Vice Squad
Saturday, April 30, 2005
The Unicard

Today's Fort Worth Star Telegram features this interesting AP story on alcohol regulation in Texas. Towards the end of the story we are told of the Unicard. In dry areas of Texas - of which there are many -- public restaurants cannot sell alcohol, but alcohol typically is allowed in private clubs. As a result, restaurants have an incentive to minimally reconstitute themselves (or parts of themselves) as private clubs. Where the Unicard comes in, it seems, is that a person who procures one of these cards qualifies for alcohol in all sorts of restaurants/private clubs. That is, the restaurants apparently operate as different "branches" of the same club, so that a person with a Unicard can buy alcohol at all the participating restaurants.

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Friday, April 29, 2005
Finally, a Reason to Learn How to Post Photos

In case you missed the earlier post, further evidence that Vice Squad membership is a stepping-stone to success...
Who's that fellow with Ryan? Posted by Hello


Drug Czar Speaks on the Milford High Informant Case

Somehow I hadn't seen this before. The outrageous high school sting operation in Ohio apparently has received a hearty endorsement from our nation's Drug Czar. According to this article, the Drug Czar's reaction was: "I don't think there's any alternative. We've had 30 years of watching young people suffer. ... You can break the cycle. You don't have to watch kids die." No alternative? But hold it, isn't such a sting fairly rare? Doesn't that suggest that almost every education superintendent and high school principal finds an alternative? Why is the Drug Czar so unimaginative?

The Czar hasn't convinced everyone. The same article offers a slightly different reaction from a sensible citizen:
"There is no question drugs have no place in our school system, however, do they realize what message they are sending with such outlandish action? Every new student entering any school in Greater Cincinnati will be automatically labeled a narc and suffer the repercussions. What kind of Gestapo tactics are being employed to 'nab' a paltry amount of drugs? What kind of grandstanding nonsense should we put up with, leading handcuffed students out of school in front of TV cameras? Are their lives going to be sacrificed to create some sort of scare tactic?''

Paul Schwan, 56, Fairfield

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Another Excellent Piece of Vice Law Enforcement

Anyone who has been paying attention these past few years knows that the US is in the middle of a poker boom. (Vice Squad is of mixed minds about the whole phenomenon.) Bars and restaurants in many cities and states have begun hosting poker nights -- for instance, in the Philly area. These games have to be careful about how they charge for entrance and award prizes, lest they run afoul of anti-gambling laws; the precise boundaries of legality might be hard to discern. So what should a law enforcer do when he or she learns that a local restaurant is openly hosting poker nights? One possibility would be to chat with the owner, learn precisely what is taking place, and warn the owner to alter any features of the game that might violate the law. But where's the fun in that? Isn't it better to send in lots of officers with guns drawn and laser sights lighting up the heads of the 24 putative poker players you arrest?

The police chief of Palmer Lake, Colorado defended the choice of the guns-drawn approach, citing tradition. But sometimes drawn guns go off. Would it still be such a good idea if one of the alleged gamblers had been shot, or perhaps died of a heart attack?

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Money Can't Buy You Freedom

What are the odds that...two former jackpot winners in Britain's National Lottery would end up in the same courthouse on the same day, and both would be jailed for vice-related crime? One "winner" received a nine-month sentence for his substantial stash of various illicit drugs -- apparently he is a dealer as well as a user -- and the second received three months after he tried to smuggle some 14,000 pouches of tobacco into the island nation, presumably to evade tax. I enjoyed the public transport analogy offered by one public servant:
"We've never had the pleasure of having a Lotto winner in the dock here before," said one official at Maidstone Crown Court, "and then, like the buses, two come along together."

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Thursday, April 28, 2005
A Giant Walks Among Us

When I mentioned a few days ago that Vice Squad member and primo research assistant Ryan was to appear on Wheel of Fortune today, little did I realize that Ryan is actually the greatest Wheel of Fortune player since the invention of, er, the wheel. He solved puzzle after puzzle and walked away with approximately 700 million dollars in cash and prizes. Congratulations, Ryan!

In unrelated news, we have decided to change the name of our blog to Ryan's Squad, and, oh yeah, I have a new job, as Ryan's research assistant.


High School Infiltrator Update

A few weeks ago we mentioned the case of Milford High School in Ohio, which had 16 current students and 1 recent graduate arrested on drug selling charges. The arrests all came from a sting operation, the brainstorm of the District Superintendent. This brilliantly-conceived operation involved placing a recent college graduate in the school to pose as a student. After she was acclimated to the environment, she would ferret out drug trafficking by making it known that she was interested in buying some drugs. Voila', seventeen arrests! All sixteen of the current students who were arrested were expelled! A phenomenally clever piece of law enforcement.

Now they have their first conviction! Oh, they must be so proud.
The teen said he called another student to help the undercover officer find some marijuana after she called him several times. He said he and the student, along with another, delivered an eighth of an ounce to the agent near the school last September for $60.
Let me lay out some of my objections to this undercover operation. (I sent a version of these to a columnist who wrote about the case last week.) First, no one thinks that high school kids should be taking or selling illegal drugs, of course -- but that does not mean that all measures taken to limit such activity are sensible. The direct monetary costs of $60,000 could have been spent on, well, $60,000 worth of useful stuff. On those grounds alone, I think, this operation is questionable, and surely at some level of monetary costs such a sting becomes a bad idea.

