AT THE end of last week's column we left stroke casualty Fred in his now-prolific, self-created backyard vege patch.

Growing his own tobacco had not only eliminated his big baccy bill, it had introduced him to the pleasures and profits of home gardening in general.

More importantly, it had empowered him in spite of his physical disabilities. Growing his own produce, he was not only eating cheaper, but healthier, as well as physically benefiting from the exercise.

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From a couch jockey who spent most of his days video-gaming to kill time, he now had a sense of achievement, extra money to spend on other interests and whanau, and boosted self-esteem through being able to give surplus away.

Better still, about 12 months after my visits ceased, I ran into Fred downtown. Catching up, I naturally had to ask how the tobacco plants were going. With a big smile, he replied he'd given up the weed altogether.

Great news, but it didn't surprise me. Friends who grew their own had also reported that, with the home product, their own consumption had fallen away, often becoming just a negligible, now-and-again "treat".

In short, they'd largely lost the addictive element of it. Interesting ...

I recalled a scene in the fact-based movie The Insider, featuring Russell Crowe as a whistle-blowing chemist previously employed by a tobacco company and now being prosecuted by the company for spilling the beans.

As part of his testimony, the chemist explains the chemical processes employed by the industry to increase their product's addictive intensity. It's a chilling account of morally bankrupt profiteering.

I don't exactly have a fulltime research unit at my disposal to establish if anything's changed in the interim, but I suspect not.

No one is pretending tobacco is a health product but, by and large, the nicotine story is one of how a natural plant that grows like a weed and has been used recreationally for centuries fell into the hands of gangs who chemically transformed it into a drug more addictive than heroin — with all the ensuing profits, especially when sexed up by intensive marketing campaigns.

The gangs in this case were white-collar commercial tobacco companies, listed on international stock exchanges and moving in highest big business circles — and all duly sanctioned by most governments, who also have their hand in the tawdry till courtesy of the tax take.

In short, a weed that could be easily grown absolutely free was hijacked by both big business and government, and — through intensive marketing and taxes — was turned into a "scarce", socially desirable, expensive and highly addictive product.

If only the yobs who risk jail and bash dairy owners for the sake of pinching a few packets of ciggies could be shown how to "do a Fred", and so bypass the whole sorry cycle.

The chemical processes applied to tobacco are akin to those that transform what used to be "speed" into meth or "P", with all the latter's devastation.

A parallel can be drawn with cannabis — compared with the number one killer-drug, alcohol, fairly benign and medicinally beneficial, easily grown at no cost.

Rather than trust those so inclined to grow their own free, organic product, we prefer to drive the whole scene into the arms of various profit-driven gangs, who boost the product with all sorts of toxic and addictive chemical adulterations.

Maybe it's just a mutually supportive gang thing. The gang in Parliament likes to support the white- and blue-collar gangs in making big bucks in the name of righteous commerce.

We don't seem to have a problem carting synthetic cannabis seizure casualties off to the morgue, but God forbid anyone growing a few organic "Nepalese tomatoes" in their home garden along with the salad variety.

Heavens above, where would it all lead? Next thing they might be in the devil's clutches, and growing potatoes and silverbeet too.