Picking Our Poison

Much has been made of the recent poll where claiming that Americans think sugar a more harmful substance than marijuana:

They left off Americans' other paralyzing fear: gluten

In Washington State, where all four polled substances are perfectly legal, it's a matter of picking our poison, I suppose. Looking at the actual question posed by the pollsters, "Which of the following substances would you say is the MOST harmful to a person’s overall health?" I wouldn't say these figures reveal much at all. After all, the respondents had to pick ONE substance, not rank them. Which makes me wonder who on earth actually believes sugar is more deadly than tobacco? I'm no sugar proponent (besides loving the stuff, as just about everyone does), but even I think tobacco will kill you faster than sugar. Especially since tobacco can kill you second- and thirdhand, but, as far as I'm aware, no one has died from watching other people pack away the Blizzards and deep-fried Twinkies (secondhand sugar), or from being in a place where such things were consumed and left residue (thirdhand sugar).

The 15% who chose sugar might have been reacting to sugar's ubiquitousness. According to the CDC, American smoking rates stand at "18.1% of all adults (42.1 million people): 20.1% of males, 14.5% of females." Still a high rate to be sure, but nowhere near the 71.4% of Americans who consume more than the "recommended" 10% of their daily calories from sugar. Sugar responders may also have been acknowledging that tobacco doesn't need anyone's help to be villainized nowadays--no one is going to argue that it's harmless in moderation, as the food industry insists with sugar.

And, of course, American acknowledgement of a substance's dangers are not necessarily correlated to our consumption levels, especially where addiction is concerned. Is sugar addictive? Some would argue so. From my own Sugar-Free January experiments I would agree that it's best to go cold turkey and wait for the cravings to go away. Moderation doesn't always pay off--rather it can draw out the process. But, other than thinking about sugary foods and lusting over them, there aren't any side effects to quitting, as there are with addictive drugs like tobacco and caffeine.

The lack of people choosing marijuana as the Most Harmful tells me more about the per capita usage than about its real or perceived dangers. According to a recent Gallup poll, although 38% of Americans have admitted to trying it, only 7% actually use it regularly. Much lower than tobacco, alcohol, or sugar.

What can we say? Living is hazardous to your health. Ask those in Beijing, who regularly deal with smog levels equivalent to smoking 21 cigarettes a day. If those folks throw back a couple beers and a slice of birthday cake, they're toast. They may need the fourth horseman, marijuana, just to relax from all that environmental degradation.

One rule of thumb we might consider is to avoid anything that even gets added to national polls as a potential harmful substance. You'll never find broccoli on that list. Or sweet potatoes. Or garlic.

Is it Market season yet?