The false pretences under which the informant attended the school also are troubling to me. (They will also prove troubling to the next few "new kids" who start attending Milford and nearby high schools, I imagine.) To do her job, this person had to establish friendships, and perhaps even develop strong emotional ties, with students, all the while misleading them as to her real purposes and intentions. It is easy for me to imagine that the students who befriended her feel betrayed, even if they had nothing to do with the drug operation. And of course, the same feelings of betrayal might surface in her teachers, who graded her papers and worked with her only to find out that her "studenting" was all a sham. (Even the school's principal was not told of the deception.) If one of my current students turned out to be taking my class under such false pretences, I would certainly not be pleased.

The main other issue, it seems to me, is that the penalties for drug sales sometimes can be very severe, even for extremely minor activities. Some of the arrested students did not sell her drugs, but are accused of having somehow led her to a connection -- this was the case of the first student convicted, apparently. Such behavior in previous cases has resulted in many years in prison. Will this operation be a success if we learn that one of the students that the informant befriended eventually acceded to multiple solicitations by introducing the informant to someone the student thought might be able to find drugs for her -- and now gets to spend years in prison for the favor to his or her 'friend'? Even if we are happy to send convicted students down the river, we might want to pity the informant, who will have to live with her role in this affair when she is too old to pass for a high school student.

Only five of the seventeen folks arrested were charged as adults, so that should help to keep the penalties low. Further, the charges against three of the "adults" were dismissed -- though of course, prosecutors hope to have them reinstated. But how many of these seventeen were really bad actors, people whom the school is better off without? My guess is very few -- after all, it should have been possible to round up the real troublemakers without an 8-month undercover investigation. So what we have is a bunch of kids badly damaged, $60,000 in education funds drained, numerous trusts betrayed, and all for....?

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Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Drinking and Orbiting

Sixth months on the International Space Station can become a little monotonous, I imagine. After a few weeks, the stories told by the other members of your crew take on a distinctly familiar ring. That joke about the view being "out of this world" begins to wear thin. And the once-charming bad Russian pronunciation of the American guy only serves to demonstrate the extent to which he is nekul'turniy. If only there were some performance-enhancing drug available....
Russian cosmonaut Salizhan Sharipov, just back from space, said that alcohol should be allowed on the International Space Station as it helps to cope with stress and enhances performance, the RIA-Novosti news agency reports.

Sharipov was speaking at the first news conference organized after he, U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori successfully completed their mission on the ISS on Monday. The Russian cosmonaut said that it would be “desirable” for spacemen to have 50 milliliters of wine or cognac every day. “But only to improve our work, to better cope with the psychological stress,” Sharipov said.

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McCain Rushes In Where Supremes Fear to Tread

How do you know when the chairman of the US Senate's Indian Affairs Committee is launching an attack on Indian gaming? "'I don't want this hearing to be viewed as some attack on Indian gaming,' [Senator John] McCain said."

One of the main issues, it seems, is that bingo machines have evolved to where they look and act a lot like slot machines. That is a problem for states where Indian casinos are permitted to operate bingo machines, but not slot machines. And although it is not mentioned in the linked article, it is also a problem in states where Indian casinos are permitted to operate slot machines along with bingo machines. Why? You will be surprised to learn that there is a revenue angle. The pacts that such casinos sign with the states often include a provision whereby the tribes pay a per-slot-fee to the state. Federal appellate courts have ruled that bingo machines are not slot machines, and the Supreme Court has not taken up appeals -- so state gambling revenue is on the line.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005
India and John Stuart Mill

"No person ought to be punished simply for being drunk; but a soldier or a policeman should be punished for being drunk on duty." So wrote John Stuart Mill in the fourth chapter of On Liberty. In India, they are beginning to take this to heart, following a horrific alleged rape involving a drunken police officer. It turns out that surprise inspections revealed that some 36 officers in Mumbai were drunk on duty last year. This Times of India story has more; here's an excerpt:
Lawyer Sudeep Pasbola said, "Normally you will find 50% of constabulary drunk on night duty. There are several reasons —bad living conditions, the pressure under which they are working and long duty hours. There are also emotional and social reasons. Many constables do not have quarters and their families stay in villages. For some others, they are not able to enjoy a good family life as they are on duty for as long as 12 to 15 hours daily. They resort to drinking in an attempt to drown their sorrows."
Mill, like his father, was a long-time (and high-ranking) employee at India House.

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British Nurses Vote to Liberalize Prostitution

Streetwalking and brothels are illegal in Britain, even though prostitution per se is not proscribed. As a result, many British prostitutes end up with criminal records. At their annual meeting, the Royal College of Nurses voted to decriminalise prostitution. The issue is pressing because the government currently is reviewing the prostitution control regime. This BBC story has more.

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Afghan Opium Harvest

Farmers are beginning to bring in the forbidden opium crop in Afghanistan, according to this AP report, "exposing the limits of a U.S.-sponsored crackdown on the world's largest narcotics industry despite claims Tuesday by President Hamid Karzai that drug cultivation was down sharply." The article claims that almost 80 percent of global (illicit) opium came from Afghanistan last year.

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Monday, April 25, 2005
Youth and Games

The youthful Vice Squad member and research assistant, Ryan Monarch, brings us word of the video game "Narc." Unlike real life, in Narc, the police officer might be corrupt, and illicit drug use might have some benefits. For this offense, Narc has been banned in -- well, just guess. Hint: It's not Afghanistan, or Iraq (at least not yet -- or maybe, at least I haven't learned of those bans yet.) Give up? OK, it's Australia (really), which I understand is also thinking of banning alcohol.

Are you worried what fate holds for someone who joins Vice Squad while still a youth? See for yourself this Thursday, April 28, when Ryan appears on Wheel of Fortune. (Nope, I am not making this part up, either.) In Chicago, I have been reliably informed, it airs at 6:30PM CDT.

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Drug Prohibition in Afghanistan

No, not that drug prohibition; this one, the one against alcohol. The Afghanistan constitution bans alcohol, but businesses are licensed to sell hooch to foreigners. So there's a moral police officer who goes into the licensed establishments to ensure that they are not selling to Afghanis. With respect to both supply and enforcement, it appears that there is some complementarity between alcohol and prostitution. Today's Chicago Tribune has more.

Update: Speaking (almost) of that drug prohibition, an alleged Taliban-era Afghan drug "kingpin" was arrested on Saturday -- in New York? Thanks to D'Alliance for the pointer.

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British Heroin Maintenance

Until the early 1970s, doctors in Britain could prescribe heroin to addicts. With increased addiction being tied to leakages from the prescription system, distribution of heroin for addiction maintenance was tightened. Today there are about 450 British addicts who receive heroin from some 100 specially-licensed physicians. But now, following the perceived successes of previous heroin maintenance experiments in Switzerland and the Netherlands, the British intend to initiate pilot programs that will expand prescription access by addicts to heroin.

Thanks to John Band at Shot By Both Sides for the pointer.

An alternative treatment for opioid addicts is the oral administration of buprenorphine. We noted a while ago some of the barriers to the spread of this treatment in the US; a detailed explanation of how buprenorphine treatment works, based partly on personal experience, is provided by Nephalim's Drug War Revealed.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005
Dance Bars and JS Mill Win a Round in India

Recent months have witnessed a crackdown on various forms of purported obscenity in the Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai (Bombay). But charges brought against one dance bar in the Maharashtra city of Nagpur have now been tossed out by the Bombay High Court. One of the charges didn't apply to the bar because the statute upon which it was based only governed printed obscenities. The second charge was not relevant, the court ruled, because the law requires public obscenity to cause annoyance -- and none of the customers complained. Mill's harm principle rules in Maharashtra!

Speaking of old Englishmen, we at Vice Squad took off this weekend to celebrate the birthday of William Shakespeare, poet of vice.

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Friday, April 22, 2005
The Cognitive Impact of E-Mail Addiction

Various activities can temporarily diminish your mental acuity. One of these is smoking marijuana. Another is constantly being on the alert for e-mail and text messages. Turns out that the techno-addicts see a larger drop in cognitive skills than do the tokers:
In 80 clinical trials, Dr. Glenn Wilson, a psychiatrist at King's College London University, monitored the IQ of workers throughout the day.

He found the IQ of those who tried to juggle messages and work fell by 10 points -- the equivalent to missing a whole night's sleep and more than double the 4-point fall seen after smoking marijuana.
The IQ costs of e-mania are even higher among male addicts. Whatever we do, let's make sure that this Dr. Wilson fellow does not replicate his experiment on bloggers.

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A Smoking Chimpanzee?

We at Vice Squad only know what we read in the on-line papers. Normally this tale would not meet our high standards, but it is Friday, when we traditionally go wacky. So,... a young chimpanzee at a zoo in South Africa has become a smoker, by mimicking human beings. Some visiting humans toss him the smokes, it seems. The zoo intends to help the chimp give up his vile habit. Is teaching a chimpanzee to quit smoking easier than training humans to stop donating their cigarettes?

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Thursday, April 21, 2005
Khat In Missouri

According to this story, possession of khat (or qat), the plant whose fresh leaves are chewed by millions of Africans, does not violate Missouri state law. (Here's a good point to remind Vice Squad readers that I am not a lawyer and I am frequently wrong, so under no circumstances should you rely upon any information or misinformation that you read here.) Some people view this as a loophole, it seems, as it diminishes opportunities to incarcerate: "Last year, police stopped a car in North Kansas City that was carrying 50 pounds of khat, and officers couldn't do anything to punish the seven people inside." Naturally, there is an effort to close this dangerous loophole.

Maybe we should start referring to drug prohibition as a loophole? Something along the lines of...

...we noticed recently that while most dangerous substances and activities are legal -- including skiing, scuba diving, sushi, and ice cream sundaes -- there seems to be a loophole whereby we forgot to legalize marijuana, opium, and some other drugs. As a result, we find ourselves incarcerating people simply because they are walking around carrying a little bit of a substance that they later might want to consume. We must close this dangerous loophole immediately, before we end up putting hundreds of thousands of Americans in prison for activities that don't harm others.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Rockport, Massachusetts Ends Alcohol Ban

In an election yesterday, the village of Rockport, Massachusetts decided, 1,959 to 1,562, to make some alcohol licenses available. Such votes are not uncommon in the US, but what was a bit surprising about the end of the Rockport ban was how longstanding the liquor prohibition had been in place. Setting aside that crazy year of 1933, Rockport has been dry since some axe-wielding prohibitionists took direct action in 1856.

