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Valley Lung Experts on Marijuana Smoking: No Comment

Pulmonary Associates, with 15 doctors and six Valley locations, focuses on modern treatment techniques and claims on its Web site to be "in the forefront of our field."

But when asked about the effects of smoking marijuana on lungs, not one of those doctors returned New Times' repeated calls.

Nor was the lack of response on what could arguably be called a growing public health concern unique among Valley respiratory experts.

Following a widely publicized recent study about the reportedly minimal harmful effect of pot smoke on the lungs of users, New Times called several health care facilities for comment.

Our question was simple: Have local lung doctors seen self-admitted pot smokers with chronic lung problems, and if so, what types of problems?

Not a single doctor dared to respond.

Obviously, marijuana has been smoked in the Valley for decades by untold numbers of people. And now, more than 18,000 people are legally able to smoke marijuana in Arizona because of the successful passage of the 2010 Medical Marijuana Act. The public health issues related to marijuana have never been as acute in Arizona as they are now.

But when we called John C. Lincoln hospital, which touts on its Web site an "advanced interventional pulmonary program," none of its lung doctors had a thing to say about their experience with marijuana smokers.

Susan Fuchs, the hospital spokeswoman, at first said her boss had declined to pass along our question, and she suggested that we call local anti-smoking activist Leland Fairbanks (who doesn't work at John C. Lincoln) for a comment. We pressed her, asking to at least give the lung doctors a chance to respond.

"I've sent inquiries to four of our most active board certified pulmonologists," she later wrote.

None of them called back.

At Scottsdale Healthcare, spokesperson Jamie Houston inquired with pulmonologists and a lung cancer researcher.

"They're not interested in participating," Houston told us a day later.

St. Joseph's Hospital doctors wouldn't talk.

Neither would doctors with the Maricopa Integrated Health System.

"I've been asked not to pursue the story," Elizabeth Krecker, the spokesperson for Tempe St. Luke's Hospital, told us.

Jim McVeigh, spokesman for the Mayo Clinic, says doctors there felt they didn't have enough "data" to comment.

Meanwhile, it took us about 10 seconds today to find a USA Today article in which a Mayo Clinic doctor from New York talks on-the-record about an extremely rare condition in which some people are "allergic" to cold temperatures.

Not enough data to comment, our arse. What's really going on with these local doctors' reticence to talk about marijuana?

Here's our non-expert guess:

Doctors are treating self-admitted pot patients with chronic lung problems, but they don't want to talk about it because they don't care to inform the public about a public health hazard.

Or -- and we consider this the far more likely assumption, especially in light of the recent study -- the doctors are seeing very few, if any, pot smokers with chronic lung problems. But they don't want to talk about that because they don't want anyone to think they're promoting pot.

Either way, the doctors' lack of chutzpah means Arizonans aren't getting the truth about this issue.


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