Let’s see, which of my views on addiction is least popular? That most heroin, cocaine, and crack users don’t become addicted, and only a small minority of addicts remain addicted? That most alcoholics reduce their drinking over their life spans? That most smokers, alcoholics, and drug addicts recover without treatment? I know – that reducing smoking is possible and healthy (that is, healthier than not reducing it).
Recent presidents have been a boon for my crazy views – George W. quit drinking and smoking on his own (okay, with a religious epiphany). Barack Obama quit his early drug use when he got serious about life. Now, Barack is tackling the biggest taboo of all – cutting out his cigarette addiction but not quitting smoking altogether!
Last Sunday Tom Brokaw grilled Obama on Meet the Press about his furtive smoking. Obama answered that he had quit, but that he falls off the wagon sometimes. Brokaw pounced: “Then you still smoke!” Obama replied, “I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier.”
C’mon, we all recognize denial when we see it – and it ain’t a river in Egypt.
On the other hand, casual smoking is customary around the world – but you know how ignorant those Europeans are about addiction! In America, we know that casual smoking is impossible – we watch Oprah, for chrissake!
Let’s talk about the overall smoking picture first, beginning with the young. The data I reviewed in Addiction-Proof Your Child is that smoking has declined among high schoolers, from about three quarters in the nineties who had ever smoked to about a half now, from a third who smoked regularly to a quarter.
Meanwhile, youthful smokers are like other addicts. Among those ages 18-22, 30 percent of full-time college students smoke cigarettes compared with 45 percent in that age group who don’t attend college, even though you might assume that attending college produces more stress. Education and career success (and families) curtail addictions – one more reason to encourage kids to pursue educations and careers.
But what about Obama – he’s well educated, has a pretty good career(!), and has a lovely family. Is it possible that some of those with good overall control of their lives due to education, social support, and career success are able to control their smoking?
The data show that cutting back smoking or smoking occasionally is possible, and it does improve your health. Adolescents and college students are still exposed to smoking. Between 1980 and 2004, just as many college students smoked in the past year (36% in 1980; 37% in 2004) and about the same in the past month (24% in 1980; 26% in 2004) compared with a quarter century ago.
But contemporary college students who smoke do so less intensively – about half as many (7%) smoke a half pack or more of cigarettes daily today as did so in 1980 (13%). Most smoke less. Of course, smoking any number of cigarettes regularly is harmful; but smoking fewer cigarettes is less harmful – and potentially life saving over time. That more young people seem to be able to smoke casually instead of addictively is good.
Or, at least that’s what Barack Obama’s example and statements would indicate. Barack Obama is obviously a great believer in harm reduction - of reducing addictive drug habits to less dangerous levels. Thank goodness, since this means he would never pick some all-or-nothing, disease advocate, zero-tolerance, 12-step nut to be his drug czar!