HHS: 8,300 Words About the Dangers of Tobacco Smoking, But Not a Single Word About Pot Smoking

By Susan Jones | January 20, 2014 | 11:42 AM EST

A marijuana smoker (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - "We're still a country very much addicted to tobacco," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told a news conference last Friday, as she urged communities, schools and businesses to "help make the next generation a tobacco-free generation."

A transcript of that news conference runs around 8,300 words, but there isn't a single word about the adverse health effects of marijuana smoking -- even as more states jump on the pot-legalization bandwagon.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana smoke is an irritant to the lungs, and "frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers."

Even the Surgeon General has issued a warning on marijuana, calling it a "major public health problem in the United States."

The Surgeon-General lists the "known or suspected" effects of pot smoking, including short-term memory impairment or slowness of learning; impaired lung function similar to that found in cigarette smokers, including cancer and other lung disease following extended use; reproductive problems; impaired immune response; and possible adverse effects on heart function.

Even President Obama admitted that pot smoking is a "bad idea" in an interview published in the latest issue of The New Yorker: "As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol."

Obama added, "It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy."

In addition to the unhealthful consequences of cigarette smoking, Sebelius last Friday mentioned the economic consequences of tobacco use: She pointed to a report showing that for every pack of cigarettes smoked in Oregon, state residents pay an estimated $13 in lost productivity and medical expenses.

She called for "an all-hands-on-deck approach" to stop kids from smoking. "We need the partnership of the business community, of local elected officials, of the academic community, the medical community, nonprofit organizations, the faith community and of committed health advocates and citizens in communities across the country."

Assistant HHS Secretary Howard Koh, appearing at the news conference with Sebelius, slammed the tobacco companies for selling what has always been a legal product. He called it "unacceptable and intolerable" that tobacco marketing efforts have "succeeded in creating a society where tobacco use is the social norm, thereby leading to devastating consequences."

But under President Obama, marijuana smoking also is becoming a social norm.

Although the drug is illegal under federal law, President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder has applied prosecutorial discretion to states that have legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

In an August 2013 memo to the states, the Justice Department said it would use its "limited investigative and prosecutorial resources to address the most significant threats," including preventing the distribution of pot to minors, preventing drugged driving, and preventing other gang and criminal activity involved in the drug trade.

This past Sunday, The Los Angeles Times reported that 2014 "is shaping up to be one of the marijuana movement's strongest ever," with two states legalizing recreational marijuana use and five other states, including California and Florida, gathering signatures for marijuana ballot initiatives.

"Marijuana legalization has gone from an abstract concept to a mainstream issue to a political reality within a three-year period," the newspaper quoted Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, as saying.

As Sebelius said on Friday about tobacco use: "And the question is really, what kind of a country do we want to leave our children and grandchildren? Because when I think of where we can be, I see a country where smoking is no longer considered in vogue for young people. I see a future where our kids are not burning through hundreds of billions of dollars each year as an economy due to tobacco use. A future where millions of moms and dads and sons and daughters and nieces and nephews aren't lost before their time. Now, I can tell you, that's a future that this president, President Obama, sees as well. And it's a future within our grasp if we're willing to work together to make it so."