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You Don't Need Prohibition to Help People

CDC headquarters, Atlanta
A new Centers for Disease Control study has found the US rate of tobacco usage dropping again:

ATLANTA (AP) — Fewer U.S. adults are smoking, a new government report says.

Last year, about 18 percent of adults participating in a national health survey described themselves as current smokers.

The nation’s smoking rate generally has been falling for decades, but had seemed to stall at around 20 to 21 percent for about seven years. In 2011, the rate fell to 19 percent, but that might have been a statistical blip.

Health officials are analyzing the 2012 findings and have not yet concluded why the rate dropped, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC released its study Tuesday.

Of course, this was achieved without prohibition -- some regulation that has not been without controversy, but without prohibition. So what else could be achieved without prohibition?

Prohibition: Illinois Bill to Ban Marijuana Blunt Wraps Passes State Senate

A bill that would define blunt wraps -- tobacco leaves or processed tobacco designed to be wrapped around marijuana and smoked -- as drug paraphernalia was approved by the Illinois Senate Monday. A companion measure, HB 6234, has already passed the House Judiciary II Committee and awaits a floor vote. In a sign of momentum for the bills, the House bill picked up five more cosponsors Tuesday.

Under the measure passed by the Senate, SB 3734, the following language is added to the state's statute defining drug paraphernalia: "Individual tobacco wrappers, known as wraps, blunt wraps, or roll your own cigar wraps, whether in the form of a tobacco leaf, sheet, or tube, that consists in whole or in part of reconstituted leaf or flavored tobacco leaf; however, the term 'wrap,' 'blunt wrap,' or 'roll your own cigar wrap,' as used in this Section, does not include a tobacco leaf wrap that is used in the manufacturing of a cigar intended for retail sale."

Blunt wraps come plain or in flavors, such as cherry or peach, and are widely sold in gas stations, liquor stores, and convenience stores. Because of their low cost, easy availability to urban youth, and "lack of legitimate uses," they have been targeted by lawmakers. The push against blunt wraps is being led by cops and clergy.

"Having this product in mainstream stores is like having drug pushers in our neighborhoods," Bishop Larry Trotter, the pastor at Sweet Holy Spirit Church, said Sunday. "Blunt wraps are an indefensible product marketed to children and entirely identified with illegal drug use."

Trotter is vowing to circulate petitions in 50 Cook County churches to gin up support for the legislation. He also said he plans to lead a group of ministers and community activists to Springfield to urge passage of the bills.

Trotter is also aiming at local merchants, including the liquor store across the street from his church. "If it is not removed from the store, then we will shut it down," he threatened during the Sunday church service.

Mike Mohad, the manager of the liquor store, said he would quit selling blunt wraps if asked by the church, but that it wouldn't make much difference. "We don't have (any) problems getting along with the community," Mohad said. "If I can't sell it, people will go down the street to a different store. It's popular in Chicago."

Another local businessman, Joe Patel, manager of a gas station said he had no issues with selling blunt wraps. "It's a profitable item and in this economy every penny counts," said Joe Patel, who manages a Mobil gas station on Garfield Blvd. "We sell cigars to be smoked as sold. How people use it when they get home I have no control over."

But if the bishop, the cops, and the lawmakers have their way, blunt wraps will become one item Patel will no longer be able to sell.

Prohibition: Republican Senator Calls for Outlawing Tobacco

Supposed free-market conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who is also an MD, called last week on the Senate floor for cigarettes and other tobacco products to be outlawed. Coburn may have been merely seeking to score political points against the Democrats as the Senate debated a bill to have tobacco regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) -- it passed Thursday and is now headed for the president's desk-- but nonetheless, the prohibitionist impulse towards tobacco has now been clearly articulated in the Congress.
Tom Coburn
"What we should be doing is banning tobacco," Coburn said during debate on the bill, as reported in the Congress-watching publication The Hill. "Nobody up here has the courage to do that. It is a big business. There are millions of Americans who are addicted to nicotine. And even if they are not addicted to the nicotine, they are addicted to the habit."

Instead of authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco sales, marketing, and manufacture, the stuff should simply be banned, Coburn said. "If we really want to make a difference in health and we want to eliminate dependence on tobacco, what we have to do is to stop the addiction."

