Vice Squad
Thursday, March 31, 2005
 
Kid Smoking Rate in US Stays Steady


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today (though dated tomorrow) that between 2002 and 2004, rates of tobacco use by US kids showed no statistically significant changes. Here's an excerpt from an Associated Press report:
More than one out of five high school students (22.3 percent) and one out of 12 middle school students (8.1 percent) say they are currently using cigarettes, according to a national survey of 31,774 students conducted last year by the CDC.

When including the use of any form of tobacco, the rates climbed to 28 percent among high schoolers and 11.7 percent among middle schoolers.

Those rates were statistically the same in a similar survey conducted in 2002, the CDC said.
In Washington state, however, kids are cutting back on tobacco on marijuana, though more are drinking.

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Sweden Supports Its Alcohol Monopoly


Systembolaget, the Swedish state-run alcohol monopolist, has endured a recent corruption scandal and the loss of many of its customers to cheaper, personally-imported alcohol from places such as Estonia. And it has done so while still gaining the support of the majority of Swedes, according to a recent poll. Presumably the implementation of the proposed alcohol tax cut would add to Systembolaget's popularity. The monopoly is already unpopular with 18 and 19 years old, who might lose their right to drink if a proposal to raise the drinking age also is implemented.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2005
 
Off- and Then On-Topic: An Uncategorical Update


A few days ago I asked about the difference between categorically denying something, and uncategorically denying it. Received a nice e-mail from John Holowach that contained a link to this William Safire article. The Safire article does not directly ask about categorical/uncategorical, but there is an implicit suggestion, seconded by Mr. Holowach, that "uncategorical" is not a word -- which doesn't stop it from being used, of course.

John Holowach is both countering the drug czar's office on cannabis and filming a documentary. His FAQ, too, is worth a visit: start here and click through.

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More on the British Cannabis Re-Classification


Well, Vice Squad left it out of the previous post, but now that pot has been re-classified in Britain for more than one year, we might ask if the policy reform has had a large effect upon usage. One possibility is that the re-classification itself is not much of a reform, because it did not eliminate the potential of arrest for marijuana possession. At any rate, the bottom line seems to be no major shifts in usage, while one Guardian columnist claims that the re-classification has made pot less attractive:
Matthew Atha, director of the Independent Drugs Monitoring Unit, noted that the change in the law had had no effect at all. In fact, though, since the increase in regular users dropped to 0.5% last year, down from 45% in 1998, I'd say the legislation has had a very marked impact. It has made everyone lose interest. You might just as well have dressed this drug up in a sailor suit and sent it on tour with Geri Halliwell. It just isn't cool anymore.

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Pot and the UK Election


Former British Home Secretary David Blunkett shepherded through a reclassification of cannabis in the UK that meant that many users found in possession would be fined, not arrested. Blunkett was forced to resign -- the precipitating scandal even was alluded to on Vice Squad! -- and his replacement, Charles Clarke, has been pushing hard for some of Blunkett's agenda, including the national id card plan and the detention of uncharged terror suspects. But on cannabis, and with an election looming, Clarke has signaled a willingness to undo what Blunkett did -- much to the consternation of Times columnist Simon Jenkins. And Jenkins wouldn't stop drug policy reform at the current re-classification:
Making drug use illegal, and thus plunging young people into a world of high-pressure criminal salesmanship, is madness. The 1971 Act is lethal and should be abolished. Cannabis should go where nicotine, alcohol, retail drugs, off-course betting, gambling and prostitution have gone before, into the realm of regulation and control.
Thanks to Harry Hutton of Chase Me Ladies, I'm in the Cavalry for the pointer. Harry, it seems, is no fan of national ID cards: "I would forbid my daughter to marry a man if that man were in favour of a compulsory ID card scheme, if I had a daughter."

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"Methods of painful impact to treat addictive behavior." [Updated!]


That's the English translation of the title of a Russian paper presented at a conference on new treatment methods for narcotics. From Pravda:
Siberian scientists believe that addiction to alcohol and narcotics, as well as depression, suicidal thoughts and psychosomatic diseases occur when an individual loses his or her interest in life. The absence of the will to live is caused with decreasing production of endorphins - the substance, which is known as the hormone of happiness. If a depressed individual receives a physical punishment, whipping that is, it will stir up endorphin receptors, activate the "production of happiness" and eventually remove depressive feelings.
That 'eventually' takes some 30 of the therapy sessions. One of the co-authors of the study, Dr. Sergei Speransky, claims to have cured his own depression via punishment, and more amazing still, "he also recovered from two heart attacks with the help of physical tortures too." Dr. Speransky recognizes that people might think that he's a bit odd, but he offers a denial:
"People might probably think of me as a masochist," Dr. Speransky said. "But I can assure you that I am not a classic masochist at all," he added.
Come to think of it, that is not exactly a denial, is it?

