Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2023 High School Seniors Preferred Alcohol and Marijuana, But Almost Abandoned Cigarettes


My readers know that I have followed the results of the annual Monitoring the Future Survey (MTF) for many years, focusing on alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use among high school seniors.  The 2023 MTF results, released in December (here), indicate that past 30-day (i.e., current) use of all products declined from the previous year (as seen in chart at left).    

Despite its illegality, drinking alcohol retained its decades-long top-substance status among seniors at 23%, down significantly from 28% in 2022.  Marijuana was second at 18%, one point higher than the 17% of seniors vaping nicotine in the past 30 days, which was a significant 4 percentage point decline from the year before.  Happily, current smoking remained at the bottom of the chart, at a new low of 2.9%.    

Another fascinating MTF finding (not on my chart) is that 18% of seniors currently consumed flavored alcohol, one point higher than those who vaped nicotine.  Protecting teens from flavors has driven the FDA’s attempts to ban vape flavoring and these products are being prohibited outright in jurisdictions across the country.  Flavored alcohol is far more dangerous for teens, but those products are apparently beyond the FDA’s reach, and no one has yet established a Campaign for Alcohol Free Kids. 


Thursday, January 11, 2024

FDA Creates, Decries Illegal E-Cigarette Tsunami


An article in the LA Times January 2nd bemoaned the “thousands of new flavored products…pouring into the country from China.”  It claimed, “Nearly all the new products are disposable e-cigarettes, according to sales data gathered from gas stations, convenience stores and other shops. The products generated $3.2 billion in the first 11 months of this [sic] year.”

The response from Brian King, director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, was na├»ve: “Those committing illegal acts don’t advertise their crimes, and those trying to import illegal tobacco products into the United States are no different.  The FDA and our federal partners are using tools, like import alerts, to stop these illegal tobacco products at the border and to deter countless others.” (emphasis added)

Dr. King ignores history.  A contemporary account of the first day of Prohibition in the U.S., January 17, 1920, noted, “Canadian liquor in quantities from one gallon to a truckload is being hidden in the northern woods and distributed by automobile, sled and iceboat, on snowshoes and skis.”

Neither Dr. King nor his FDA colleagues are going to stop the illegal vape tsunami.  When the FDA issued a toothless warning letter last May to the Chinese maker of Esco Bars e-cigarettes, it failed to note that the product’s name is a salute to one of history’s most successful illegal importers – Pablo Escobar. 

My readers will recognize another tobacco prohibitionist in the LA Times article -- Stanford University’s Bonnie Halpern-Felsher.  I’ve criticized her previous research, but here she comes across as a realist: “FDA whacks one product and then the manufacturers get around it and the kids get around it.  It’s too easy to change your product a little bit and just relaunch it.”

Halpern-Felsher wants all vapes banned… for the children, foreseeing a vaping apocalypse: “If we continue down this path that we’re on, we’re just going to have new and continuing generations of young people addicted to nicotine.”

Yes, regardless of what the FDA or anyone else does, some teens and young adults will become addicted to nicotine.  But as shown in the chart below, few will die from nicotine over the next 30 years, as almost none of these vaping youth smoke.  



Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Current Tobacco Prohibition in U.S. Prisons Would Violate the Geneva Convention, As It Treats Incarcerated Americans Worse than Wartime POWs


The U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons in 2015 finalized a rule prohibiting inmate “possession of smoking apparatus and tobacco in any form.”  Nine years earlier, the Bureau had discontinued tobacco sales at prison commissaries.  

Announcing the final rule, Bureau officials discounted the issue of black market activity, saying that the agency’s staff was already trained to intercept contraband, so the addition of tobacco involved zero “additional burden.” They promised to increase searches of Bureau employees to assure that they don’t become contraband sources, and to impose “more severe inmate sanctions for violations” to deter “possession of tobacco products.” 

Such measures are destined to fail, as the Mississippi Department of Corrections discovered.  Three years ago, that agency abandoned its tobacco ban (here), reporting that prohibition had created an underground market that saw inmates paying “as much as $500 a pound” for cigarette tobacco.  The new policy, the commissioner said, “will save [them] money and the state will make money,” and, “By selling [cigarettes], we are breaking the contraband tobacco trade, designating smoking areas outside, clearing the air inside for the majority of inmates who don’t smoke, reducing inmate contraband violations, and recouping for taxpayers some of the dollars it takes to run prisons.”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons wrongly claimed that its rule would not affect prisoners with mental illness, citing a 2002 review that it said found, “It was no more difficult for the mentally ill to quit smoking than it was for someone with no mental disorder.”  To the contrary, the authors of that study acknowledged, in a gross understatement, that “quit rates of psychiatric populations may be lower than those of nonpsychiatric populations.”  There is overwhelming evidence that people with serious psychological disorders smoke more and have great difficulty quitting (here, here, here, here, and here). 

Clearly, prison bans of tobacco products ignore both science and economics, but the Bureau’s prohibition, as well as countless local and state prison tobacco bans, would also violate international humanitarian standards if the bans were applied to prisoners of war.

According to Army Lt. Colonel Frank Rosenblatt (Ret), military law expert and Assistant Professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 is an international treaty regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, and it was ratified by nearly every nation, including the United States. Here's what it says about tobacco:

“Canteens shall be installed in all camps, where prisoners of war may procure foodstuffs, soap and tobacco and ordinary articles in daily use. The tariff shall never be in excess of local market prices.”

If enemy combatants are entitled to tobacco as an element of humane treatment, why shouldn't the same standard apply to incarcerated Americans?   

A second aspect to the Bureau’s prohibition also violates human rights.  The Bureau’s rule banned snuff and chewing tobacco on the grounds that they “are also harmful to health in the same way that ‘lighted’ tobacco products are.” (emphasis added)  Not only was this proven false 30 years ago (here and here), but eminent tobacco researcher Lynn Kozlowski demonstrated two decades ago that “no safe tobacco product” themes widely promoted by anti-tobacco extremists “are so uninformative that they constitute a violation of [a fundamental] right to health relevant information on tobacco.”   

The sweeping and pervasive prohibition of all tobacco products across federal, state and local penal institutions violates international humanitarian standards and the rights of 1.8 million incarcerated Americans.