The U.S. Senate made history a couple of weeks ago when senators, recognizing that smoking tobacco can kill you, voted overwhelmingly to give federal regulators new power to limit nicotine in cigarettes. Nearly half a million people die from smoking, at a cost of about $100 billion, every year. Do you think this new legislation means people will stop smoking? Of course not, it will only change how we deliver the addiction…and it’s already begun.
Say hello to the new, tobacco-free, nicotine delivery system the electronic or e-cigarette. The e-cigarette is the newest online marketing sensation; hundreds of thousands of people are flocking to the internet to buy them. The e-cigarette looks like a real cigarette, except it’s battery operated. You can buy a starter kit for $100-$150 which includes the cigarette and replaceable cartridges that contain nicotine (in varying strengths), flavoring (tobacco, menthol, cherry), and propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is used to create artificial smoke or fog in theatrical productions. It’s also a food moisturizer, industrial solvent and antifreeze. When the user inhales on the e-cigarette, a sensor heats up the vaporizing chamber which produces the smoke and delivers the nicotine.
Is inhaling propylene glycol healthy for you? The FDA say’s it’s generally recognized as safe as an additive to foods, but they have no idea about whether it’s safe to inhale. The marketers are selling the idea that it’s a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. They say e-cigarettes deliver nothing more than nicotine and water vapor, and there are no carcinogens. But will inhaling propylene glycol lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease? Or will high doses of nicotine in your body have any long-term genetic effects? Nobody knows.
This new legislation will legitimize a new industry that delivers nicotine without tobacco. This is the scenario: pharmaceutical companies will finance massive advertising to encourage television viewers to see their doctors because they may be experiencing depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, irritability, and maybe even murderous rage. The ad will tell you to ask your doctor if “drug X” is right for you (side effects may include dependency, lung disease, genetic abnormalities, autoimmune disease, depression, suicide in children, and should not be taken during pregnancy).
The best way to treat an addiction is to find a way to turn whatever you’re addicted to into a teaching. Whatever it is that is stringing you out has something to teach you. But once you’ve learned the lesson, you can move on. If you can’t feel good without depending on a drug, then it’s doing you — you’re not doing it.
We have to come to addictive substances as sacraments; if you can’t use them sacramentally, don’t use them at all. The Jews used wine as a sacrament, but were not alcoholics. Native Americans used tobacco in the same sacramental way: a sacred plant, smoked together in a circle in a sacred pipe. As part of the ceremony, a blessing is given, “Thank you for the gift of sharing our life breath as we come together in this sacred circle with one heart, one tongue and one breath. I say thank you for all my relations.” The pipe gets passed around the circle, everyone gets several puffs and then passes it on, and it only comes around once.
That’s tobacco as sacrament. A sacrament requires ceremony — the creation of a special time and place, with a ritual of meaning. When you can just knock out a cigarette from the pack and do it 20-40 times a day, you are no longer appreciating its holiness, it’s an addiction.
I say no to e-cigarettes because they feed nicotine addiction. If you can’t come to smoking as a ceremony, stop doing it. Recognize the teaching that there are some things before which you stand powerless, and let it go.