Thanks to friend of Vice Squad and satisfied Pravda reader Dima Masterov for the link; "pravda," of course, is the Russian word for "surely we couldn't make this stuff up."

Update: If the Siberian addiction cure is too wimpy for you, consider that of the Thamkrabok monastery in Thailand: "Addicts are put through a series of bamboo floggings, prayers and manual labour which is designed to cleanse them physically and mentally." (Scroll down to the bottom of the linked article.)

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005
 
What About Our Trademark?


Sweden is setting up a 'vice squad.' Sounds like it's a bunch of social scientists, too. Hrummph.

Their job, it is claimed, is to estimate the size of the underground economy in Sweden. The European Commission insists upon a full accounting of economic activity, so even illegal transactions must be included -- in particular, illicit drug sales, prostitution services, and the undergound liquor trade. The article suggests that this estimation will (a) not affect the overall stats much; and, (2) is harder in Sweden than in the Netherlands, because prostitution is legal in the Netherlands and small trade in cannabis is quasi-legal. I disagree on both counts, but mostly on the second.

For the prostitution estimates, it is suggested that Swedish prices are more-or-less public knowledge thanks to web ads, but that the frequency of visits to prostitutes is not similarly transparent. The researchers intend to exploit some vice complementarities to estimate the extent of prostitution: as many prostitutes are drug addicts, they will see how much prostitution would be required to support a drug habit.

Incidentally, recall that in Sweden, prostitution involves a one-sided prohibition: the purchases by customers are illegal, while the sales by prostitutes are legal.

Thanks to friend of Vice Squad Will Pyle for the pointer.

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Posting Problems


Sorry for the blogging hiatus, but I am having mucho difficulties with Blogger. No idea when things will be returned to the status quo ante. Maybe instead of being depressed I should take this as an opportunity to do my actual work? Naaah.

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Monday, March 28, 2005
 
Irish Public Smoking Ban at One Year


Co-blogger Michael was on the story one year ago when Ireland introduced its public smoking ban, the most notable feature of which was a ban on smoking inside pubs. We have been following the ban since, most recently by recounting some ban "winners", such as outdoor heater manufacturers. Today, via Reuters, we get a summary of conditions one year after the ban went into effect. The summary is fairly upbeat, focusing on the health benefits and widespread compliance -- it wasn't universal compliance! -- but not neglecting to mention the fall in bar revenues.

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Sunday, March 27, 2005
 
Punishing Pain Doctors


From Radley at The Agitator, we learn of this New York Times editorial recounting the difficult path that US pain patients will be facing thanks -- again -- to the Drug Enforcement Agency's playing doctor.

The Pain Relief Network offers a perspective that differs, to say the least, from that reflected in DEA practices. (Other painful Vice Squad posts include this one from more than a year ago and this one from June, 2004.)

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How Big Tobacco's Partners Spend Their Billions


The partners, of course, are the US states, 46 of whom became particularly beholden to Big Tobacco through the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issues an annual report on how the states are spending their settlement funds; the most recent report was issued last week. From the abstract:
States reported they received about $9.7 billion in fiscal year 2004 and expect to receive about $5.4 billion in fiscal year 2005....The MSA allows states to use their tobacco settlement payments for any purpose. States reported that they used the largest portions of the fiscal year 2004 payments to address budget shortfalls (about 44 percent) and to fund health-related programs (20 percent). Compared with fiscal year 2004, states in fiscal year 2005 expect to decrease allocations to address budget shortfalls (11 percent) and to increase allocations to both health-related programs (32 percent) and debt service on securitized funds (23 percent).
The Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids has been a vocal critic of how little state spending from the settlement funds has gone to fight tobacco-related health problems.

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Saturday, March 26, 2005
 
The Criminalisation of Prostitution -- Categorical?


