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underage smoking

11/01/12 1:40pm

Youth Cig Sales Hit New Low


Good luck, kid. Photo via

The proportion of tobacco retailers making illegal sales to minors in the US fell last year to 8.5%, according to new research from SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). This is the lowest level since tracking of this data began in 1997, under provisions of the Synar Amendment Program. Enacted as part of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992, Synar requires US states and territories "to enact and enforce laws prohibiting the sale or distribution of tobacco products to individuals under age 18"—and also "to conduct random, unannounced inspections of tobacco outlets." In 1997, 40.1% of retailers were found to sell tobacco to kids. After a sharp drop in 1998, to 25.4%, the numbers have declined steadily each year since. That's significant, because stopping kids from taking their first puff is one of the best ways of preventing adult smoking. Research has shown that, among adults who have ever been daily smokers, 88% report lighting up for the first time prior to turning 18. “The success of the Synar program is a testament to how preventing underage youth from gaining illegal access to tobacco products can have a tremendous impact,” says SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. SAMHSA also provided state-by-state data for 2011, which showed that the state with the highest "retailer violation rate" is health-conscious Oregon, at 19.3%, while vice-friendly Nevada has the lowest, at just 1.1%.

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By Hunter R. Slaton

addiction on film

11/01/12 12:58pm

Denzel Washington Quit Booze for Flight


"We've all tied one on," says Washington.
Photo via

In a non-method acting approach, Denzel Washington says he actually stopped drinking altogether for the full 45 days of filming his latest role as an alcoholic airline pilot. In the much-hyped Flight, which hits theaters tomorrow, the 57-year-old actor plays a pilot who is lauded for navigating a plane to safety during a storm—until it's discovered that he was actually drunk throughout the incident. The actor is no stranger to hitting the bottle. He told Essence in 1986 that he was quitting drinking for good, but now admits that he only "semi-quit" during the '80s. "We've all tied one on,” says the Oscar-winning actor. “But if I had been drinking while I was shooting, it’d be harder to stay disciplined, just to get up in the morning. You are a little more hung over, grouchier." Washington says the film was "an excellent opportunity, and a really good story. So it was something I wanted to do right." However, even practicing sobriety to enact his character's excruciating struggle with addiction didn't turn him off the sauce for good: "I haven't given it up forever."

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By May Wilkerson

Legalization of Marijuana

11/01/12 11:42am

States' Pot Legalization Would Hurt Cartels


Marijuana makes money—but for whom?
Photo via

The staunchest opponents of three marijuana legalization bills being voted on in US states next week may be Mexico's drug cartels, a new study suggests. The Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a think tank, assumes that if pot were legalized in Colorado, Oregon or Washington—the three states where such measures have made the November 6 ballot—it would be produced relatively cheaply there and smuggled to other states. It calculates hypothetical prices and assumes that US consumers would choose home-grown marijuana over Mexican if it cost less. According to this model—and estimating that Mexican cartels currently make over $6 billion a year from smuggling into the US—legalization in Oregon would see a loss of $1.839 billion for Mexican cartels, while legalization in Colorado or Washington would cost the cartels $1.425 billion and $1.327 billion respectively. Such estimates should be taken with a pinch of salt, of course. One of the study's authors, former Mexican intelligence officer Alejandro Hope, admits that the figures rely on a series of uncertain assumptions; above all, aggressive intervention by the US federal government or neighboring state authorities could stop US-grown weed moving easily and cheaply around the country. And opponents of legalization argue that the cartels could respond by using legitimate US grow operations as fronts to continue their business. Still, the prospect of squeezing the profits of some of the world's most ruthless criminal organizations should give voters additional food for thought. 

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By Will Godfrey

sober gambling

11/01/12 10:53am

Recovering Oxy Addict Wins World Series of Poker


Merson no longer plays for drug money.
Photo via

Greg Merson, a 24-year-old from Washington, has plenty to celebrate. He's just won $8.53 million at the World Series of Poker in Vegas—and he's one year clean and sober after battling addictions to oxycontin, adderall, and cocaine. If that weren't the case, he says, “I could possibly not be alive right now, and that’s no exaggeration. I never want to do any of that ever, literally ever.” Merson was a straight-A student in high school, but began smoking marijuana excessively after he graduated—and started playing poker in order to fund that habit. By the second semester of his freshman year of college at Maryland, he was “a full-blown cokehead;” he went on to get hooked on Adderall and OxyContin. He ended up dropping out of school to go to rehab and get clean. It was then that he began playing poker professionally. “I knew I just had to follow my dreams," he says, admitting some friends and family members had difficulty accepting his decision at first. He now credits the game that he first played for drug money with helping to keep him clean: “I don't know where I'd be, if I'd even be alive, if I didn't have this passion.” Merson took the World Series title just before dawn yesterday, after beating eight other finalists in a 12-hour no-limit Texas Hold’em tournament.

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By Valerie Tejeda


11/01/12 5:00am

Morning Roundup: November 1, 2012


Kenny Hummel, 18, had consumed
energy drinks as well as alcohol. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

opium crops

10/31/12 5:02pm

China's Addicts Drive Southeast Asian Opium Boom


In Myanmar, opium production rises despite
government crackdowns. Photo via

Despite government efforts to eradicate the crop, opium cultivation in Southeast Asia has more than doubled over the past six years, according to a report released today by the UN. This steep increase is largely driven by rising demand for heroin across Asia—especially in China, where the number of users is estimated to have climbed to 2.5 million, accounting for over 70% of all heroin users in East Asia and the Pacific. A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry says the country has participated in regional and global counternarcotics initiatives and "made great efforts in preventive education and the prohibition of drugs and drug rehabilitation." Still, drugs continue to pour in to the country, most of them from the "Golden Triangle"—an area right below China, where Laos, Thailand and Myanmar converge.

Since 2006, the report shows, annual poppy cultivation has been rising steadily in the Golden Triangle, which is one of the world's primary opium-producing regions—second only to the "Golden Crescent" across Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. In Laos, the amount of farmland used for growing opium nearly tripled in 2011; in Myanmar it rose 17%, despite the government's recent aggressive efforts to eradicate opium production. Opium yields about 15 times more cash than other crops, making it an attractive livelihood for many farmers—and the crops are often controlled by insurgents and traffickers, making it difficult for the government to intervene. "Because it threatens both the livelihoods of desperately poor people as well as income for armed groups, the act of eradication involves a lot of risk," explains Gary Lewis, the representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's East Asia and Pacific division. "We must engage with the farming communities and persuade them—with alternative development —to stop growing poppy." 

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By May Wilkerson


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