by Kerry Joyce
illustration by Greg Blue
Well, the Ministry of, chomp chomp chomp, subsidizing that which is good, chomp chomp chomp, and taxing that which is bad, chomp chomp, has done it again, chomp chomp. They’ve raised the tax on tobacco in Massachewsetts, chomp chomp chomp, for the third time in less than two years by sixty five cents in total, to be exact chomp chomp. More than what a whole pack would cost if, chomp chomp, tobacco had just the usual 5 percent sales tax.
But I’m fighting back. Chomp chomp chomp. Not just because the money from the tax is earmarked to give health insurance to poor children, chomp chomp chomp, an unworthy cause if ever there was one, but because I’m sick of all the attackers of cigarette smoking in general. Their numbers are legion, more legion than the number of actual smokers at this point.
I’m not giving up my love affair with Lady Nicotine though, chomp chomp chomp, not by a long shot. No way baby. We’re just heading out of Marlboro Country and, chomp chomp chomp, checking in to the ol’ Nicorette Motel.
It’s actually the new and improved Nicorette Motel, although not quite as improved as it could be. Up until a few months ago, you had to make an appointment with someone who had at least eight years of college and a prescription pad, just to get your consumptive mitts on a tab of nicotine-laced chewing gum. Unless you had a friend in the free nations of Canada, or Mexico, or something.
But now, anybody over 18 whose wheezing black lesioned lungs can still fog up a mirror can get their nicotine candy, I mean, uh, medicine gum, without a prescription. And the price has come down some too, now that the members of the American Medical Association have been cut out of the deal.
Of course, you still have to fork over sixty bucks for 96 sticks. That’s about sixty cents per piece for you Gen X’ers without a calculator handy. One piece is equivalent to maybe two cigarettes. In other words, for the price of a hit of blotter acid, you can keep yourself wired on nicotine for 10-12 hours instead. Take that, pusher man!
I paid for my personal box of Nicorette with a crisp one hundred dollar bill. This was quite disconcerting for the CVS pharmacist, which came as a surprise to me. You’d think someone who sells 96 little squares of gum for sixty bucks would be fairly familiar with Ben Franklin, both the little and the new, improved Big Ben versions. But no, she had to hold the C-Note up to the light, frown at Ben for a few seconds, and check out his backside. She accepted my legal tender at last, although it was much tougher than it would’ve been with your average marijuana dealer, legal drug dealers being a lot more cynical than the illegal variety these days.
According to scientists, including those at Phillip Morris, nicotine is a drug that is very similar to cocaine in its actions upon the brain. It is generally agreed upon that people smoke more for what it does for their mind than for what it does for their mouth.
Like caffeine, nicotine creates powerful physiological changes in the body, even more powerful than marijuana, at least in the way we’re accustomed to measuring such things. The difference is that people who alter their state of consciousness with marijuana are considered intoxicated and impaired, while those who jump start their brains with caffeine or even nicotine, are tolerated because if anything, it increases their ability to get to work on time, and be productive, cheerful citizens.
The primary difference between nicotine and caffeine on the one hand, and cocaine and amphetamines on the other, is that nicotine and caffeine will make you feel sick if you try using them to get really high. The side effects of these legal drugs work as a built in brake on their use as intoxicants.
But why the attack on nicotine and not caffeine? Because nicotine is generally smoked, which can be annoying for non-smokers and because smoking cigarettes by the pack or more a day is one of the worst things you can do to your body, even if it does provide some mildly pleasant benefits.
The problem with nicotine then, is not the drug itself but the mode of transmission of the drug – the smoke.
But smoking is not the only way to imbibe nicotine. As anyone who has watched a major league baseball game or worked as a rest room attendant at a truck stop has observed, you can also chew tobacco. But chewing tobacco, while not as dangerous as smoking, may lead to horrible, disfiguring, deadly mouth cancers.
Without a prescription, you can now also get the patch, which injects nicotine under your skin where it works its way into your blood stream. Chewing nicotine gum, like chewing tobacco, results in the nicotine being absorbed into the blood stream through the thin layer of skin inside the mouth and then into all those veins in there.
Also available is nicotine spray, which works like snuff. You inhale it through the nose. It has the advantage of giving you more of the lift or “high” of cigarette smoking, something you miss with the gum, but at this point, you still have to get nicotine spray through a local shaman certified by the American Medical Association (an M.D.) who can write you out a prescription after providing you with a little “counseling.”
Currently, nicotine gum and “the patch” are strictly marketed as stop smoking techniques, and decidedly not as alternatives to smoking. The company that makes Nicorette claims to want no repeat customers. If, after you’ve chewed a 12 week supply, you’re still jonesin’ for more gum or an honest to God cigarette, the booklet that comes with the gum advises you to “see your doctor.”
Despite the fact that nicotine is a powerfully addictive drug, and that hundreds of thousands of people are chewing Nicorette to stop, is there anyone who doubts that all across America the following scenario is not taking place:
“Hello I’d like to make an appointment with the doctor.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
“I just finished my twelve week supply of Nicorette, and I’m having an irresistible urge to buy more.”
Probably the nicotine gum makers are just afraid of the safety Nazis at the FDA, who made Ragu take the word “natural” off of their spaghetti sauce jars five years ago because the mushrooms inside were heat treated, and also took into protective custody a fat free cooking oil with the trade name “Heartbeat,” four year ago because the FDA feared people might starting drinking the stuff straight from the bottle for their heart conditions.
But you can’t keep a good (already legal) drug down, especially if it helps get people through the petty frustrations involved with commuting, consuming, and employment. Especially one that, in some forms, has fewer serious health risks than charcoal broiled hamburger or gourmet ice cream.
So someday soon you’ll probably see a TV commercial with a couple of former Miss Teen Swedens riding horses on a beach, chewing tasty, delicious Nicorette, (“Comes in five delicious flavors for today’s active lifestyles.”). They might even coyly imply that Nicorette is even better than cigarettes after sex. Don’t you believe it.
But until then, see your pharmacist for the mung-flavored stuff. Save time and bring lots of twenties.