We are led from Crim Law to FindLaw to uncover this article on why prostitution is illegal. I hope that it is not too much of a simplification to say that the author suggests that prostitution is illegal because we want to sharpen the distinction between commercial sexual exchanges and marital relations. I don't find the suggestion especially compelling, in part because prostitution has quite often been legal, and is so now in many places, nor do I think that where prostitution is legal people tend to see marital relations in a more commercial light. But I note the article mainly to comment on one sentence: "Though prostitution is currently legal in Nevada, every other state categorically prohibits it, and the Supreme Court rarely invalidates such widely shared criminal prohibitions." I wouldn't characterize prostitution as legal in Nevada. Rather, the state allows low-population counties to permit legal brothels -- and not other forms of prostitution -- if the county so chooses. Nor would I say that "every other state categorically prohibits" prostitution. Here's an excerpt from the paperback edition (1998) of A Guide to America's Sex Laws, by Posner and Silbaugh, pages 155-6: "Some statutes criminalize either the solicitation by a prostitute or the tenancy of the prostitute in a house of prostitution, rather than the act of prostitution itself. This removes from the scope of criminal prohibition any exchanges transacted entirely in private...." Vice Squad has noted in the past how some forms of prostitution seem to fall outside the ambit of existing state laws.

Slightly off-topic, I have long been mystified by the word "categorical". OED.com tells me that it means "unqualified" or "unconditional". Fine. My problem is that I often hear the word (not in OED.com!) "uncategorical" used in the same way, as in the last sentence here. Is to deny something categorically the same thing as denying something uncategorically?

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The WTO and Marijuana


Back to Chicago and blogging, both one day later than planned. I can't possibly catch up with blogospheric activity, but I will try to note today a couple of items that registered particularly deeply. First, this St. Patrick's Day offering from Slate, suggesting that the WTO's commitment to free trade might one day provide a lever to marijuana legalization in the US. Among the reasons offered is the course of the internet gambling case between the US and Antigua and Barbuda. I think that the internet gambling case will not prove to be a relevant precedent (at least for a loooong time), because both the production and consumption of internet gambling is legal in much of the world, while marijuana is prohibited globally -- even in the Netherlands, despite the official toleration of coffee shops. And I find overstated the observation that "Local marijuana-growing enjoys quasi-legal status in the United States...", as would, I think, just about anyone who tried to openly and notoriously engage in such growing for recreational use, or if not part of a state-sponsored medical marijuana program.

Though I am opposed to drug prohibition, I am also quite leery of using free trade principles to drive vice policy. I believe that such a route ultimately will undermine the (always rather tepid) political commitment to free trade (witness the reaction of some Congressmen to the WTO decision) and also lead to undesirable vice policies. But I also expect that it is the social view of the vice at issue that chiefly determines the extent to which free trade is enlisted into the service of vice policy regulation. On free trade (and probably also on harm reduction) grounds, the European Union should embrace snus, which is a form of a legal product, tobacco. But instead it bans it, outside of Sweden. The EU also hectors the Netherlands on cannabis policy, requiring the Dutch to show that their relatively liberal approach does not undermine the more restrictive regimes of neighboring countries. Meanwhile, as Vice Squad frequently points out, EU policies, this time under the banner of free trade, have rendered unsustainable strict alcohol control regimes in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005
 
From Sikh "Blasphemy" to Muslim Brothel


In December, England's Birmingham Repertory Theatre succumbed to intimidation by violent and threatening Sikh protestors and closed a play that the protesters found offensive. The new Birmingham Rep play is set in a Muslim brothel. Let's hope that the tepid response by the government to the previous threatening behavior does not encourage a repetition.

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Tobacco Settlement?


Big Tobacco and the feds apparently are engaged in talks to settle the ongoing racketeering lawsuit. The federales (at least temporarily) lost a major lever when an appeals court ruled in early February that $280 billion in past profits was not ripe for "disgorgement". The feds are not without other weapons in their arsenal, however, and in the trial itself (as opposed to outside-of-court settlement talks) are pushing "for court-ordered supervision of tobacco companies, including a possibility of court action to remove executives," according to the linked New York Times article.