Placing tobacco under FDA regulation would just confuse the agency, the Oklahoma Republican argued. The agency's mission is to ensure the safety of food and drugs, and there is nothing safe about tobacco, he said. And regulating tobacco means not banning it, he added. "In this bill, we allow existing tobacco products not ever to be eliminated," he said.

With smokers the target of growing social ostracism and increasingly pervasive regulation, as well as being favorite subjects for targeted taxation, outright prohibition could be the eventual end game. But Coburn suggested Democrats, who back the regulation legislation, would seek to block outright prohibition because they seek to benefit a key interest group: trial lawyers. "We have had all of these lawsuits through the years where billions of dollars have gone into attorneys' coffers," he said.

Coburn was doubtless trying to score political points by accusing the majority of being in the pocket of the trial lawyers, but now someone in Congress may take him up on his crusade. Goodness knows prohibitionist sentiment still runs very deep in that august deliberative body.

Congressional Black Caucus Members Try to Ban Menthol Cigarettes

Uh-oh. They're trying to take our minty-fresh menthols away. Not kool.

The Congressional Black Caucus is calling for changes to a House tobacco-regulation bill, demanding that the legislation place restrictions on menthol cigarettes, the type heavily favored by African-American smokers.

The 43-member caucus is taking aim at a provision in the bill that would ban candy-, fruit- and spice-flavored cigarettes but that specifically exempts menthol. In recent weeks the exemption has become the focus of controversy because menthol brands are heavily used by black smokers, who develop a large share of smoking-related cancers and other health risks. [New York Times]

The menthol prohibitionists' argument is simple: if black people are more likely to smoke menthol + black people are more likely to get lung cancer = menthol increases lung cancer risk. Of course, it's possible that black folks are just more susceptible to lung cancer for some horrible reason, but I guess the Congressional Black Caucus thinks the quickest way to find that out is to ban Newports™ and see if black people live longer. I disagree. I think the best way is to check whether the 25% of black smokers who don't smoke menthol have the same lung cancer rates as those who do.

Either way, banning menthol cigarettes is drug prohibition and we know what that leads to:

Some supporters of the bill’s current language on menthol have argued that, because menthol is widely used by many smokers, the effects of banning it outright are hard to predict. Among possibilities they have suggested is that menthol smokers would turn to an illicit cigarette market to obtain menthol cigarettes.

If nothing else, such a policy may rain hell on one of the Congressional Black Caucus' other legislative priorities: ending racial profiling. "Sir, do you have anything in the vehicle I should know about? Drugs? Weapons? Menthol cigarettes?"

Tobacco: In Wake of Smoking Ban in Bars, Restriction on Strip Clubs, Underground "Smokehouses" Appear in Cleveland

Ah, the unintended -- if not unforeseeable -- consequences of prohibition. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Sunday that in the wake of a crackdown on strip joints and smoking in bars, a new, if shadowy, presence has made itself known on the back streets of the city: the smokehouse. These unlicensed premises offer what legal clubs and bars cannot: a place for tipplers to smoke while they drink and watch strippers after midnight. Vice cops say they also provide a haven for prostitution.

The smokehouses are a response to laws that took effect last year banning smoking in public places and nude dancing after midnight.

One Cleveland vice detective, Tom Shoulders, compared the smokehouses to the gin houses of the Prohibition era. "You put too many restrictions on people, they're going to find someplace else to go for their entertainment," he said.

According to what snitches are telling the cops, the smokehouse patrons, mainly suburban white guys, bring their own liquor, cigarettes, and cigars, while doormen at the clubs collect entry fees of up to $25 for a "buffet."

"They have succeeded in creating this underground, sleazy, cash-only business that cannot be regulated, taxed or secured by police," said Skip Lazzaro, an attorney who represents legal nightclubs in court -- although it isn't clear if he should be referring to the proprietors and clients or to the legislature.

While the combination of after-hours strippers and underground smoking is a new twist, the smokeasy isn't. In fact, smokeasies, or clubs that covertly allow smoking despite laws prohibiting it, seem to pop up just about everywhere smoking bans do. From New York to San Francisco, and many places in between, you can find them... if you only know whom to ask.

