Despite smoking rates in the United States falling from 40% of Americans to 20% from half a century ago, there are still 40 million smokers left, mostly the poor and uneducated. Many smokers consider themselves "occasional" or social smokers who limit their intake to try and prevent themselves from getting addicted.
Smoking rates are higher in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations which have been targeted by the smoking industry. LGBT smoking rates are around 27.7%, compared to 17.3% among heterosexuals.
Menthols are becoming increasingly popular, rising from 28.7% of total cigarettes to 31.4%. The Food and Drug Administration is considering restrictions on menthols, the last flavored cigarettes, as their cooling flavors can make it easier to start smoking and harder to stop.
"It just tastes good,'' said Jay Oh, a 29-year-old waitress in Kotzebue, Ala., the county where U.S. smoking rates are the highest: 41.5% for men and 40.8% for women.
Menthols have long been popular with African-Americans, with 80% preferring the cool flavor.
About 70% of American smokers say they want to quit and 50% try to quit every year, but only about one in 20 are successful.
"I've tried gum, patches, hypnosis, and cold turkey," said Chuck Rushton, who spends $48 a week on cigarettes. "The longest I lasted was four days."
Doctors have recommended trying e-cigarettes, but smokers like Rushton have been distrustful. "You don't know what's in that stuff," he said. "I can't see inhaling a vapor that's not necessarily FDA approved."
The synthetic drug 25i-NBOMe, commonly known as N-Bomb, is on the radar of parents and law enforcement in the wake of recent deaths that have been blamed on the drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration blamed N-Bomb for at least 19 deaths between March 2012 and November 2013, as well as the deaths of two Indiana teenagers since March.
Dealers purchase the drug from China over the internet, then cut it with alcohol or some other liquid, drip it onto blotter paper, and sell it to young people. Jeanine Motsay, whose 16-year-old son Sam was found dead in June, said dealers often portray N-Bomb as LSD. “So when people say they’re selling LSD, that’s not what they’re selling,” she said. Law enforcement believe Sam took N-Bomb the night before he was found dead in a friend’s home. “They don’t understand what they’re buying,” she added. “It’s poison.”
The synthetic drug mimics the effects of LSD, causing hallucinations and feelings of euphoria. It is often sold on blotter paper like LSD with colorful and playful decorations like clowns that make it look like candy, according to Dennis Wichern, assistant special agent and head of the DEA’s Indianapolis office. Wichern called N-Bomb, which is far deadlier than LSD, “one of the most dangerous drugs” and said that young people taking it are “playing Russian roulette” with their lives.
In November, the DEA declared N-Bomb a Schedule I drug, putting it in the same category as LSD, heroin, ecstasy, and cannabis.
Singer and former X Factor judge, Tulisa Contostavlos, was in Southwark Crown Court this week on charges that she supplied 0.5 ounces of cocaine to undercover reporter, Mazher Mahmood, who pretended to be a wealthy producer named Samir Khan and promised the singer a leading role opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in an upcoming movie. Contostavlos has denied the charges.
"When the defendant had got involved in this drugs supply, she believed that Samir Khan was a film producer, a movie producer, a big shot," said lead prosecutor Tim Cray in his opening statement to jurors. "She thought he could get her a part in a big movie that was coming up and it seems that she was keen to be in his good books and be friendly with him."
Posing as Khan, Mahmood told Contostavlos that she was more suited for the supposed role than A-listers like Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley. "She fell for it," Cray said.
In June 2013, the former N-Dubz singer was arrested for allegedly acting as a go-between for Mahmood and rapper Mike GLC, who reportedly supplied the reporter with cocaine. At the time, Contostavlos claimed that she was once part of a gang that sold crack cocaine and that her former boyfriend was a cocaine dealer.
Contostavlos was recorded with Mahmood saying that she would provide him with "white sweets," which Cray said was her code word for cocaine. She also reportedly admitted to smoking marijuana in order to fall asleep.
The trial is set to continue throughout the week.
Continuing to take baby steps in reforming the nation's failed drug policy, the Obama administration has opposed a Republican-led amendment that would block marijuana decriminalization efforts in Washington, D.C.