Apologies for the disappearance of late. I am still out of town, and won't be back on what passes for the normal Vice Squad schedule until Friday, it seems.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005
 
Becker-Posner on the War on Drugs


While Jim is away, I recommend looking at the War on Drugs discussion on Becker-Posner blog. You may also want to take a look at Alex Tabarrok's post on Marginal Revolution about that discussion.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005
 
Once and Future Vice Policy Blogging


Somehow Vice Squad's 18-month mark slipped our notice yesterday, despite the heavy coverage of the event in all the leading newspapers. Blogger has lost count, but by my reckoning, this post is number 1,050, so we passed into quadruple digits in mid-February. (Yes, over 18 months, that's about 1.94 vice policy posts per day -- when I write it like that it doesn't really sound like this blogging gig has been steeped in productivity.) With my Regulation of Vice class starting at the end of March, I imagine that we will soldier on at our customary glacial pace for the next few months, if all goes well.

In the shorter term, however, Vice is Elsewhere, as spring break in Chicago necessitates a brief sojourn. Sporadic blogging, I am afraid, for the next 5 days or so -- maybe even fewer than 1.94 posts per day. Meanwhile, the fine folks linked on the sidebar will more than satisfy the vice policy appetites of all but the most committed addicts.

Previous Vice Squad milestone posts: Twelve months; six months; day one.

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Swedish Alcohol Policy Recommendations


The loyal Vice Squad reader knows all too well that the high taxes and strict alcohol regulations in Sweden are proving unsustainable in the face of lower cost alcohol in an expanded European Union. Talk of a significant alcohol tax cut, a' la Finland and Denmark, has been swirling in Sweden for some time. This week a government-commissioned report on alcohol policy was released. The main recommendations? Cut the tax on beer and wine by 30 percent -- 40 percent had been the figure bandied about earlier -- and raise the beer and wine drinking age from 18 to 20. US evidence indicates that raising the minimum drinking age is effective at reducing teen drinking and teen alcohol-related problems.

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Friday, March 18, 2005
 
Credit Cards and Internet Smokes


The happy coupling of credit cards and internet cigarette purchases has come to an abrupt end in the US. In an effort to collect taxes on cigarette sales, state attorneys general pressured credit card companies to remove their services from internet tobacco sellers. You can still buy cigarettes over the web in the US, but you have to find another means of payment. Hey I know, maybe we could use a commodity money, like in prisons or POW camps: we could pay for internet tobacco with cigarettes!

Vice Squad has been anticipating some such move. Credit card companies occasionally have been pressured away from internet porn sites, too, and internet gambling sites are problematic for card companies, in part because of state laws precluding the enforcement of gambling contracts.

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Prostitution Ads Bring Fines in Israel


Prostitution per se is not illegal in Israel, though solicitation and living off the proceeds are prohibited. (Here's another opportunity to note that I am not a lawyer and everything I say could be wrong, wrong, wrong: do not rely upon anything you see in Vice Squad!) Recently, running ads for prostitution services has also been made illegal, and newspapers found guilty of publishing such ads have now been fined: "For the first time in Israel, major newspapers have been fined for advertising prostitution services, and senior managers in charge of the advertising sections have been penalized."

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The New Containment


Eminence grise George Kennan has passed away, and his policy of containment has seen quite a decline, too. Congress is upset that the US hasn't done more to combat opium growing in Afghanistan; here's Congressman Henry Hyde going over the top: "The U.S. government has been AWOL too long in the fight against illicit drugs in Afghanistan which is part of the same war against the same enemy that is global terrorism." (He then went on to say, "Of course, it is our public policies, and not the chemical properties of illicit drugs, that establish any connection between drugs and terrorism." Oh, no, he didn't say that.)

Anyway, some DEA folks had to testify to Congressman Hyde and others at a Congressional hearing to signal how seriously we take the crop-growing habits of dirt-poor, early-perishing Afghan peasants. How serious are we? Cold War serious, that's how serious: Operation Containment. From the Voice of America:
Michael Braun, of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), says special DEA foreign-deployed agents may begin work at the end of March, supplementing an existing regional effort.

"Operation Containment is a DEA-led multinational cooperative program initiated in 2002 in an effort to place a security belt around Afghanistan that would prevent processing chemicals from entering the country and opium and heroin from leaving," he explained.
Meanwhile, other folks are hoping to get Afghanistan in on that portion of opium cultivation that receives official imprimatur.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005
 
Lazy Link-Based Post


Well it is finals week here at Vice Squad central and that means some neglect of blogging duties. Fortunately, our virtual comrades are more reliable:

(1) Libby at Last One Speaks highlights two marijuana-related prosecutions. One of the incidents features, as an arrestee, a middle-aged former prosecutor; the second is an 18-year old kid who was selling a batch of pot brownies. Which of these defendants is likely to do some serious time? Hint: Not the one who simultaneously was charged with drunk driving and possessing a loaded firearm while intoxicated.