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Big Tobacco Remains Off the Hook for Past Profits

The long-term federal lawsuit against Big Tobacco took a big turn in favor of the cigarette manufacturers in early February, when a 3-judge federal appeals panel ruled that the government could not legitimately seek past profits of, oh, some $280 billion. The Department of Justice asked the full DC Circuit to reconsider the panel's decision. Today, that request was denied. The loyal Vice Squad reader will recall that there have been rumors of settlement talks since the February ruling.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2005
No Smoking During Police Work Breaks

Right now employees of the Lincoln, Nebraska police department are allowed to smoke or chew tobacco during their paid 15-minute work breaks, of which they have two per shift. Come May 1, however, this privilege will be history. Here's an excerpt from this story in the Yankton Press and Dakotan:
Police Chief Tom Casady said he changed the smoking policy because of complaints from non-smoking employees about excessive smoke breaks by some co-workers and cups of spittle left sitting around by tobacco chewers. Casady also noted the negative public perception of officers smoking or chewing tobacco.

"It doesn't look good in general to see police officers standing around on the veranda having a smoke," he said.
With anti-obesity and anti-Starbucks feeling growing, coffee and doughnut consumption might be next.

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Alcohol, Obesity Health News: What to Believe?

(1) Moderate drinking might not bring cardiovascular health benefits after all.

(2) Obesity, recently thought to be the second biggest preventable cause of death in the US (after tobacco), has now been dropped to seventh place. And being a bit overweight might confer some health benefits. (No word on what happens if you become moderately obese by drinking moderate amounts of beer -- the query caused all the computers to lock up.)

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Monday, April 18, 2005
A New Peril of Alcohol

Excess consumption of alcohol routinely leads to all sorts of tragedy, alas. But here is one possible consequence of over-indulging that you might not have considered: you might accidentally defect to North Korea.

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The New Zealand Sex Industry

One of the consequences of vice prohibition is that information about the extent and nature of the criminalised activity becomes degraded. People often aren't all that eager to discuss their vices in any event, but when their behavior is criminal, they are less likely to be forthcoming. So one advantage from the 2003 liberalisation of prostitution in New Zealand is that the size of the sex industry may be somewhat easier to gauge. The liberalising act required that this advantage be pressed, by mandating an initial survey of the sex industry, with later follow-ups to track changes. That initial assessment is now available.

The information was gathered by surveying police officers and by auditing advertisements for sexual services. The findings listed in the Executive Summary are sufficiently interesting that I will reproduce them in full. (These are the findings drawn from the police survey alone; there are separate findings for the ad audit):
* A total of 383 sex businesses were identified across New Zealand. Massage parlours represented the highest number of businesses (189) followed by escort agencies (101) and then rap/escort parlours (93).

* A total of 5,932[footnote deleted] sex workers were identified over the areas canvassed. Sex workers employed in massage parlours constituted nearly half of all sex workers (44%). Private workers followed in numbers accounting for 24% of sex workers. Street workers represented 11% of those working in the sex industry and sex workers in rap/escort parlours and escort agencies accounted for 10% each of the sex industry.

* Not surprisingly, sex businesses were concentrated in the Auckland Police District. There were comparatively few businesses in other police districts. Street workers were concentrated in the main centres and in particular in Auckland City and Counties-Manukau districts.

* Respondents estimated that on average 30% of street workers were transgender or transsexual. In comparison only 4% of private workers, 1% of escort agency workers and 1% of rap/escort parlour workers were identified as transgender/transsexual. Male sex workers were found primarily working on the streets, privately, or in escort agencies.

* It was estimated that there were around 200 sex workers under the age of 18 and over half (60%) were located in the street sector.

* Non-New Zealand sex workers were considered to be a significant issue in the greater Auckland area. These workers were predominantly from Thailand and China but other Asian countries were also represented.

* About a quarter of police respondents answered affirmatively when asked about exploitation of sex workers in their area. Forms of exploitation included a system of bonds and fines, use of drugs, and unreported crime against sex workers.

* About half of the police areas or districts responding to the survey indicated that they had a police officer with a portfolio dedicated to prostitution. However, in most of these cases the proportion of a person’s full-time portfolio dedicated to prostitution was very small. Police role included liaison, licensing/vetting of massage parlours, registration of sex workers and investigation of complaints.
The Ministry of Justice also prepared a helpful literature review on the New Zealand sex industry.

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Saturday, April 16, 2005
Britain Takes the Magic Out of Mushrooms

Those links to the Guardian in the previous post yielded this story on a new British law that makes magic mushrooms a Class A drug. Readers of Vice Squad will recall that prior to this new law, the legal status of magic mushrooms was unclear, and despite some prosecutions, they were openly sold in some parts of Britain. Now, according to the Guardian article, even possession of the frowned-upon fungi could bring, uh, up to life in prison. But not to fear: "Yesterday a Home Office spokeswoman said people would not be considered to have committed an offence merely for having magic mushrooms growing on their land." Why not? That is the sort of compromise with drugs that we have come to expect from those Labour Party liberals. Maybe a visit from a clear-thinking American official will get our allies back in line.

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Internet Sources on Drug Policy

This time of year my students are choosing term paper topics, so I try to point them in the direction of some useful vice-policy-relevant websites. (Not that all of my students aren't lightyears ahead of me when it comes to searching the web.) In the next paragraph are some of the drug policy sites (not counting blogs) that I suggest -- even if no one else finds this useful, putting them in a Vice Squad post will make it easier for me to track down the links in the future. Of course, these handful of links can only be a drop in the bucket, but please e-mail me if one of your own favorite sites is missing.

The Drug Policy Alliance has a premier drug policy site at The Alliance generally favors liberalization of drug laws. Another excellent reform-oriented site is (Common Sense for Drug Policy). On-line libraries of drug policy publications can be accessed at The US government'’s National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains a first-rate site at You can also subscribe to their free semi-monthly newsletter, the NIDA Notes Newsletter. Information on European drug issues can be found at the official EU drug policy site,; for Dutch drug policy, try looking at the Trimbos-instituut, British drug issues can be examined from the Home Office perspective at, and the Guardian newspaper provides extensive coverage of drugs policy at,2759,178206,00.html. (The Guardian is strong on other vice, too: see, e.g.,,7368,358442,00.html,,15248,1331581,00.html, and,2759,180818,00.html.) Prevention of drug and alcohol abuse is the focus of a US government-affiliated site at

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Friday, April 15, 2005
No Brothel Tax in Nevada

Last weekend Vice Squad noted that some Nevada brothels were hoping to be taxed. One brothel-taxing bill in the Nevada Assembly and another in the Senate failed to make it to a full vote. Probably wouldn't have mattered, as the Governor does not seem inclined to sign such a measure. This anti-tax-rise sentiment in the good ol' USA is taking on some strange proportions.

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You Drink More Than You Think

Speaking of Medical News Today, another article from them published on US tax day reports that college students underestimate the amount that they drink. Much of the problem has to do with what "one drink" means. For researchers, one drink is 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol), 12 ounces of beer (5% alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of spirits (80 proof). But American college kids grew up in a Super Sized world, and they tend to think that bigger volumes constitute one drink. The good news is, once the meaning of a standard drink size is explained to the students, they do a better job of estimating their actual drinking. So students drink more than they think, but they do not drink more than they think, once they take into account that they drink more than they think.

Last May, Vice Squad noted a similar underestimation result from New Zealand.

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Drinking Prompts Smoking...

...and not only because when you are drinking you see other people smoking and such "cues" make you desire a cigarette. It looks as if the consumption of alcohol itself increases the craving for tobacco among smokers, and the craving increases with the amount of alcohol consumed. This effect applies to light smokers as well as to heavy smokers. Here's an excerpt from this article in Medical News Today:
"Smoking urge ratings were higher after consuming four versus two alcohol drinks, and increases were not observed after consuming a placebo beverage," said [University of Chicago professor Andrea C. ] King. "These findings were observed in a nonsmoking environment, which may indicate that alcohol directly produced these effects and they were not due to direct smoking cues triggering cigarette craving. In other words," she added, "the greater the alcohol consumption, the greater the urge to smoke."
Vice Squad twice noted alcohol and tobacco complementarities back on February 22.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005
Security Cameras Moving Singapore's Prostitution Trade

There are some legal brothels in Singapore, but some illicit streetwalking takes place nonetheless, of course. Now security cameras have been set up in some of the usual spots, and they seem to have been effective at relocating the prostitution trade. But they have had an unintended effect, too -- instead of being a boon to "legitimate" businesses in the (former?) red light areas by keeping away the riff-raff, the cameras are scaring away custom:
The men are staying away because they're afraid of being misunderstood by their wives, while our women customers are staying away because they don't want to be mistaken as prostitutes," Joyce Low, who runs an acupuncture and foot reflexology business in the area, was quoted as saying.

The manager of a clothing store, Simon Chan, also said business had been affected with sales down by 60 percent.
Thanks to one of my generous students for the pointer. On security cameras more generally, Scott at Grits For Breakfast explains why they don't seem to reduce crime.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005
North Carolina to Raise Beer Alcohol Limit?

You can buy liquor in North Carolina, from the state-run alcohol beverage commission stores. Beer is available (in many parts of NC, at least) in grocery stores and convenience stores. But you can't buy beer with an alcohol content that exceeds 6 percent.

As Vice Squad has noted before, a handful of states have such laws, though Georgia recently raised its cap from 6 to 14 percent. Now it looks as if there's a chance that the Tar Heel State will follow Georgia's lead -- largely due to the efforts of these folks.

I was amazed to find out how many premium beers have alcohol contents exceeding 6 percent; I learned this from a visit to Chicago's Hopleaf Bar.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005
New Solution to Illinois Prostitution: Sue the Pimps and Johns

The Illinois House has passed a bill that would allow civil suits by prostitutes against their pimps and customers, even if all such relationships were completely consensual. Windypundit sent along the pointer -- thanks! -- and indicates the potentially perverse outcomes. It is already the case that laws against 'living off the proceeds' make it harder for prostitutes to find legitimate roommates or non-pimping live-in boyfriends.