Tobacco: California City Becomes First to Ban Smoking In One's Own Home

Belmont, California, located between San Francisco and San Jose, has become the first jurisdiction in the United States to bar some homeowners from smoking in their own domiciles. While states and localities across the country have steadily imposed ever-tighter restrictions on smokers, the action taken by the Belmont city council marks the escalation of anti-smoking fervor to a new level.

On Tuesday night, the council adopted an ordinance that declares second-hand smoke to be a public nuisance and extends the city's current smoking ban to include multi-story, multi-unit residences. Belmont and some other California cities already ban smoking in multi-residence common areas, but now the ban will be extended to residences that share a common floor or ceiling with other units.

Homeowners or renters will be allowed to smoke on their own property only in single-family homes and their yards. Dwellers in multi-residence buildings will only be able to smoke in "designated outdoor" areas of their complexes.

The new Belmont apartment-smoking ban will not take effect for 14 months, so that one-year lease agreements will not be affected. But the rest of the ordinance goes into effect in 10 days. It also bans smoking in indoor or outdoor workplaces, and in parks, stadiums, sports fields, trails, and outdoor shopping areas. Smoking on streets and sidewalks will be permitted, as long as it is not at a city-sponsored event or close to prohibited areas.

City officials said enforcement of the smoking ban will be complaint-driven.

Drugs to Vaccinate You... Against Drugs!

My friend Grant Smith over at Drug Policy Alliance has commented on NIDA research to develop vaccinations and the philosophical implications of "robbing entire future generations of the basic human right to have freedom of choice and sovereignty over their bodies and minds." As a follow-up, I'd like to point out here the danger from a straight medical perspective. The questions of whether a vaccine will work, what its side effects may be, and what the likelihood is of experiencing such side effects are questions that go along with the development of any new medication. But there is something fundamentally different -- medically and scientifically -- about the concept of a vaccine to permanently disable a person from experiencing the effects of ingesting a drug. First, the neurological system that goes to work when one tries to "get high" is intimately tied to the rest of our neurology -- getting a thrill from chocolate or a rush from exercise, for example, involves some of the same chemical interactions in the brain that are involved in smoking a cigarette or snorting cocaine. I'm not saying that the acts are the same, but they are biochemically similar and related. They have to be -- each of us only has one brain, after all. Second, most drugs, both legal and illegal, either are used medically now or are highly similar to drugs that are used medically now. Cocaine and methamphetamine are both schedule II substances -- highly regulated, but used in medicine. Meth is from the same family as the widely used Ritalin. Heroin is a close variant of morphine. I don't know of current medical uses for nicotine, but I don't think it can be categorically ruled out for all time. Could a vaccination to block the euphoric effects of these drugs interfere with the ability of the same or similar drugs to produce the medical benefits for which they are also used? The only way to really know for sure is to do test people for it. But because only a fraction of all children go on to experience the medical problems that would be treated by the drugs, to do such a test and have sufficient data for it to be meaningful would require vastly expanding the number of kids who have to be given the vaccination initially as part of the research. And possibly excepting Ritalin use, the data would not come in for several decades, because most people acquire the afflictions for which the medications are used late in life. So in addition to the disturbing philosophical implications that Grant has explored, I really see this direction as inherently reckless from a straight medical perspective -- there is just no truly reliable way to know whether the treatment administered to toddlers or grade-schoolers now could put them in a box with respect to medical treatment down the road -- there's just no feasible way to gather enough data in advance, and if we did we might still not find out for 70 years. Rank this one right up there with the drug-fighting franken-fungus -- don't go there!
United States

(Cigarette) Ban Creates Black Market in Prisons

United States
Associated Press (CA)

Drug treatment doctors call for new thinking on services

Irish Medical News

Feature: The Next Prohibition? Poll Finds Nearly Half of Americans Favor Banning Cigarettes

A Zogby survey of likely voters has found that 45% would support making cigarettes illegal within the next five to 10 years. Currently, cigarettes are not illegal anywhere in the United States (except some jails and prisons, where they are considered contraband), although moves to restrict smoking and tax tobacco products are winning broad acceptance.
tobacco field
According to the survey, which was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and conducted in July, banning cigarettes is supported by senior citizens (51%), conservatives (51%), born-again Christians (52%), and adults with less than high-school education (55%). But strikingly -- and a sign of looming trouble for anti-prohibitionists -- the age group that most strongly supports making cigarettes illegal is young people. Among 18-to-29-year-olds, support for cigarette prohibition stood at 57%.