(2) Ken at Crim Law via CrimProf Blog via Objective Justice points us to this tale of a former judge who was ordered to stay off the sauce while serving his 90-day home confinement for fixing traffic tickets. He caught a cold, took some Nyquil and went to bed. A surprise visit from a probation officer led to detection of the alcohol from the cold medicine, and a week of non-home confinement. (I should mention that the ex-judge had been warned to notify the authorities in advance of any cold-medicine-taking, which he failed to do.)

(3) Mark Kleiman brings us up to date on ayahuasca; somehow the feds were able to take time off from their porn crackdown (hat tip to Radley at The Agitator) to try to convince the Supreme Court to allow them to suppress the sacramental use of tea containing the South American hallucinogen (i.e., ayahuasca, silly).

(4) Lawrence at DUI Blog explains why even people who don't care about drunk driving should care -- I think that his point applies to vice policy more generally.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005
 
Vicewire, 3/16/2005


1) Here is a story about a West Texas District Attorney who had a vehement stance on drug abuse, but was arrested for possession of methamphetamines and cocaine.

2) A United Nations official has commented that he believes the prices of illegal drugs should rise next year due to the United States' new crusade against cocaine in Colombia.

3) Here is a story about the hallowed American tradition of betting on the NCAA tournament, and the continually greater amounts of money being bet-- approximately 1 in 10 will partake. Some say this year more money will be bet on the tournament than on the Super Bowl for the first time.

4) Here is an updated story on the ban on revealing clothing in a northern Malaysian state.

5) And a man has been arrested for DUI after his vanity license plate reading "TIPSY" gave police a clue as to his high Blood Alcohol Content.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005
 
Kentucky Raises Cigarette Tax


Last May, a tax hike in Virginia left Kentucky with the lowest state tax on cigarettes in the US, at 3 cents per pack. But now Kentucky has elected to match Virginia, with its own tax hike to 30 cents per pack. North Carolina now finds itself alone as a very low tax state (and presumably, has cemented its standing as a source of informal exports of cigarettes to other states). North Carolina's governor, however, has proposed raising the state cigarette levy to 50 cents per pack, and the Kentucky move will make such an adjustment more likely.

Thanks to a friend and former student of Vice Squad for the pointer.

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Back From Paris...


...where the French are smoking a whole lot less, it seems. Tax increases were the main impetus for declines in sales of cigarettes in France of more than 13% in 2003 and a further 15% in 2004. Even past cigarette consumption is declining in France: a cigarette has been smudged out of a photograph of Jean-Paul Sartre in a poster advertising an exhibition at the Bibliotheque Nationale. The decision to doctor the old photo was made in part to make sure that the poster would not violate a law against tobacco advertising.

Vice Squad has been lightly tracking French smoking trends since the tax increase.

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Saturday, March 12, 2005
 
Vicewire, 3/12/2005


1) A recent survey shows parents are more likely to be forgiving with their kids experimenting with drugs.

2) Four Canadian Mounted Police were tragically killed in a raid on a marijuana-growing operation in Alberta last week.

3) An anti-smoking drug? It's on the way.

4) Here's a plan one New Jersey lawmaker wants to help gambling addicts fight their addiction: have the highly lucrative cable gambling shows from ESPN or Bravo contribute to treatment centers.

5) And finally, slot machines could be on the way to South Florida.

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Friday, March 11, 2005
 
More Afghan Opium News


Radio-Free Europe has reported that a Paris-based think tank is recommending that Afghan poppy farmers become legal poppy growers licensed by the UN.

Opium can be produced for legitimate medical purposes, and currently the UN"s International Narcotics Control Board licenses farmers in certain countries to produce the drug legally.

The think tank is just beginning a feasibility study on the issue of licensing Afghani poppy farmers, and has not yet reached any formal conclusions. However, given that experts estimate as much as 60% of Afghanistan's economy is dependent upon the illegal drug trade, a licensing scheme for poppy growing in this country would seem to make sense. At the very least, it is worth exploring as an option, instead of blindly continuing the current unsuccessful war on poor farmers and villagers.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005
 
Vice is Elsewhere


I direct a winter quarter academic program at a University of Chicago "remote location," so I must leave today to head to the backwaters for a visit. What passes for normal blogging will resume Tuesday, I hope.

