Every so often the media needs to sound the alarm about a new drug that's corrupting the youth of the nation. In the summer of 1967, that drug was the periwinkle plant. The entire scare was based on one group of teenagers in Florida who experimented with the plant, but still it generated plenty of headlines.
Can smoking periwinkle actually get you high? Probably. Over at erowid.org there are some reports of people experimenting with it. Though despite the scare of 1967, it never caught on as a popular drug.
Dr. George Dame, a health officer in Manatee County, warned that periwinkle could have all kinds of unpleasant side effects (such as "withering of muscle tissue") because periwinkle is the source of some drugs (vinblastine and vincristine) used in chemotherapy. However, an expert on those drugs disagreed with him. From Newsweek (June 26, 1967):
A chemist at Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis, where the drugs vincristine and vinblastine were developed, said last week that the perils may not be as great as Dame suspects. Both vincristine and vinblastine, he pointed out, are highly unstable and probably do not get into the smoke of burning periwinkle leaves in an active form. Nonetheless, the chemist was quick to put down the periwinkle cult. "Periwinkle," he said, "like most inedible plants, is toxic. You might get pretty sick to your stomach."
During the 1920s, the cigar industry began to suffer from image problems. The rise of organized crime during Prohibition, and the image of the stogie-chomping gangster--developed in part by Hollywood, and personified by such actors as Edward G. Robinson--gave the cigar an aura of disrespect among the public. Later that decade, the cigar industry faced a second crisis, when American Tobacco began promoting new, machine-rolled cigars. Its advertising asked: "Why run the risk of cigars made by dirty yellowed fingers and tipped in spit?" The image proved disastrous for the cigar industry as a whole. Cigar makers rushed to convert their manufacturing from hand-rolled to machine-rolled products, but cigar sales plunged through the 1930s. During this same time period, the cigar industry was hit hard by the rise in cigarette use across the United States. Cigar consumption never recovered to its early 1920s peak.
Just when you thought the anti-smoking campaign might be working, along comes a news story that proves otherwise. Ardi Rizal, aged two years, has a 40-per-day smoking habit. His mother has tried to get him to stop, especially since the government has offered to buy the family a new car once the child quits, but she says he is entirely too addicted. His father, on the other hand, doesn't see any problem - "He looks pretty healthy to me..." In the meantime, Ardi's health is such that he can't run around and play with the other kids. Instead he rides around on a plastic toy truck while puffing away, looking like a parody of a middle-aged truck driver.
And they mean it, too. Ron White, the popular comedian from the Blue Collar Comedy tour and various Comedy Central specials, is a whiskey-drinking, cigar-smoking redneck, and proud of it. He's included those two fundamental elements in all of his shows. But apparently grumpy people in North Dakota won't stand for that kind of blatant disregard for the law. This is one of those times where you wonder just how uptight Americans have become since Janet Jackson flashed a tit on prime time.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Chuck is the purveyor of News of the Weird, the syndicated column which for decades has set the gold-standard for reporting on oddities and the bizarre.
Our banner was drawn by the legendary underground cartoonist Rick Altergott.