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Tennessee's Alcohol Ad Restrictions

The office of the Tennessee Attorney General has issued an opinion that many of the state's controls on alcohol advertising violate the US Constitution. Among the questionable rules are bans on distilled spirits advertising on television and radio.

As a matter of Constitutional law, the AG is probably correct; the opinion is here (5 page pdf). It relies on various recent US Supreme Court decisions, including the 1995 case of Rubin v. Coors. This string of cases seems to suggest that the advertising of legal vice products will receive about the same amount of Constitutional protection as any commercial speech. As the loyal Vice Squad reader knows, I view the lack of control over advertising as dangerous for the continued tolerance of legal vice -- states can always outlaw the advertising if they first prohibit alcohol.

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Monday, April 11, 2005
Inside NYC's Poker Dens -- A NY Post View

There's a good deal of descriptive material in this New York Post Online article about poker dens in New York City. The clubs are, shall we say, quasi-legal, but recognizing their vulnerability, many of them do their best to avoid attracting undue attention:
But all these livelihoods hang by a legal thread. "It is illegal for anyone to profit from gambling," said an NYPD spokeswoman. "These houses are illegal, and we are always investigating them."

Knowing the law, the clubs try to dodge prosecution by running as private, members-only clubs. They make money by charging "table fees" — averaging $3 per player every half-hour — rather than "raking the pot " — taking 10 to 15 percent off the top of each pot, a more obvious violation of the law.

"Generally speaking, illegal gambling is the house taking a percentage of the pot," said Barbara Thompson, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau.

Club owners rely on this gray area to stay open. And they say they run clean clubs to keep police attention at a minimum. "We don't serve alcohol, and you have to be over 21 and a member to play," said the manager of the second-largest club. "We think of it as a sober environment where people can compete and socialize. If I see I guy 'on tilt' and he runs down to the ATM, when he comes back up, I stop him from getting in and say, 'You know, tomorrow's another day.' "

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British E-Gambling Moves Ahead

A couple of days ago we noted the come-from-behind victory of the US in its internet-gambling-related World Trade Organization dispute with Antigua and Barbuda. While the WTO ruling makes it harder for anyone who runs an internet gambling website to ever set foot in the US, our friends in Britain are heading in the opposite direction. Not only is internet gambling a legal activity for British consumers (in the US it is not so clear), but soon gambling websites themselves will be able to be based, and regulated, in Britain. The liberalisation is part of the Gambling Bill that has been in the works for years, and was passed on Thursday.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005
Simpsons Not Yet Banned in Russia

In Kansas, legal proceedings involve watching pornographic movies. In Moscow, a court invested a few days watching episodes of The Simpsons. A man was suing a Russian TV station for showing The Simpsons and The Family Guy, on the grounds that the shows had "gotten his 6-year-old son interested in drugs and prompted him to call his mother a 'toad.'" The case was thrown out.

Thanks to Finland for Thought for the pointer. Finland for Thought is an interesting blog based in, uh, Finland run by an American who has the good taste to be from Baltimore. Here's his post on how a Baltimore-area man found himself arrested, with the Secret Service called in, because he paid for his $114 stereo at Best Buy with perfectly legal two-dollar bills.

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Obligatory Snus Update

The smokeless tobacco snus, popular in Sweden (and non-European-Union-member Norway) but banned in the rest of the EU, hopes to see its Swedish popularity increase come June. That's when Sweden's public smoking ban, including bars and restaurants, comes into effect. A Swedish newspaper "noted that so-called "snus fridges" are being installed in many Swedish pubs and restaurants, replacing cigarette machines, with two major restaurant chains apparently ordering the dispensers for their sixty restaurants."

I still tend to think that the legalization of snus throughout the EU would be a good tobacco harm reduction measure. Among EU countries, the lowest lung cancer rate for males is recorded in Sweden.

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The Business That Wants to be Taxed

Legal brothels in Nevada pay substantial license fees to the counties in which they are located, and the prostitutes also pay $50 annually for a work permit. But the brothels do not pay any taxes to the state of Nevada. Some of them would like to, and a state legislator who is anti-legal-prostitution would like to help them. Politics and bedfellows, indeed.

The reason why some brothel owners would be happy to be taxed is because they recognize that the continued existence of their business is hostage to the good graces of state legislators. (Incidentally, replace 'state legislators' with 'mayor and local alderman,' and you have the situation that every business faces in Chicago.) From the linked Salt Lake Tribune article:
''We should have the same rights as any other business, but I also am a realist,'' said Bobbi Davis, owner of the Shady Lady Ranch, a brothel about 120 miles outside Las Vegas. ''And I think this tax thing is also a way to go. There's a price, sometimes, for legitimacy.''
Sounds reasonable to me -- brothels became legal in Nevada because of 'voluntary' fees paid to Storey County.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005
Nadelmann Talk at University of Chicago

Yesterday Ethan Nadelmann, the Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, gave a talk at the University of Chicago, and Vice Squad was in attendance. The talk was chock-full of interesting tidbits, too many to do justice to in a blog post. I'll mention the overall framework, and maybe a couple of those tidbits. The usual disclaimer of blogging about a talk applies, namely, that though I took notes and tried to be careful, I am in danger of misrepresenting what was said.

Nadelmann believes that changes are necessary to two broad features of our (the US's) current war on drugs. The first feature is the central role played by the criminal justice system in the regulation of some drugs. (Nadelmann was pretty funny when he noted that it is "these" drugs for which we rely on the criminal justice system, and not "those" drugs. "Those" drugs -- caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, the pharmaceuticals -- can be handled by other means. Presumably he was suggesting that the distinction between "these" and "those" was fairly arbitrary.) Second, and a feature of the war on drugs that receives less attention from reformers, is the underlying notion that there is no permissible relationship between 'those' drugs and us except for abstinence. He thinks that this commitment to abstinence is a form of religious conviction: we shouldn't pollute our bodies, which are holy vessels, with "those" drugs, which are fundamentally evil. This mindset and rhetoric could simply be scoffed at, except that policy follows from these convictions, as when in 1988 Congress adopted a resolution that the US would be drug-free by 1995, and the UN in 1998 adopted the goal of a drug-free world. Much of the last part of Nadelmann's talk was given over to a strong endorsement of harm prevention policies, as exemplified by the Drug Policy Alliance-affiliated Safety First program. (Vice Squad has commented on harm reduction for teenagers and Safety First in the past.) Nadelmann gave a riveting performance.

The one minor area of disagreement that I had with the content of the talk concerned whether private employers should be allowed to discriminate against (read: fire) workers who smoke (or, presumably, use other drugs) off of the job. When the Michigan smoking case surfaced, I offered some reluctant support for the right of employers to discriminate in that fashion. Nadelmann believes that such forms of discrimination should not be countenanced, and the Drug Policy Alliance has a flash animation where you can register your own opinion. This same issue came up in my Regulation of Vice class on Thursday, and I was ambivalent then. Let's face it, I am even less sure about this than I am about the appropriateness of most vice policies.

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US Makes a Comeback In WTO E-Gambling Case

There for a while it looked like the World Trade Organization was going to come down on the side of Antigua and Barbuda in its trade dispute with the US over internet gambling. But the final ruling largely went the US way, with the WTO accepting that the US can keep its federal restrictions on sports betting. Horse racing is another matter, however, since some states allow internet betting on racing. The WTO's non-discrimination orientation suggests that if a service is legal for domestic suppliers, foreign suppliers cannot be prohibited.

It isn't easy to tell exactly what is going on in the ruling, which takes the form of a 138-page document (in the English-language version) released on April 8. (The document can eventually be found from this page; scroll down to DS285, from March, 2003.) But it seems as if the major finding is that the US federal gambling statutes at issue (the Wire Act, the Travel Act, and the Illegal Gambling Business Act) are measures that fall under the exception of being necessary to protect public morals or to maintain public order. So in this case, the commitment to free trade is not allowed to trump domestic vice regulation.

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Friday, April 08, 2005
The Uphill Trek Facing Buprenorphine

Yesterday we looked at the use of naltrexone in the treatment of alcohol addiction; today's link is to a Wired story on the use of buprenorphine to combat opiate addiction. The article details the many barriers to making buprenorphine available to addicts, including the reluctance of doctors to welcome addicts into their waiting rooms and difficulties in first allowing and then easing the dispensing of buprenorphine from methadone clinics.

Relative to methadone, buprenorphine offers advantages to some patients, including the fact that a stock of bupe (its nickname) can be kept by the addict, with a pill taken daily to reduce opiate craving and withdrawal. Patient-managed inventories are possible because one form of bupe comes mixed with the opioid antagonist naloxone, thereby making it unattractive as a recreational drug. (The Wired article might even be a little too laudatory of bupe; opioids tend to have widely varying effects upon different users, so no doubt methadone or heroin maintenance would be preferable to bupe for some patients.)

Thanks to Ken Lammers at Crim Law for the pointer.

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Time On Their Hands in Kansas

This week saw the initiation of a 15-person grand jury in Saline County, Kansas, to determine if indictments for peddling obscenity should be brought against two adult businesses. Members of the jury will get to watch some pornographic movies and look over various sex toys. The jury meeting could last up to ninety days. Vice Squad has despaired over this activity in the past.

In neighboring Dickinson county, the $45,000 they spent on a similar jury came to naught when the jury's indictments were thrown out. But the Dickinson County Attorney is more eager to pour resources into anti-obscenity enforcement than is his Saline County counterpart, so he brought his own misdemeanor indictments against the Lion's Den Adult Superstore. What is that old saying about good money after bad?

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Thursday, April 07, 2005
Towards an Alcohol Vaccine?

Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist and long has been used to treat heroin addicts. For the last decade or so, naltrexone also has been given orally to some heavy drinkers, as it seems to aid some of them in reducing their drinking. The current issue of the Journal of the Amercian Medical Association includes an article by Garbutt, O'Malley, Gastfriend, et al. that reports on a clinical trial in which alcohol abusers were given a once-monthly injection of naltrexone. It's no magic bullet, but it seemed to aid some heavy drinkers in cutting back. Here are the study's results:
Compared with placebo, 380 mg of long-acting naltrexone resulted in a 25% decrease in the event rate of heavy drinking days (P = .03) and 190 mg of naltrexone resulted in a 17% decrease (P = .07). Sex and pretreatment abstinence each showed significant interaction with the medication group on treatment outcome, with men and those with lead-in abstinence both exhibiting greater treatment effects. Discontinuation due to adverse events occurred in 14.1% in the 380-mg and 6.7% in the 190-mg group and 6.7% in the placebo group. Overall, rate and time to treatment discontinuation were similar among treatment groups.
As such types of therapies develop, some parents might want to "vaccinate" their teenagers against alcohol and drugs.

Here's a BBC report on the JAMA study. Vice Squad briefly looked at pharmacotherapy last August.

Sorry for the blogging lapse/confusion. I am having mucho problems with Blogger.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Lucrative Undercover Work in High Schools

Are you a recent college graduate with a degree in criminal justice? Then after only three weeks of training, you might be ready to infiltrate high schools to try to get high school students and their friends to sell you drugs. Then, you will take off, while the kids will be arrested; if all goes well, your former school chums will spend years in prison thanks to your testimony! And you can earn $40,000 per year! Do well by doing good!

The unsavoury story of the now 17 current and former Ohio high school students arrested following such an undercover operation was noted yesterday by D'Alliance. The information on how to become a private undercover investigator working in a high school comes from this story in the online version of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The company that provided the undercover agent was hired by the district superintendent for $60,000. Local prosecutors and the school principal, apparently, didn't even know about the eight-month operation. Soon we will see if three weeks of training is enough to ensure that informants don't engage in entrapment, and all-in-all conduct themselves in a manner that will not jeopardize the ensuing cases.

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Internet Tobacco Sales Apparently Plummet

It looks like the pressure by state attorney generals on credit card companies and PayPal to remove their services from internet tobacco sellers (noted a few weeks ago on Vice Squad) has had the intended effect:
Two weeks after credit card companies announced they would no longer accept payment for tobacco products bought online, scores of Internet cigarette merchants have effectively lost the means to do business profitably, and are either limping along or have shut down their operations altogether.
According to the linked New York Times article, internet sales made up 3.1 percent of the US cigarette market in 2004.

Thanks to Radley at The Agitator for the pointer.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005
More on Indian Obscenity Policing

The closing of dance bars in the state of Maharashtra apparently has not yet included such bars in Mumbai (Bombay), which is located in Maharashtra. But one suspects that the tolerance will not last long, as there's a new cop in town. Since January, Sanjay Aparanti, a medical doctor, has been Deputy Commissioner of Police (Enforcement) in Mumbai, and he is on a crusade: 'I have decided Mumbai must be rid of obscenity in all walks of life.' Oh dear. So far it looks as if the good doctor has taken particular aim at outdoor advertising and television broadcasting that does not meet his less-than-precise standards. What is this 'obscenity in all walks of life' that must be stamped out? 'Advertisements that show female models with scanty clothes; film promos full of vulgarity; music albums and remix videos full of vulgarity; film posters full of obscenity; some newspapers regularly carry porn material and I have served them notices too.'

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India's Dancing Girls Protest Bar Closures

Dance bars in the western Indian state of Maharashtra have been closed by the government. The claim is that the bars double as fronts for prostitution, and concerns were also expressed that young men spend too much money there. The government move is being countered with protests:
Hundreds of dancing girls and bar owners took to the streets yesterday to demonstrate against a decision to close the infamous dance bars and clubs of Maharashtra in west India. Crowds of colourfully dressed women and vociferous bar managers swamped the roads in an attempt to register their discontent with a move which they claim is discriminatory and incompatible with the state's reputation as a haven for hedonistic partying.
Speaking of vice-related protests in Maharashtra, the tea traders intend a one-day strike on Wednesday aimed at the relatively high state value-added tax on tea. Tea, of course, is a major commodity in India and Maharashtra.

Apologies for the unintended and unannounced blogging break.

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Friday, April 01, 2005
Vertical Integration in the Cigarette Market

Many Native American tribes sell cigarettes from their reservations, in part because such sales, formally or informally, are not subject to the usual array of federal and state taxes. But not many reservations actually manufacture the cigarettes that they sell. A Washington state tribe, however, intends to become a cigarette producer, using tobacco grown in the southwestern US:
The Squaxin tribe, located on a small patch of land 50 miles southwest of Seattle, will begin selling its "Complete" brand of cigarettes made by its Skookum Creek Tobacco company for $16 for a carton of 10 packs.

That's about the price of two packs of premium-brand cigarettes in New York City, and well below the $35 to $70 per carton normally charged in the United States. Premium brand and generic cigarettes can be bought on other Indian reservations for as low as $22 per carton.

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That Big Federal Tobacco Suit

A couple weeks ago we passed along speculation that the federal suit against Big Tobacco, now bereft of the potential $280 billion jackpot, might be settled. The April 2 New York Times updates the various prongs of the case -- bits of it are being argued in two separate courts, with a third in waiting -- while indicating that the litigation costs alone make a strong argument for hasty resolution: "Barring a settlement, the [litigation] efforts - along with appeals almost certain to reach the Supreme Court - are expected to drag out for months, driving up litigation costs to hundreds of millions of dollars for each side."

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