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Tuesday, March 08, 2005
 
A Wrong Turn at Colby? [Clarified!]


Well, distilled alcohol producers might not advertise in college newspapers but many college kids, even those under the age of 21, still drink. Further, some of them drink irresponsibly, and with tragic results that are lamentably common.

Last weekend, some 14 students at Colby College in Maine were charged with underage drinking or related offenses. But in their eagerness to control underage drinking, I am afraid that local law enforcement personnel might be inadvertently contributing to tragic outcomes. From the sound of what is said in the linked article, when someone drinks excessively and needs to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, the police will also respond in order to see if underage drinking is taking place and to ticket the offenders. This can easily lead to situations where kids postpone calling medical authorities for too long -- calling an ambulance for an acquaintance is like calling the cops on yourself. Instead of "taxing" such calls for help, I think subsidies might even be in order. Another policy that is announced in the article is that sober designated drivers who are good enough to provide safe passage to drinking kids will themselves be arrested and charged with the crime of furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol. Hadn't we seen enough of that in Naperville?

Correction: The author of the linked story was good enough to send in an update. The police have clarified their policy with respect to non-drinking drivers who are giving a ride to their in-the-cups friends. If there is no drinking going on inside the car, only the passengers will be summonsed, for possession of alcohol by a minor. The driver will only be charged with furnishing a place for minors to consume alcohol if the passengers are drinking in the car.

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Self-Regulating Alcohol Ads


Industry self-regulation can be a powerful force in vice control, even if it is reluctantly embraced by an industry hoping to stem legal controls or private boycotts. Liquor manufacturers and marketers in the US have adopted a voluntary "Code of Responsible Practices." Among other things, they do not allow ad placement in venues where less than 70 percent of the audience is likely to meet the minimum drinking age, and, surprising to me, they do not allow advertising in college newspapers or on college campuses, except in campus establishments that sell alcohol.

But who actually holds the alcohol makers to their code? Other alcohol sellers: if you see that your competitor is cheating, you have a profit motive to report the violation. And if the complainant is right, it looks as if the violation often is rectified. We now know this, because as the linked article reports, the Distilled Spirits Council (the self-regulating industry trade group) is now making complaints publicly available. Sounds like a good development to me. Helping to hold the industry to its commitment is the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY); their report on kids and television ads for alcohol indicates that "In 2001, 2002, and 2003, almost a quarter of alcohol ads that aired on television were more likely to be seen by underage youth per capita than by legal-age adults [footnote omitted]."

Vice Squad has previously noted self-regulation in the pornography industry, both in theory and practice. CAMY has appeared in Vice Squad in the past, too.

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Monday, March 07, 2005
 
Vetting Scientific Research Through Big Tobacco


The previous post alluded to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between major tobacco companies and 46 state attorneys general. One element of the agreement was that the companies would have to release internal documents relating to research on the health effects of tobacco. A new research publication partly based on those documents now claims that "executives at Philip Morris International hired a consultant to write a scientific article on the causes of [sudden infant death syndrome] and persuaded him to change his original conclusions. The eventual article called into question the connection to secondhand smoke, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday." Wow.

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Internet Cigarette Tax Surprise


Tax surprises are rarely the good kind of surprise. For the last couple of years, you've been buying your smokes off the internet, looking for good deals. And then it happens: your state sends you a bill demanding thousands of dollars in back cigarette excise and sales taxes. Surprise! "More than 530 Michigan residents received tax bills [from internet cigarette purchases] in the past two weeks, with the average individual liability being $3,200." Illinois residents will soon share in the surprises already bestowed upon Michiganers, New Yorkers, Pennsylvanians, and others. And with 44 state attorney generals soon meeting to take on internet cigarette tax evasion, the sharing is likely to spread. (Remember what happened when those attorney generals went after the cigarette manufacturers!) One woman interviewed for the linked Chicago Tribune article (registration required) suggested a query along the following lines: Do you think that similar efforts are made to collect state sales taxes on other, non-vice goods that are sold over the Internet?

The loyal Vice Squad reader, incidentally, would not have been surprised at the tax bill.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005
 
Recent US Prostitution Arrests


In some benighted countries, prostitution is legal; this is the case in such backwaters as Germany, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, parts of Nevada, and so on. But in the more advanced regions of the US, we have learned that arresting many of our friends and neighbors is the appropriate way to regulate prostitution. In recent days, we have managed to nab...

five folks in Naples, Florida; twenty-four folks in Longview, Texas; eight folks in Sanford, Florida; two folks in Charlotte, North Carolina; eleven folks in Raleigh, North Carolina; twelve folks in Paramus, New Jersey; five folks in Hamilton, Ohio; and so on. Month after month after month.

