Low-income smokers in the state of New York spend a quarter of their income on smokes, a new study shows. On average, they'll blow 23.6% of a $30,000 salary on cigarettes—nearly twice the national average. (Meanwhile smokers earning $60,000 or more spend on average just two percent of their incomes on cigs.) New York State has the highest cigarette tax in the US—at $4.35 a pack—and New York City dwellers pay an extra $1.50 on top of that. The tax was set in the name of good health, but some question the justice of it. “The poor pay $600 million in cigarette taxes and get little help in quitting,” says Russ Sciandra of the American Cancer Society. The authors of the study write: "Although high cigarette taxes are an effective method for reducing cigarette smoking, they can impose a significant financial burden on low-income smokers."
New York's taxes have helped cut the state's habit by 20% between 2003 and 2010, but they haven't made a dent in the smoking rate among poorer citizens. Critics see the taxes as unfairly punitive to the poor: “It busts their theory that high taxes equal submission to their coercive measure,” claims Audrey Silk of Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment. Telling penniless puffers to quit is easy, but the expense of some quit-smoking aids can be an issue—some opt instead to pick up cheaper roll-your-own cigs that are even more unhealthy. However, New York state does offer a free smoker's quitline, and can provide a starter kit of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges for those who qualify. Poor smokers in NYC can utilize quit-smoking clinics that offer meds and counseling at little or no cost. Still, “They can be a hard-to-reach population,” says health department spokesman Peter Constantakes.
Comedian and self-proclaimed "Queen of Mean" Lisa Lampanelli has never been shy about insulting people for a laugh. She's now targeting semi-famous celebrities who have been (allegedly) struggling with the bottle. Right after '70s actress Sally Struthers was charged with DUI last week, Lampanelli took to Twitter to write, "Sally Struthers (Gilmore Girls actress) charged with DUI. Sounds like those African kids with the flies on their faces aren't the only ones who need a sponsor! #AA." And this week, she had a field day with Dina Lohan's woozy, slurry interview on Dr. Phil: "Czech Republic bans liquor sales after wave of deaths. After her Dr. Phil experience Dina Lohan may want to winter there! #alkie." But Lampanelli is no stranger to addiction herself. She says she's a lifelong food addict who has attended Overeaters Anonymous in the past, even taking part in a residential, 28-day "food rehab" program. She recently underwent a gastric sleeve surgery and has lost 80 pounds within the last five months.
We're in the middle of Recovery Month, and one of the more interesting ways it's being marked is through a YouTube series. Young People in Recovery is a collection of stories told by young women and men. “Recovery has really given me an opportunity to have freedom to do anything because I’m no longer chained by alcohol and drug addiction,” says Greg Williams, a 28-year-old who is 11 years clean and sober, in his video. “The moment that changed everything was when I got into a near-fatal car accident. I woke up in the hospital a couple days later and from there that’s where my recovery started. It was in treatment where I found that hope and motivation to change my life.” Young People in Recovery is supported by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Faces & Voices of Recovery donors. The videos were filmed in Boston back in January, and are intended to spread the positive message that recovery is possible. “Alcohol and drugs took everything from me. Before I found recovery I could be in a room full of people and feel alone and scared and hopeless. I just didn’t like who I was!” says Justin Riley, 24, who has been in recovery since 2007. “There is hope and solution for everyone.” If you have a recovery story, you can find information on how to participate at facesandvoicesofrecovery.org.
Kristina Fenn—Young Person in Recovery:
- Czechs Announce Alcohol Reform [Fox Business]
- Marijuana Legalization Could be Tax Windfall For Cash-Strapped States [StarTribune]
- How Colombia's Biggest Drug Lord was Captured [CNN]
- Could 'Miracle Drug' Be Answer to Fight Heroin Addiction? [Philadelphia Daily News]
- Painkillers May Cause Millions of Headaches [BBC News]
- Marijuana Candy on Bus Leads to Four Arrests [Independent Record]
- Santa Quits Smoking in New Canadian 'Twas the Night Before Christmas Book [National Post]
Legendary rocker Neil Young is off the sauce—and the green—according to a lengthy profile in the New York Times Magazine. The story is pegged to the release of the cantankerous Canadian’s new autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, which hits bookshelves next week. In fact, the book itself provided the impetus for getting clean, which Young decided to do “after talking with his doctor about a brain that had endured many youthful pharmaceutical adventures.” He also was just looking for a change, telling Times writer David Carr, “I did [drugs and alcohol] for 40 years. Now I want to see what it’s like to not do it.” But it’s not been all sunshine and lemonade (Young’s current tipple of choice) since he put the plug in the bottle and the pipe on the shelf. As he notes in his autobiography, living life unaltered hasn't been easy—perhaps making a case for the value of using drugs and alcohol to modify one’s perspective. Young writes, “The straighter I am, the more alert I am, the less I know myself and the harder it is to recognize myself."
US prisoners are subject to random urinalysis at any moment. This fact—and the necessity of spending tax dollars to test incarcerated individuals—is a pretty clear indicator of the futility of the War on Drugs. Prisoners aren't only taking drugs on the inside, and being given urine tests as a result—they're also regularly beating those tests. "It's not difficult," one prisoner tells The Fix. "There's several different ways, some easier than others. You can try to get off a couple of pisses before you give your sample," he claims, "so that you piss clear. With clear piss no drugs will register." Prisoners who take drugs and are on the hot list know to keep drinking large quantities of water. When they're called to urinate, they do so with much greater confidence, because they're giving a watered-down sample. "Also you can put Ajax or some other cleanser on your fingers and piss on them to dilute your piss when you piss in the cup," the prisoner says. "If you really want to get technical and make sure you beat the test you can carry someone else's piss in a Visine bottle and squirt it into the testing cup. You have to be careful though because the COs are watching. But most of them don't really give a fuck. They are just punching the clock and trying to get a paycheck. Why do you think there are so many drugs in prison?"