Q: Why did people start smoking pot in the 1960s?
A: Because they could no longer smoke tobacco.
That was the surprising new idea that occurred to me this morning. And it’s a perfectly rational explanation. For throughout the 1950s and 60s, many people had begun to believe that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and so felt that they could no longer smoke tobacco. But it was perfectly okay to smoke more or less anything else. So that’s what they did.
And what this means is that the burgeoning drug culture of the 1960s and thereafter was the product of the war on smoking. In fact it was an inevitable consequence of it.
There’s a converse conclusion that can be drawn from this. And it is that if you want to end the current drug culture, all you need do is to end the war on smoking which has been driving millions of people into using lots and lots of new (and frequently highly dangerous) drugs.
The old world – the beer & cigarettes world which was my father’s world – was a much less dangerous world than our new world, in which you’re likely to die suddenly of an overdose of some new pharmaceutical drug (e.g. opioids). For people didn’t used to die suddenly, overnight, in the old beer & cigarettes world. You could drink more or less any quantity of beer, and smoke any number of cigarettes, and the worst you’d end up with would be a bad hangover and a bit of a cough. Beer and cigarettes are the safest drugs you can consume. They’re almost impossible to overdose on. And the war on them concedes this, and instead contends that drinking beer and smoking cigarettes will eventually kill you. But a great many of today’s new drugs are very easy to overdose on, and a great many of these new drugs can easily kill you in hours, perhaps even minutes.
Which was the better world: the old world with its two well established and nearly completely harmless drugs, or the new world with its thousands of completely new and highly dangerous drugs?
Why, a hundred years or so ago, was war declared first on alcohol (during Prohibition) and then on tobacco? And why isn’t an equivalent war also being waged against the plethora of dangerous new drugs that have come in their wake? There’s a much stronger case to be made that it’s not Big Tobacco or Big Alcohol that’s killing everybody these days, but Big Pharma.
I’ve only lived through two periods of profound social division during my life. The first was Britain in the 1960s. And the second was Britain after the smoking ban of 1 July 2007. I used to think they were completely unrelated to each other. But this morning I’ve seen how they may well be very closely related, and that the one was very likely the parent of the other.
For if during the 1960s we saw one consequence of the war on smoking – as millions of people switched from tobacco to pot -, then in 2007 we saw the intensification of the same long war on smoking. Back in the 1960s it was the pot-smoking hippies who received the attention of the law, but in 2007 it was the tobacco smokers who received that attention. The law was directed first one way, and then the other.
It also seems true that while much of the progressive left smokes pot, the conservative right (e.g. Rush Limbaugh) smokes tobacco. Your politics is defined by what you smoke. You are what you smoke. And I arguably became something of a conservative when I started smoking roll-ups in 1974, and have remained one ever since. In fact I became far more conservative after the 2007 smoking ban.
Again, I’m primarily anti-EU because the EU is antismoking – something I only found out in 2010. Up until then I had been fairly pro-EU. And if I tend to see the current rise in anti-EU populism in Europe as a revolt by 150 million European smokers against the antismoking EU, I may well be more accurate than I imagine. For what smoker would want to belong to the antismoking EU?
In fact, I see the entire global revolt against globalisation as the revolt of smokers all over the world against global Tobacco Control. Isn’t it remarkable that the populist Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini all happen to be smokers? If you are a smoker, and you see someone light up a cigarette, you immediately know a lot about that person, even before they’ve opened their mouth to speak. If I was a French smoker, I’d vote for Marine Le Pen because she was a smoker like me. I’d trust that fact about her above anything she might say.
But I tend to see things in unusual ways. So I’m not surprised if nobody sees it all the same that I do.