Note: In Canada and the UK, prostitution per se is legal, but solicitation and related activities remain criminalised.

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Non-Nuclear North Korean Export Success Story? [Updated!]


Higher cigarette taxes in South Korea have led to a burgeoning market in Pyongyang's, a North Korean brand. Many of the taxes are supposed to apply to such imports, too, but it looks like these levies are not being collected.

Perhaps legal drugs are not the only successful North Korean, non-nuclear export. Thanks to Ken at Crim Law for the pointer.

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Saturday, March 05, 2005
 
North Dakota to Take on the Feds Over Internet Gambling?


Internet gambling is a popular pastime, in America as elsewhere. But gambling websites are based in places like Costa Rica and Antigua, because such sites might be illegal in the US. But only "might be." Nevada and the Virgin Islands passed bills to regulate web casinos based in those locales, but the US Justice Department let them know that, in their view, any such casinos would violate federal law. North Dakota's house has now passed a similar bill, but the federal threat remains. Here's an article with the details.

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Breath-Testing High Schoolers


One recent innovation in our nation's secondary schools is more frequent use of breathalyzer tests:
[In East Hampton, NY] school administrators this winter proposed administering breath analyzers to students while high school is in session. Any student suspected of being drunk in class would be tested by a trained staff member, and not a police officer, board officials said. Results showing alcohol consumption would mean suspension. Refusing to take a test would be seen as an admission of guilt.

In central Connecticut, officials in the Avon School District are writing a plan similar to East Hampton's. A school district near South Bend, Ind. has had the policy in place for several years. Other districts around the country may well use their breath analyzers during the school day, even if their policies were originally intended for events outside of school.
Early identification of kids with a drinking problem -- and being drunk at school is probably a strong signal of having a drinking problem -- is helpful, as kids (like adults) can be good at hiding the extent of their alcohol dependence. Used sparingly and intelligently, school breath tests might be a good idea. But it is easy to see their use cascading into a tool to harass the usual suspects, or to supplement phys ed classes as a means to heap indignities upon young scholars. East Hampton claims that it will use the tests discreetly and only with parental permission, but that has not always been the case elsewhere: "In Indiana, at Penn High School in Mishawaka, which has a similar policy, the principal was forced to apologize to a student who had been pulled out of class by a police officer last year and given three breath tests, all of which were negative."

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Friday, March 04, 2005
 
High School Students Suspended for a Drug: Caffeine


One of the Detroit-area students apparently purchased online a caffeine syrup -- used for adding a caffeine jolt to other foods or drinks -- and brought a small amount of it to school, and the other student sipped it. They were planning a video game marathon and wanted to stay awake, according to this report. I think that we'll see more stories about juveniles and high-caffeine substances, and I wouldn't be surprised if there is a regulatory response.

It's unlikely, however, that coffee and other products that are not marketed for high caffeine will be subjected to controls, even age-based restrictions, in the near future. Here's an article that notes the appeal of caffeinated drinks to law students, all-night dance club patrons, and their teenage siblings.

Speaking of caffeine, I had a wonderful cup of coffee in this fine establishment today. If Vice Squad concerned private policies instead of public policies towards vicious activities, this cafe' would be highly recommended.

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Circumventing a Nude Dancing Ban


Maybe this is true. According to this linked Reuters article, a Boise strip club uses an exception in the law to get around a ban on nude dancing. The city public nudity ban explicitly exempts activities with serious artistic merit. The idea was to ensure that art classes and stage productions would not be cited under the law. But what constitutes an art class, anyway?: "On what it calls Art Club Nights, the Erotic City strip club charges customers US$15 (8 pounds) for a sketch pad, pencil, and a chance to see completely naked women dancers."

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Thursday, March 03, 2005
 
Controlled Drinking for Recovering Alcoholics?


Someone close to you has a serious drinking problem. Should this person be counseled to cut back on alcohol consumption, or to become completely abstinent? Like certain other zero-tolerance v. harm reduction issues (e.g., abstinence-only sex education for high schoolers), this question is very controversial.

This month the journal Addiction contributes to the debate, first with an article by Dawson, et al., "Recovery from DSM-IV alcohol dependence: United States, 2001-2002," and then with four responses to the article and a rejoinder by Dawson, et al.

