After World War II, most people in developed countries smoked cigarettes. Doctors were irresponsibly promoting this harmful practice, because they smoked. Offices, entertainment venues and aeroplanes were designed for smokers only.
Despite the mounting evidence that smoking caused lung cancer, nothing was done by policymakers to restrict the use of cigarettes. However, the evidence could not be ignored forever.
In 1964, the US Surgeon General finally reported that smoking was harmful to smokers. This led to warning labels being required on cigarette packaging. In 1969, the US banned cigarette ads on TV and radio.
While the US government was trying to save smokers from themselves, there was no relief for non-smokers until 1971. That was when airline stewardesses’ complaints resulted in no-smoking sections of some planes.
When booking flights in the 1980s, I would hope that there was space in the limited no-smoking section. However, I was normally forced to travel in the smoking section and tolerate the toxic second-hand smoke.
In the 1990s, the link between second-hand smoke and lung cancer could no longer be ignored, so there were restrictions for smoking in government buildings. By the 2000s, these restrictions were upgraded to bans, including on many international flights.
The World Health Organization finally recognised that tobacco smoke caused death, disease and disability in smokers. It also accepted that pregnant mothers, who were exposed to tobacco smoke, could cause health and development problems for their children. So the UN was forced to act.
In 2003, the UN’s World Health Assembly adopted an international treaty, to protect all persons on this planet, including the unborn, from exposure to tobacco smoke. Barbados signed that treaty in 2004 and ratified it in 2005.
Barbados agreed to implement policies to protect all people from tobacco smoke in indoor spaces and other public spaces. The long battle had been won, but the price was very high. Approximately half of smokers died from smoking related diseases.
Last week, we decided that our youth must not only learn history from their textbooks. Instead, we would do a NIFCA play re-enacting some of the worst parts of our history. We decided to show them how a past set of policymakers deceived a generation of unsuspecting people that smoking was not harmful.
The problem is that our policymakers forgot that they were only supposed to be playing the lunatic. Our parliamentarians seemed to have lost control of their minds. There was no debate in Parliament, only lawyers trying to present weak closing arguments to themselves.
They passed a Bill allowing any group that calls itself Rasta, to receive a permit to grow and smoke marijuana. They have decided that there will be no checking of who is or is not a Rasta when issuing the permits. They justified this position by claiming that the Government does not investigate who is or is not a pastor before registering churches.
The lunacy of this argument is glaring. Pastors are not registering to do anything illegal. However, the Bill allows Rastas to legally do something that is illegal for the rest of us.
To declare that no investigations will be done, means that any group of Barbadians can legally grow and smoke marijuana. They just have to call themselves a Rastafarian group and get a permit.
This makes the political promise of a referendum before legalizing marijuana a farce.
It is proven that marijuana smoke has the same or higher concentrations of poisons, and that smoke is not healthy for anyone’s lungs or heart, including Rastas. It does not magically become healthy just because a set of politicians say that it is.
It took about 80 years of struggle, with millions of unnecessary and horrible deaths, before policymakers would act. Policymakers deemed their lives expendable, as each death was simply added to the rest until the number was statistically important enough to report a strong link.
Now we must now start all over again, just because policymakers want proof that marijuana smoke is more dangerous than tobacco smoke. We have learnt nothing from the millions who have died from tobacco smoke. Despite the fact that smoking cigarettes is still the leading cause of preventable death in the US, we are not convinced.
We want to count deaths from marijuana smokers. Not any marijuana smokers, Barbadian marijuana smokers. We have now deemed the lives of our Rasta citizens expendable. We are not trying to protect them from themselves, as we should have done for the smokers of cigarettes. Instead, we are encouraging them to smoke, deceiving them that it is not harmful when we know full well that it is.
The obvious solution is to allow users to dilute marijuana to safe concentrations, and drink it as we drink tea. That does not introduce smoke in the user’s lungs, and does not harm the health of the users’ neighbours. The problem with that simple approach is that it does not satisfy the cry for blood.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and President of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected]