There must be a law, or at least a regulation.

The Biden administration, under the auspices of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has announced plans to force cigarette manufacturers to cut the amount of nicotine in their products by as much as 90 percent. FDA also announced Juul, the maker of nicotine-based e-cigarettes, will no longer be allowed to sell products in the US. Another pending FDA ruling will be outlawed. menthol cigarettespreferred by 40 percent of smokers.

In doing so, the Biden administration, which was elected in part on promises to reform our broken criminal justice system, limit the war on drugs, and learn from the discriminatory impact of federal policies on minority communities, will criminalize more Americans, open a new theater in the war on drugs, and deliver disparate consequences. for decades to come.

The legacy of Prohibition in this country has taught dark, harsh lessons about how people behave. The only ones who do not seem to have learned these lessons are regulators, who in their unlimited vision malleability of human nature, imagine themselves capable of making others live as they please. The lessons of prohibition have proved a thousand times over that people generally act according to their preferences, and attempts to shape human behavior from the outside lead to predictable, and often completely predictable results.

Prohibition does not prevent people who want drugs from getting drugs. People have been changing their minds and perceptions with the help of substances for thousands of years. Because of how people respond to such prohibitions (by circumventing them rather than giving up the forbidden thing), prohibition makes it more dangerous to get drugs and the drugs themselves more dangerous.

Take, for example, the proposed reduction in the nicotine content of every cigarette sold. Cigarettes are a delivery system for nicotine, which is naturally found in tobacco leaves. Nicotine itself does not cause cancer or serious illness, but it is because of nicotine that people smoke. Within ten seconds of smoking a cigarette, nicotine is delivered to the brain, producing immediate physiological effect from cigarettes: improved mood and concentration, reduced arousal and stress, reduced muscle tension and hunger. For heavy smokers, smoking primarily serves to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms, which makes nicotine particularly addictive.

But cigarettes are just one way to deliver nicotine to the brain. This is a common, well-established, but especially dangerous and dirty method. Much of the carcinogenic and disease-causing properties of cigarettes come from the tar, dirt from burning leaves, and additives, not from the nicotine itself. Chewing gums, patches and vaporized nicotine delivery devices have come onto the market in recent years and are believed to have helped many smokers kick their more toxic smoking habit. At least for a significant proportion of smokers, they want nicotine, not smoking experience.

Since nicotine and nicotine addiction encourage cigarette smoking, it might seem natural that reducing the amount of the addictive chemical could reduce the urge to smoke. A little research have shown the first 1-2 puffs of a cigarette can produce enough nicotine to deal with withdrawal symptoms, and the rest of the cigarette can be effectively thrown away. But for people with established habits, the most likely outcome is that they smoke more cigarettesby consuming more disease-causing smoke to get a similar level of nicotine. It does not require much human empathy or even medical research. All we need is a little common sense.

Iron Law of Prohibition

Imagine a big college football stadium on game day. There are tents and back door parties for a quarter mile in every direction, everyone enjoying a day outside. In these picnic coolers, you’ll most likely find beer (4-7 percent alcohol by volume), hard seltzer and spiked lemonades (4-10 percent alcohol), and wine (8-11 percent alcohol). Beer costs at least four times more in the stadium than in the parking lot. Many people try to smuggle “outside drinks” through security in order to continue enjoying the indoors at a discount. In the vast majority of cases, those who do not drink beer are smuggling whiskey and vodka. If your priority is to have the product but not get caught with it, you want the most intoxicating effect in the least amount because a smaller container is easier to hide. During Prohibition, bootleggers were overwhelmingly involved in smuggling hard liquor because the risk was high and the profits from liquor were higher.

This phenomenon is known as the “iron law of prohibition”: prohibiting something creates incentives for a product to be more effective for sale on the black market. Richard Cowan followed a similar arc in an article with the emphatic title “How drug addicts create crack. He summarized his Iron Law like this: “The harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

What, then, is the most likely outcome of the FDA’s mandate for low-nicotine cigarettes? The requirement that all commercially sold cigarettes be made with low nicotine content not only encourages a black market in whole foods, but also a direct incentive for someone to produce cigarettes with a supercharge: whiskey for cigarette beer. This allows you to charge a higher price for each cigarette (reducing the risk of high-volume smuggling), but also creates the most addictive ultra-high concentration cigarette that isn’t even on the market yet, but will come from an attempt to reduce smoking.

Just another drug war

A similar phenomenon will come as a result of the ban on Juul products, which are a much lower risk nicotine delivery system than cigarettes. Among all Americans, e-cigarettes (any type, not just Juul) smoked the most. adults who have quit smoking cigarettes in the last year. There are significant health risks associated with vaping, but they are much, much lower than with cigarettes – 90 percent safer than smoking. By removing one of the most popular and most regulated cigarette substitutes from the market, the FDA will force at least some recent quitters to return to their cigarettes.

For high school students in most states, cigarettes have been banned by law in the last century. minimum age to purchase varies from 21 in the 1920s, to 16 in 1980, 18 by 1993, and back to 21 today. During this time, teen cigarette use has steadily declined, but has never been zero. Simply banning the purchase of an item does not stop its use. Similarly, banning teens from using e-cigarettes hasn’t stopped these devices from reaching kids. When there have been significant spikes in acute illness or injury from vaping devices, as in 2019-2020, these tragedies were not due to transparent legal markets, but to additives on the black market of THC cartridges. Bypassing the law made the product more dangerous.

Illicit cigarette smuggling has already become big business in the United States and the demand for it is constantly growing. 30 million American smokers creation of sufficient financial incentives for international trade and tax evasion. So much like half of the cigarettes sold in New York and California “smuggling” to avoid high sales taxes. Organized crime networks are willing to expand on vaping products. They may soon find special opportunities in menthol products.

Cigarette counterfeiting, in which foreign manufacturers imitate familiar brands of cigarettes, poses an even greater health risk than “regular” cigarettes. Research has noted much higher levels of toxic heavy metals in such products, as well as insect eggs, dead flies, mold and human feces. Similar falsifications have been found in illegal e-cigarette cartridges. Encouraging more consumers to seek out illicit sources by raising taxes or making it harder to access desired products is likely to worsen public health outcomes.

Turning addicts into criminals

The biggest mistake of the war on drugs has been to criminalize foods, behaviors and people who could be better served by appropriate health services to either stop smoking or minimize the harm of their use.

People who fall into harmful addiction spirals do so for a variety of physiological, psychological, social, and social reasons, few of which can be stopped by well-intentioned obstacles. In fact, many of them will suffer not only ill health, but criminalization, poverty, and even death due to the intervention of nanny state prohibitionists who believe that human nature can be overcome or changed through politics.

Regulators seem to understand that even when they force the e-cigarette company out of the market and impose strict limits on the nicotine content of cigarettes, they cannot simply ban cigarettes entirely.

This is partly due to the tobacco lobby, one of the largest and most effective special interests in modern politics. This is partly due to the fact that governments rely on revenues from taxes on cigarettes.

We can assume that regulators also know that a complete ban is not possible. 30 million Americans who currently smoke will not stop being addicted to the stroke of the pen. The supply and use of cannabis, cocaine, and even heroin has not been noticeably curtailed by strict bans on these products, even with much higher social stigma and criminal penalties than likely for nicotine products.

Regulators may even realize that increasing the size of the smuggling market (virtually turning all cigarettes currently sold in the US into black market products) will attract more illegal traders and, as seen in previous eras of Prohibition, will cause violence against the profit share. illegal trade. .

But the FDA’s behavior doesn’t mean they have learned those lessons. They seem to be unable to foresee even the most elementary unintended consequences of interfering with human motivation and attempting to interrupt individual stimuli.

When pesky FDA officials present the implications of their new rules, they imagine that these measures will save lives, reduce health consequences, and protect Americans. They only imagine desired outcomes, not how people actually behave.

They imagine the adult smoker putting his last cigarette in the ashtray, oblivious to how many smokers have tried to quit for their own reasons; and they represent the dazzling white smiles of millions of children who never get addicted.

What they have to portray is prisoners rolling nicotine patches with tea leaves and paper, they smoke them. They must think about teenagers are hospitalized black market vape cartridge additives purchased because regulated products were unavailable or too expensive. They must anticipate gunfights on speedboats smuggling goods available in stores today.

And they should remember Eric Garner, face down on the pavement in New York City, being slowly strangled by a police officer for selling bulk cigarettes in defiance of a pack tax aimed at reducing smoking.

Prohibition, because it does not take into account human motivation and incentives, backfires every time.

Laura Williams

Laura Williams

Laura Williams is a communications professional, writer, and educator based in Atlanta, Georgia.

She is a passionate supporter of critical thinking, personal freedoms and the Oxford comma.

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