The main finding of Dawson et al. is that lots of folks who meet the standard markers for alcohol dependence eventually change their ways. While many of these folks become abstinent, a movement to low-risk drinking is also a common outcome. And these "recoveries" are generally accomplished without treatment for alcohol dependence. The authors themselves are quite measured in their interpretation of these findings, and the responses by and large are further calls for caution.

My own not-well-informed view is that for some (but by no means all) alcoholics, controlled drinking is essentially impossible. [Update: perhaps years after the current crisis or in a radically different environment even these individuals would be able to drink "socially".] A similar view (I think) is provided in Deborah Hasin's response:
A very important result of Dawson et al.'s paper is that full remission from the symptoms of DSM-IV alcohol dependence can occur among individuals who continue to drink. At one time, this finding would have been revolutionary. Fortunately, our field has matured enough so that is no longer the case. However, we remain without guidelines concerning who really must stop drinking in order to recover from DSM-IV alcohol dependence, and who can recover stably from dependence even while drinking moderately. While many guidelines exist on how to cut down or stop in terms of psychological (e.g. motivation, cognitive planning) and environmental changes (new peer groups, avoidance of cues for binging), however, these do not address the question of abstinence versus controlled drinking....

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"A Daniel Come to Judgment"


The Lion's Den Adult Superstore near Abilene, Kansas, has been facing twenty-odd charges for promoting obscenity. As Vice Squad noted last April, this case came into being thanks to a petition campaign by Citizens for Strengthening Community Virtues; the signatures on the petition led to a grand jury being empaneled, culminating in the charges. But the petition giveth, and the petition taketh away: a judge threw out the charges this week due to irregularities in the petition. Seems some information about where signatories voted was added (for those signers who hadn't included the info themselves) by the organizers. Apparently that is a problem.

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Wednesday, March 02, 2005
 
Norwegian Methanol Poisonings [Updated]


As Vice Squad has noted in the past, most recently with respect to 65 fatal poisonings in Bombay, high taxes replicate some of the less savory aspects of vice prohibition -- including the production and smuggling of underground, and possibly adulterated substances. Six Norwegians are recent, fortunately non-fatal, victims of a methyl-alcohol-laced beverage. Their poisoning apparently stems from drinking from the same batch of adulterated hooch that has killed 18 people in Norway during the last three years.

[Update, March 4: "Fifteen people have died from poisoning after drinking fake Turkish raki, a strong aniseed-flavoured alcohol, at an Istanbul restaurant." Even unadulterated raki contains some methanol, but the batch that killed these poor folks had much higher-than-normal levels.]

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Arizona's Later Closing Time After Six Months


A little more than six months ago Arizona changed its closing time laws, allowing alcohol to be sold until 2AM instead of the previous 1AM, and allowing bars to remain open until 2:30 instead of 1:15. When the bill was signed, the Governor asked for an evaluation of the new system after six months, and that evaluation has now been produced. The still-quite-preliminary verdict: "A law that delayed Arizona's cutoff for alcohol sales to 2 a.m. has shifted when many DUI arrests and alcohol-related crashes take place but has not increased their numbers, two state agencies say in new reports."

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005
 
US Khat War Victim


When we hear of someone getting killed during an attempted robbery involving illegal drugs and the associated cash, we generally think of cocaine or heroin or meth as the drug in question -- though these sorts of things are not unknown with respect to, e.g., marijuana or ecstasy, either. But we don't usually think of khat, at least in the US. But there is an ongoing trial in Minnesota concerning a homicide that seems to be khat-war-related. Khat is legal in many other places.

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Leaving No Channel Uncensored


Yesterday the FCC said that Saving Private Ryan was hunky dory, even before 10PM. But what if they had supported the many complainants and decided the other way? Then, prime time airing of Saving Private Ryan (or other movies with 'similar' amounts of profanity) would be restricted to satellite or cable stations.

But Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska doesn't think that there should be different standards for satellite or cable stations, even though folks have to do more than simply own a TV set to see programming offered over cable or satellite. If he has his way, prime time, even on cable, will be pure as the driven Alaskan snow. And as inviting, too.

The linked story was brought to my attention by co-blogger and primo research assistant Ryan Monarch. Ryan is off to Los Angeles later this week, to -- I am not making this up -- appear on a game show. Good luck, Ryan!

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