- 11 Jun 13
Evidence continues to mount that prohibitionism doesn’t work – even with tobacco...
In the last issue of Hot Press, The Message was devoted to the question of legalising cannabis. Well, the Hog has a long and deepening relationship with Colorado in the United States where cannabis is largely legal so the logic of this argument is clear.
Civilisation doesn’t end when you use your head. But four news items last week underline the case. The first of these was the hospitalisation of two women who had allegedly taken adulterated cannabis. Now even if it emerges – as has more recently been speculated – that a different fdrug entirely was responsible, this tragic case shows that you can’t bury your head in the sand. There’s a need for regulation and quality control.
The second was the release of the European Drug Report 2013 produced by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction. This found that Ireland is well above the European average for cocaine use. Almost seven per cent of those aged 15 to 64 have tried the drug. The study also shows relatively high use of amphetamines and ecstasy though levels have declined in the last year.
The third was the launch of a report by Merchant’s Quay Ireland. It profiles more than 300 drug users who have attended the service. Among many interesting insights, it reveals that most addicts take several types of drugs and that, as Tony Geoghegan, Chief Executive of Merchants Quay Ireland said, poly-drug use is now the norm.
Of course, this isn’t news to those working with or close to heavy drug users. As well as illegal drugs they take others, some prescribed, some not. People regularly take drugs that were prescribed for others and there’s a thriving black market in prescription meds.
Mix and match is the order of the day and if one drug of choice is unavailable others can be found that will substitute. Most drug users know a lot about drugs and many have a pretty advanced paramedical knowledge base. They are very clear about what each drug will do for you and how to use them.
This, again, is the real world and there’s nothing to be gained from hiding your head in the sand.
The fourth was the announcement by Minister James Reilly of new measures to combat smoking. Cigarettes are to be sold in plain packages or “standardised packaging”. There will be no trademarks, logos, colours or graphics. Reilly says it will save lives and that the new measures will increase the effectiveness of health warnings and reduce brand appeal...
This is just the latest in a line of measures aimed at reducing smoking… measures that simply haven’t worked. Smoking has fallen from where it once was but in recent years it has flatlined. Yes, major brands are losing market share but this is offset by the steady increase in the criminal trade in cigarettes.
And that’s both the point and the problem. The Hog doesn’t smoke and is entirely supportive of the idea that we should try to reduce the incidence of smoking. But if all that the measures do is displace the legitimate (taxpaying) market in favour of an illegal and non-taxpaying market, wit is an exercise in utter futility. We have substituted a moral crusade for rational analysis.
Markets find their supply, legally or otherwise. Look at the demand for cannabis and heroin and ecstasy and other people’s prescription meds. These boast no fancy packaging, brand names or logos. There’s no cannabis sponsorship of sports or arts events. There’s just market demand for a commodity – and a criminal(ised) network that is able and willing to respond.
It’s hard to fathom: in relation to tobacco, why would you wilfully remove its distribution and control from the legitimate economy and place it with criminals?
Yes, yes, yes, any sane person would want to discourage smoking on health grounds. And there’s a moral imperative. But other considerations also arise, chief amongst which is the transfer of significant funding from the legitimate (and taxable) economy to the underworld.
And we’re not even sure it’s going to work. We’re told it worked in Australia. This is typical of how public health campaigners operate. It can be summarised as follows: ‘There is a problem. We must do something. Standard packaging may have worked somewhere. That’s the something. Let’s do it’.
So let’s ask the ugly question: what happens if this new measure doesn’t work? If people keep smoking and, as predicted by many, all this achieves is the transfer of more of the tobacco trade to gangland – who will take responsibility for that failure? Nobody.
Worse, if this fails I predict that the anti-smoking lobby will not accept – ever – that they’ve got it wrong. They’ll look for scapegoats. They’ll blame the internet. They’ll blame movies and musicians. They’ll then recommend that the Government keep digging the hole. They’ll demand even more draconian regulation. And if that doesn’t work, yet more and yet more and...
The one thing they won’t do is think outside the box. But reducing demand for tobacco, or indeed any addictive substance, isn’t about controlling others’ behaviour or “sending signals”. It’s about what will work. It’s not about prescribing harsh and unpleasant treatment for “your own good”, it’s about understanding motivation and behaviour and developing everyone’s capacity to be in charge of their own lives and choices…
So let’s start thinking straight. For once…