To ban or not to ban

By Edith Morgan

Is there anyone still left who does not know about the health risks of smoking cigarettes? The dangers of nicotine addiction? The danger to children breathing in second-hand smoke and the risk of fire from discarded cigarette butts?

I am assuming that, amid all the test-taking practice in our schools, our students are still yearly warned about, and informed of, the risks in smoking. So our young should be properly informed and hopefully convinced that smoking is not only not cool, but stupid, dangerous, and unhealthy.

It is always a temptation to ban things, to restrict their use, to try to keep the addicts away from their various fixes – and to make their use illegal, with stiff penalties , fines, and jail. And how well has that worked, and how well is it working. And how well will it work in the future?

If our children were getting a good dose of history, they would all know how disastrous our experiment with Prohibition turned out: Not only did it not reduce the amount of alcohol/drunkenness, but it made criminals of many people, and created powerful and rich crime syndicates. Ordinary citizens were making “hooch” in their bathtubs, and addicts were driven to crime and prostitution to pay for their illegal drinks.

We have had the same experience with other drugs – legal or illegal – and new ones are added to the list continuously. Our world is full of natural and artificial substances which are mind-altering and/or addictive , at least for some people. And addicts will always be driven to find more such substances – in the woods, the fields, from their doctors, from their friends – anywhere.

Every so often I ask, out of  the blue, of anyone I meet “If heroin (or whatever drug is in the news at the moment) were available everywhere at a nickel a bag, how much would you buy?” The answer is always NONE. We all can purchase so many things, and don’t do so. But most of us are not addicts, and are not attracted to drugs, no matter what the price.  But true addictive persons are a different story, and the price is irrelevant: they will pay whatever it costs, to get their hands on their fix of choice.

From so many years of experience as a school teacher, I have noticed that some children are at risk of becoming addicts: they form habits quickly, which may be an advantage in some areas, but which makes addiction much easier.

If we could identify those students, as early as first grade, or even Kindergarten, and warn them, watch them, and teach them how to resist, I believe we would be well on the way to reducing our number of active addicts.

We will never be fully free of addictive persons – but at least we can give them the weapons to resist and make better choices. It beats punitive measures, which have shown time and again that they do not reduce the number of addicts in the population, but are so very costly.