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Letter From The Editor: The Lost Art of Smoking

It’s occurred to me that maybe this is all about the demise of smoking skills.

It use to be that even those of us who did not smoke cigarettes knew how to do it. Learning  to smoke was just one of those necessary social skills you picked up  in about the sixth grade even if you had no intention of making it a habit.

It is why Bill Clinton made us all laugh when he said he’d tried marijuana, but did not inhale. But with the historic drop in cigarette smoking—from about half the population after World War II to less than 18 percent today, it is totally believable that someone does not know how to inhale. It’s a learned skill that’s no longer being encouraged or even taught.

And it may explain why there’s been such a boom in the popularity of foods infused with marijuana in Colorado—almost half of the legal pot sales being rung up are not for something you smoke, but something you eat. Many people don’t know how to smoke anymore, and that’s a good thing,

The lack of smoking skills is likely a contributing factor to the popularity of edible marijuana, which  accounts for 47.5 percent of Colorado’s newly legal pot sales. The state’s powerful Marijuana industry Group—think of that one as the chamber of commerce for recreational pot—says Colorado’s existing strong medical marijuana sales dating back to 2009 are also driving consumer choices.

In a few days, Colorado will become the first state in modern history to complete an entire year’s worth of legal marijuana sales. It’s been an experience unprecedented since Prohibition ended.  It’s not all coming out as predicted—the state cut its estimate for total marijuana tax collections by about $ 20 million.

But as an economic development tool, legal marijuana is hitting its mark and that high percentage of edibles is the main driver.  About 90 new or fairly new food manufacturing companies, mostly based in Denver, are turning out around 300 edible marijuana products.

Marijuana is infused in foods by turning it into the hash oil concentrate and mixing with other more typical ingredients. It’s a creative industry that’s getting pretty expansive. No one is making marijuana infused baby food yet, but just about everything else is on the list.

Everybody expects candy, cookies, cakes, browns, and snacks, but how about sauces for pizza or that next order of take-out wings? Thirsty? How about some marijuana infused root beer or maybe a cappuccino? Or maybe some grape, cherry, lemonade, or fruit punch in powdered form to take camping?

The recipe combinations are only limited by imagination. And there are no limits or testing on potency either. It’s not only buyer beware on strength but there’s also been no testing for contaminants (i.e. pathogens), pesticides, molds etc.

It’s left some of these infused products with potencies greater than advertised, making over-dosing possible, and some (consumer fraud?) weaker. “It’s like buying a bottle of whisky and ending up with a wine cooler,” a Denver TV station said after doing independent testing with the newspaper, USA Today.

This leaves Colorado with some questions at the end of year one. What about the children? And, where’s the state and local health departments? With so many infused marijuana products and with such iffy doses, these are the problems being dumped into the legislative hopper next month.

An industry-dominated stakeholder’s group could not come to agreement on how the 89 edible manufacturers could mark their products in a uniform manner so everyone would know they are not for children, or to how they might achieve more uniform results. As suppliers to 292 retail marijuana stores in the state accounting for almost half the revenue coming in, the industry fears messing with the edible manufacturers.

State and local health departments were cut out of their normal food safety roles by the voter initiative that placed all regulatory power over marijuana in the state Department of Revenue. It’s a joke to have the same regulatory agency that is promoting —you might even say marketing—marijuana also be charged with the safety of its food products. And the pot growers pay these  ”all purpose”  state regulators via fees.

Colorado’s health regulators have been relegated to being just another group of stakeholders when the Department of Revenue decides to invite them to the party. If there are any bright lights in the Colorado Legislature, they will start by correcting that little situation.  Child proofing the edibles will be easy after that one.

Food Safety News

Poor Dietary Habits Killing More Than Smoking

More exercise is not cutting into the nation’s high obesity levels, and unwise diets are killing more people than about anything else—including smoking, drinking and drug use. Those are among the findings of a new study by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

The independent research center rolled out its findings last week at a “Let’s Move” event hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. The report, with its interactive county-by-county assessments of life expectancy, physical activity, obesity and blood pressure, continues to attract attention.

In the study, the IHME identified the top ten risk factors for health loss in 2010 and the number of deaths attributable to each one. Here are the death totals by risk:

Diets                                               678,282

Smoking                                        465,651

High Blood Pressure                  442,656

High Body Mass Index              363,991

Physical Inactivity                      234,022

High Blood Sugar                       213,669

High Total Cholesterol             158,431

Ambient Air Pollution              103,027

Alcohol Use                                  88,587

Drug Use                                       25,430

“If the U.S. can make progress with dietary factors, physical activity, and obesity, it will see massive reductions in death and disability,” says Ali Mokdad, who heads the county health performance team at IHME. “Unhealthy diets and a lack of physical activity in the U.S. cause more health loss than alcohol or drug use.”

Diet, however, is a large cut-out. IHME tracks 14 dietary risk factors, including diets low in fruits, diets low in nuts and seeds, diets high in sodium, diets high in processed meats, diets low in vegetables, diets high in trans fatty acids, diets low in seafood omega-3 fatty acids, diets low in whole grains, diets low in fiber, diets high in sugar-sweetened beverages, diets low in polyunsaturated fatty acids, diets low in calcium, diets low in milk and diets high in red meat.

Americans upped their physical activity by about 15 percent in the decade ending in 2010. Still, deaths due to lack of physical activity is ranked as 5th highest.

Christopher J. L. Murray, director of IHME, says the study shows communities can make progress in addressing risk factors and in moving towards health outcomes. That message lines up nicely with Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

The study, titled “The State of US Health, 1990-2010: Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors,” is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Food Safety News