Saturday, April 4, 2009


Want to know how most kids get into drugs? No, it's not the dark character lurking around your playground, nor is it the stupefying collection of pills in your medicine cabinet. And though it's probable that your kids stole a beer or two from the fridge when you weren't looking, the real culprit is nicotine, as in tobacco, as in cigarettes, as in snuff.

Nicotine is an amazing drug, a depressant and a stimulant operating at the same time, with a half-life of roughly two hours. (The half-life of a drug--any drug, legal or not--is the time it takes for a substance to lose half of its pharmacological or physiologic presence in the bloodstream.) For a smoker, this means that he or she will begin to "detox" within minutes from the nicotine just absorbed by smoking and will very soon want another cigarette. This is what eventually leads to a two-pack-a-day habit. By comparison, the THC found in marijuana, has a half-life of is 4.3 days on average.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs known to man, and some former smokers and heroin addicts will tell you it was harder to ditch tobacco than to stop heroin. And of course, though tolerance for smoking is eroding, cigarettes are tacitly endorsed by society. Additionally, cigarettes are readily available, and the punishment for purchasing them if you are underage is non-existent. This in itself is an interesting psychological phenomenon: a kid illegally purchasing and smoking cigarettes will not get reprimanded. Instead, he'll get the message that his actions were benign, tolerated and perhaps even vaguely amusing. This will reinforce the immature belief that the purchase and use of other drugs--marijuana and cocaine, for example, will not be punished either.

Since the Civil War, tobacco products have been subject to federal, state and occasionally local sin taxes, and such taxes have proven themselves over the years as being excellent deterrents to purchasing cigarettes. When your habit begins to cost several dollars a day, you start thinking about all the nice things you could buy with the money spent to poison your lungs. The sin tax applied by the feds on each pack of cigarettes has just risen from 39 cents to $1.01 and authorities hope this will save an estimated 900,000 lives and stop 2 million kids from lighting up. States taxes vary--$2.025 a pack in Washington states and 17 cents in Missouri. Care to guess which state has the most smokers?

We will not make cigarettes illegal, but we can limit their use by taxation. The same is true of alcohol. What if all drugs were legalized and taxed? Think of the windfall...

Here's installment 77 of Wasted Miracles.

He thought she looked haggard, her eyes were old and her lips made one thin line. She was wearing jeans and a short leather jacket and her hair was disarrayed. Marsha smiled, said, “You two have got a lot to talk about,” and left the room.
Catherine lit a cigarette, sank into a large armchair that Colin knew was Orin’s favorite piece of indoor furniture. “Thank you.”
Colin shook his head. “Not necessary.”
There was a long moment empty of words during which they avoided each others’ gaze
“I’m sorry about Joe. I can’t tell you how much.” She drew deeply on the cigarette, exhaled. “I wish I’d known him better.”
Colin saw she was near tears, couldn’t move.
“And I know about... you. Marsha told me. I guess I can understand it, but I’m not sure. I can’t tell what was in your mind.” She exhaled again. “But I wish you’d called me.”
“I didn’t really think that was a wise idea, and you had other things to worry about. Anyway, I wanted to be by myself. I figured if I was going to relapse, I’d be my own best company.”
She nodded. “Yeah. That, I can understand. I don’t imagine I’d want to take a drink with AA friends around.”
The conversation wavered, stopped. Finally, Colin asked, “Josie?”
Catherine sighed. “Hooked. Angry. Cries a lot. Wants a fix. Doesn’t want a fix. Can’t figure out why it happened to her. Right now she’s really pissed off at God, but that’ll pass. She’ll be OK. Marsha and I put her in the ARC yesterday. Funny, isn’t it, how things turn out? She’s where you and I were when we rehabed. Orin knows some people there, he pulled strings. She looking at 28 days at a minimum, maybe more.” Catherine looked up, met Colin’s eyes.
“She’s not too clear on what happened. Doesn’t remember most of it, though she says she’s been having nightmares about gunshots, like people are shooting at her. I told her you’d gotten her out but she doesn’t know who you are. I didn’t tell her about Joe. I figured that was news she could live without.” She paused, canted her head. “She wants to see you, to thank you, I guess.”
“How’s Lars handling it?”
She smiled without humor. “It’s be hard to tell he’s her father. He’s relieved, of course, but not for the right reasons. Mostly he wanted to know if the police had been involved; I told him no, that it was all your doing. That made him happy. Or relatively happy... It was the best of two bad choices, you or the police. He doesn’t like you much, you know that, but now he’s indebted. He doesn’t like that much either.”
She found an ashtray, ground the cigarette out. “Jesus, he’s such a freak of nature. I don’t think there’s ever been a man born with less parental feelings. He’s kind of hinted that when Josie gets out of the ARC, he wants her out of the house too.” She fumbled in her purse for another cigarette, for a lighter. “I’m seriously thinking of filing for divorce, Colin. I can’t take him anymore, and me and Josie would better off living by ourselves. I could take care of her more than I have been.”
Colin suddenly felt the conversation was taking a dangerous curve, getting away from him. He pictured Catherine, Josie and himself in a small apartment, saw himself fleetingly as if in a mirror. “You don’t have a job, Catherine. Making ends meet, it’s tough.”
She shook her head. “I don’t care. That house, it’s a mausoleum. I never liked it, ever. I’d get money out of him, I know I could. And I’m not that dumb, you know. I can work. Do something at the mall; real estate. I could take courses and get trained. Pretty much anything would be better than staying there with him. This last thing with Josie... You know, he hasn’t even gone to see her yet.”
Colin remembered that when he and Catherine had first found each other, when they’d lain naked and embarrassed on his futon, he’d wondered if there might be anything long-lasting, perhaps even permanent. The notion had scared him. He said, “I’ll do anything I can to help.”
She nodded but a frown remained on her face. “So. Visiting hours at the ARC are over for today. I’ll pick you up at your place tomorrow. Ten in the morning. You be sober, hear me? One person in my life falling out is all I can handle at a time.”

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