about tobacco. Wanna rub my face in it and stick some in my ears. It's frightening as hell, too, 'cause this shit kills. Nicotine is a very effective insecticide. Walk by a greenhouse and get a whiff of a nicotine bomb sometime. To go on gulping the smokable nicotine will invariably do terrible things to the user. Many of us are slowly dying of smoke inhalation. Think about it.

Think about the history of this plant. Like coca, the tobacco, indigenous to this hemisphere, now haunts the conquerors and post-conquerors. This is the true vengeance of Montezuma. Drugs which are more addictive than heroin. There was a time when Nicotiana rustica was a sacrament upon this continent. Blended with bits of bark and root, the leaves were carefully ignited in beautiful pipes, the fumes inhaled by seekers after visions, who would fall onto their backs, blinking in astonishment as spirits danced before their nicotine-glazed eyeballs.

Such a contrast today! Pale and sickly, we drink the smoke from chemical-drenched, tobacco-based dander, rolled up in flashpaper. Tobacco companies have somehow escaped the mandatory ingredient listings which appear on packaged foods and beverages. They do display cheery health warnings. One helpful message reads: Cigarette smoke contains Carbon Monoxide. Thank you! But what else do the smokes contain? Woodchips and nutshells perhaps?

When a cigarette is manufactured by today's American standards, some insane list of chemicals are employed in the process. It's astounding what's in there. Would you knowingly, willingly smoke glycerine? A humectant. Would you try it all by itself? Menthol is camphor. Am I right? Got a light?

A cigarette is really a cigarette at the moment it's HL Saltpeter is a time-honored igniting agent. It's also used to subdue the sex drive of patients in institutions. De-horning delight! It's all yours.

A cigarette must ignite instantly. It must burn evenly and slowly . How many fire retardants can you ingest through the lungs? And still live to tell about? Another more recent innovation is the treatment which causes the cigarette to emit less smoke while burning. Tremendous idea! And how many additional chemicals were necessary for this new feature?

Then there are surely the preservatives. And the flavorings! But check this out: Someone told me the companies admitted putting PCP in Kools and Newports. If this is true, we must pause a moment to savor the impact of a hallucinogenic downer being introduced into the two most popular brands in the non-white community. 

Now, back to the tangible tobacco product itself. Imported cigarettes are usually made I of tobacco and little or nothing else. And I M there's the Santa Fe E K Natural Tobacco Company in New Mexico, which offers unadulterated cigarettes and a Pow Wow mix of herbs, roots and bark strips. These are the alternatives to the heavily poisoned American brands.

Just as there are many and varied tobaccos, a walk down South University during rush hour will illustrate the diverse and inescapable selection of highly toxic fuel exhaust from internal combustion engines. Liquid fuel, be It diesel or petrol, is dangerous at the pump and dangerous out the tail pipes. I walk all over this town and those who drive give me a constant emission of deadly shit in the air.

Second-hand smoke has gotten a lot of press lately. And I recall quitting the cigs for awhile and finding myself in a room where smoke from Camel Lights, Benson & Hedges and Virginia Slims Light 100s hung in the air. In no time at all I was nauseated and had to leave.

So I'm self-conscious at times about smoking indoors. I don't really want to make anyone sick. Except, of course, myself. But that's me doing it to me. Outside, the car exhaust brings on a gagging reflex. No escape from the fumes! I have no choice but to breathe as I walk. Jogging would be aerobically fatal. What could be worse than to suffocate in toxic clouds? It depends upon which toxin, doesn't it. 

Who Is second-handing whom? And wouldn't a well-ventilated restaurant be able (see page 4)

(FROM PAGE ONE) to accomodate both smokers and non-smokers? listen to the howling of the nicotine voice within me! Will I end up wearing one of those creepy patches, or gnawing at poisoned chewing gum? Or snuff! What a life.

Whenever I get too proud as a smoker, I turn to the 1972 Consumer's Union Report on Licit and Illicit drugs. The book is not outdated, even though much of its information is from the 1 960s. This is a glowing historical ember, and the Tobacco section should be reprinted, for it is full of dynamite horrible tales. Did you know that Africans were sold into slavery by other Africans who would receive the captive's weight in tobacco? Puts an interesting and sinister cast on the leaf, doesn't it. But the truly gruesome stretch of this report is the Case of Sigmund Freud.

Maybe you've read Freud's Cocaine Papers. Maybe not. Let's Just say he was uncommonly good at documenting the intricacies of drug addiction. His tobacco habit goes down in history as one of the meanest. Because Uncle Freud liked to toke down on cigars. Twenty cigars a day, which is a lot of stogies, Jim. After years of this habit, he began to get those angina spasms, chest pains, the works. So he tried quitting. Heh heh. I think the phrase which was used was "A torture beyond human power to endure."

So back to the cigars he went. First one, then two or three, and up to twenty again. Eventually he developed a mighty case of mouth cancer, boy howdy, and had to wear a prosthetic Jaw. Still he smoked his twenty cigars a day, even though he couldn't work or even swallow. This is by no means an unusual story. It's Just intriguing coming from Freud. What, for example, would he have to say about someone with such an oral fixation? Particularly the shape of the cigar itself; Freud would've had a field day if someone else had been the patient/victim.

And now this is the part of the movie where we're at the shrine of St. Freud, martyred patron saint of all who carry the wild demon of Nicotianus within our chests. May somebody or other have mercy on our malodorous souls. Amen.


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