It is very sad to contemplate that the ancient Sumerians (the guys who probably invented beer) and the Mayans (the guys who first smoked tobacco) may have had more civil rights than our “enlightened” society is destined to have.
Why such a depressing thought? Well, a new British study designed to rank drugs in terms of their harm to society found:
New “landmark” research finds that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than some illegal drugs like marijuana or Ecstasy and should be classified as such in legal systems, according to a new British study.
Maybe I’m overreacting. Are they really talking about restricting alcohol and tobacco as if they were drugs?
Nutt hopes that the research will provoke debate within the UK and beyond about how drugs – including socially acceptable drugs such as alcohol – should be regulated. While different countries use different markers to classify dangerous drugs, none use a system like the one proposed by Nutt’s study, which he hopes could serve as a framework for international authorities.
“The rankings also suggest the need for better regulation of the more harmful drugs that are currently legal, i.e. tobacco and alcohol,” wrote Wayne Hall, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, in an accompanying Lancet commentary. Hall was not involved with Nutt’s paper.
And there you have it. Humanity has imbibed alcohol for something like 12,000 years and has smoked tobacco for about 3000 years. Somehow, despite our lack of social scientists, addiction researchers, and addiction counselors, we survived. And somehow, even without the benefit of modern science, people were able to recognize the dangers of drinking and smoking to excess.
Take William Hogarth’s famous “Beer Street” and “Gin Lane” engravings, for instance. Produced in 1751, they showed the dangers of over-indulgence in gin, as opposed to the gentle enjoyment of beer.
|Beer Street||Gin Lane|
Temperance movements began in Victorian England in the 1830′s and in the United States shortly before the Civil War. Similarly, concern over health issues associated with smoking were published in Lancet in 1858. Calling cigarettes “cancer sticks” started in 1959.
The dangers of excess are nothing new, and mankind has wrestled successfully with those dangers for millennia. If anything, the relative rankings of the British study should lead us to legalize substances which are currently restricted. After all, they’re supposedly less harmful than substances we’ve enjoyed throughout recorded history.
But that’s never the direction the nanny state takes, is it.
[Touched it up a little at 9:25 pm MDT]