A statement issued by the White House on July 14 laid out the President’s response to an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services and General Appropriations Bill by Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD), which would prohibit the District of Columbia from using local funds to lower the penalties for marijuana possession.
The amendment, according to the administration, “undermines the principles of States’ rights and District home rule,” and “poses legal challenges to the Metropolitan Police Department’s enforcement of all marijuana laws currently in force.” In March 2014, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill that reduced the penalties for possessing a small amount of marijuana to $25.
Harris, who represents Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, is also a physician and anesthesiologist specializing in obstetrics, and has frequently referenced his medical background as the basis for his opposition to marijuana reform. “I saw firsthand what drug use and drug abuse is doing to an underprivileged population,” he said.
Such comments have drawn the ire of D.C. political figures like Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has clashed with Harris on several occasions over congressional interference in district issues. While Norton is opposed to marijuana use, she believes that decriminalization would help reduce the number of African-American men who are arrested for simple possession, which is four times the number of white individuals charged with the same offense.
“An arrest or a conviction for any kind of drug possession can lead a young man in the District of Columbia to the underground economy,” said Norton, who added, “even to selling drugs from where he was only possessing them before, because he can’t find a job because he’s got a ‘record’.”
One of the most isolated tribes in the world is now reaching out to nearby local communities, but it could be because drug traffickers are pushing them out of their homes.
The Jaminawa ethnic group, located deep in the Amazon, could be affected by Brazil’s border with Peru becoming a major route for coca leaf smuggling. The group normally shoots arrows at any intruders, but dozens of members have reportedly approached other settlements along the Envira river to ask for tools and machetes.
Peru has become the biggest producer of the coca leaf, which is the primary ingredient for cocaine and crack, while Brazil is home to the second biggest drug market in the world behind the U.S. “Before uncontacted Indians were killed by loggers. Now they are killed by drug traffickers...most of the authorities are not interested in protecting the tribes,” said anthropologist Beatriz Huertas. “On the contrary, their existence is a problem for investment and the exploitation of existing resources in their areas."
Governments in Brazil and Peru are even urging nearby settlements to not interact with the Jaminawa group, although this is largely due to health reasons. Because the Jaminawa have no immunities from their lack of interaction with others, common cold and flu viruses can be deadly for them. Madeleyne Machado of the Brazilian government's protection agency for indigenous groups said a team was able to provide medical treatment for seven of the Jaminawa people and eliminated them as a risk for spreading contagious diseases.
However, the advice to not interact with the tribespeople has largely gone ignored when they have arrived at settlements. Francisco Estremadoyro of Propurus, a Peruvian organisation that sets up protection areas for indigenous groups, confirmed that “most people try to talk to them and give them tools and things to help them, and clothes.”
Honduran president Juan Hernandez has slammed the drug policies of the Obama administration, blaming them for an increase in violence throughout Central America and sparking a surge of migration to the United States.
Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world and Hernandez declared that the country has been living “in an emergency for a decade.” He blamed the war on drugs in both the U.S. and Colombia as a key cause, because it pushed drug traffickers into the country and created massive turf wars.
“A good part of [migration] has to do with the lack of opportunities in Central America, which has its origin in the climate of violence, and this violence, almost 85 percent of it, is related to the issue of drug trafficking," he said. "This is creating a serious problem for us that sparked this migration."
Hernandez’s comments come on the heels of those made last week by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who blamed drug addiction in the U.S. with fueling both an immigration crisis and violent cartels throughout Central America. He has urged Obama to ease up on his deportation-heavy plans and work to keep fleeing children in the U.S.
"How do the drug cartels maintain their power? With American guns bought with American dollars because of American consumption of the drugs," he said. "The drugs don't stay in Honduras. They don't stay in Mexico. They come straight to the streets of the United States of America. And so, I think we have a great responsibility in the debilitating of those countries."
The Obama administration is projecting that 150,000 children under the age of 18 could illegally seek to enter the U.S. from Central America next year. They have asked lawmakers for $3.7 billion to pay for more border security, speed up deportations, and hire additional immigrant court judges.