Still, a slim majority (52%) opposes prohibiting cigarettes. Opposition to a ban is strongest among 50-to-64-year-olds, independent voters, liberals, moderates, college graduates, people with some college education, men, and residents of rural areas and the South. Among these subgroups, roughly 60% oppose a ban.

At a Thursday news conference in New York, DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann warned that criminalizing cigarettes would have disastrous consequences. "If cigarettes were illegal, we would risk the prohibition-style shootouts and violence that characterized the Al Capone era," Nadelmann said. "Millions of our fellow Americans -- our friends and families -- would be considered criminals. We already have too many people with addiction problems serving long prison sentences. The last thing we need is to ruin many more lives with another ineffective prohibition strategy."

Nadelmann was joined by Allen Rosenfield, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who called for a public health approach to tobacco. "I am surprised by the numbers of people supportive of making cigarettes illegal and am totally supportive of the statements of the Drug Policy Alliance," he said. "From a public health perspective the focus should be on prevention through expanded public education campaigns, such as the very effective campaigns run by the American Legacy Foundation, taxes on cigarettes, banning sales to teenagers and bans on indoor smoking at restaurants and bars. But making cigarettes illegal would be a huge mistake."

Also addressing the press conference -- via cell phone from the snowbound Denver airport -- was former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper, now a prominent member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "Outlaw cigarettes? Tobacco smokers run huge health risks, and the costs to taxpayers are substantial. But, as a non-smoker, and a 34-year veteran of law enforcement, I can't imagine a more dangerous, short-sighted law," said Stamper. "We've cut cigarette smoking in half, the result of education, taxation, and regulation -- without putting a single cigarette smoker in jail. We're on the right track, let's not get derailed."

Stamper warned that cigarette prohibition could lead to a repeat of the crime and violence associated with alcohol Prohibition and current drug prohibition. "We would see the creation of a criminal underclass with unprecedented levels of violence and innocent people caught in the crossfire, the same as we are experiencing with the drug war," he said. "We believe cigarette prohibition would escalate tensions in our society to almost unimaginable levels. Cigarette prohibition would lead to an increase in death, disease, crime, and addiction, just as with other prohibited drugs."

As a result of decades-long public education campaigns, cigarette smoking has been declining steadily in the United States and is now concentrated among the poorer, least educated, and minority populations, which, Rosenfield warned, may make it easier to impose a prohibition on smoking. "As with illicit drugs, it would be primarily low-income minority people in jail," he said. "We should forbid companies from marketing tobacco, the outlawing of sales to minors should continue, but the focus should be on education and regulation, not making smoking illegal."

When asked by Drug War Chronicle if trumpeting the fact that there is strong support for cigarette prohibition wasn't playing into the hands of prohibitionists, Nadelmann acknowledged such concerns, but said they were outweighed by the need to take preemptive action to nip any such moves in the bud. "We debated this question inside DPA before we went public," he said. "If we surface this, would it aid those who favor criminalization? We decided we are on a real slippery slope, and if we didn't do this now, in two or three years the numbers could be even higher, so we thought it was important to raise the alarm now, while the majority still oppose prohibiting cigarettes. We need to start making the case that the logical end of a public health campaign is not prohibition."

DPA is preparing to launch an educational campaign for politicians and the public about the unintended consequences that could result from a new prohibition on cigarettes, Nadelmann added. "Public health officials, law enforcement and treatment providers should speak out loudly and clearly against cigarette prohibition," he said. "We can't allow hysteria to overwhelm rational responses to the legitimate concerns about the harms of cigarettes. We can't afford to repeat the same mistakes we have made with other harmful substances."

Well, smokers, smoke 'em if you've got 'em, because if this poll is any indication, you may not have 'em for long -- unless you're willing to resort to the black market.

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