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alcohol sales

7/12/12 5:04pm

Time to End Drive-Through Alcohol?

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How 'bout one for the road?
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Drive-through restaurants, drive-through banking, drive-through pharmacies... What's next, drive-through alcohol? Actually, it's been happening in Maryland—and a few other states—for years. But calls to ban the practice have followed a Texas drunk driving incident that killed one and paralyzed another. The driver had a .20 BAC—more than double the legal limit—some of which was due to a drive-through alcohol purchase. While some think combining the concepts of drive-through and booze is convenient, it might well send shivers down others' spines. “On the go” Maryland mom Betsy Matthews takes the former view: "If we want a snack or a soda, I don't have to stop at a store and get my son out," she says. "What's the difference between getting out of the car and going into a store and buying [alcohol] and then getting in and driving off?" Jigar Dave, the proprietor of Beer-n-Soda, which sells alcohol on a drive-through basis, thinks that resisting the urge to crack into a fresh one is on the driver. "The responsibility is on the citizen," he says. "Business is business. That's all I have to say and we make our living on the business." True to his word, he refuses The Fix any further comment. Seven Maryland counties currently ban drive-through alcohol sales. Over the past 15 years there have been three other attempts by safety advocates to ban the practice—all have failed.

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By Bryan Le

smoke smuggling

7/12/12 4:16pm

It's Boom Time for Europe's Cigarette-Smugglers

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Contraband cigarettes may sell at less than
half the price. Photo via

Four years into the economic crisis, Europe's black market for cigarettes is booming—at an immense cost to the EU. Concerned by plummeting profits, cigarette companies launched a major investigation, paying "researchers" to rummage through the garbage of cities in 27 European nations, collecting and analyzing crumpled cigarette packs. The scavenging indicated record levels of contraband cigs—about 10% of the market, or 65 billion cigarettes, according to a recent report. “In times of economic crisis, especially a long economic crisis like the one Europe is experiencing now, people have less disposable income, and they are particularly interested in cheaper products,” says Bulgaria's deputy prime minister, Simeon Djankov. In Dublin, for example, a pack of smokes sells for about 9.20 euros in a store—but a contraband pack can be purchased for around a third of the price, at just 3.20. But while smokers save cash, the immense loss of tax revenue is impacting the market, and has reportedly cost the EU up to one billion euros.

Cigarette smugglers stash their cargo in anything from furniture shipments, to loads of Christmas trees, to children's toys. The trade is less profitable than narcotics—but it also carries a shorter prison sentence. So many middle-class people in financial straits, with no previous record of smuggling, are being tempted into the game. Law enforcers fear that a well-structured crime organization is involved, due to the enormous volume of illegally imported cigarettes. “A lot of people perceive this as a ‘Robin Hood’ type of fraud and that the ordinary person in the street, who has a lot less money these days, is gaining the benefit,” says Austin Rowan, head of the cigarette smuggling at OLAF, the European Union’s Anti-Fraud Office. “But this trade is financing organizations that are involved in other activities, including drugs smuggling.”

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By Sarah Beller

Druggy Life

7/12/12 3:20pm

Fame Could Be a Cat-astrophe

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That Darn Cat Photo via

Usually you have to get famous before your drug escapades become known to the world. Cat Marnell did it the other way around. The former xojane.com beauty editor began filling her beauty posts with references to her extra-curricular—and, as it turned out—intra-curricular drug-using habits, attracting legions of fans and detractors in the process. Jane Pratt, her editor, intervened. But instead of sobering up, Marnell left the site and promptly began penning a column for Vice—Amphetamine Logic—that skips the beauty stuff and allows Marnell to write about her true passion. In today's Daily Beast/Newsweek piece on Marnell, she wins applause for her bravery as well as concern that the persona she's created—and the fame that's attracted—is neither good for her nor for her followers. The fact is, addicts and alcoholics tend to have the shared, unfortunate coupling of tremendous self-obsession along with self-hatred. So it might very well be that the worst thing that can happen to an addict who's struggling is for them to become famous. The Fix has published a few pieces on the topic, but it probably can't be said enough: addiction and fame aren't all that different—they both freeze you emotionally at the age they occur, and it takes an incredibly strong constitution to not buy into the adulation that insta-fame can have on a psyche filled with self-loathing. And when the person becomes famous for the very thing that's exacerbating their self-loathing—say, Amy Winehouse for saying "No, no, no" to rehab—that can be the most dangerous drink of all.

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By Anna David

Pharma Spending

7/12/12 2:13pm

"Pharmerging Markets" Drive Rx Drug Growth

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Rx spending reflects a shifting global
economy. Photo via

Consumers in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil are expected to drive growth in pharmaceutical spending—meaning the global share of developed but stagnating markets like the US, Europe and Japan will drop. A new report released by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Infomatics forecasts that global spending will increase by $244 billion (5-7%) over the next five years, with the majority in "pharmerging markets"—countries that will see more than $1 billion in growth over the next five years, but where per-capita GDP is less than $25,000. In these countries, rising incomes and generous healthcare policies are projected to allow more people to afford meds. Although the report estimates that drug spending will reach about $121 per person in China, for example, in 2016—still far less than the $892 per person projected in the US—the sheer population size of the developing world will mean any increase has a huge impact. In 2011, 20% of the global spending on medicine was in emerging markets—but that's expected to increase to 30% by 2016. Developing markets, on the other hand, are expected to see a 9% decrease in their market share over the next five years due to a surge of patent expirations and low-cost generic drugs—at least nine major drugs will be losing their patent protections this year in the US alone. Whatever growth is expected to be seen in the American market will likely be due to the new health care law, with drug demands rising as more people become insured. 

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

Message on a Bottle

7/12/12 12:57pm

South Korea: Let's Improve Wrong Drinking Culture!

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Read before drinking. Photo via

South Korean drinkers will now have a message on their bottles—warning them not to get rowdy after drinking. In an effort to crack down on an epidemic of alcohol-fueled violence in one of the world's booziest places, the country's biggest liquor company is introducing labels on its products this week that caution: "No more drunken violence! Let's improve wrong drinking culture!" Hite-Jinro will feature the message on all its bottles of beer and soju—a hugely popular distilled liquor that's cheap, accessible and 20% alcohol by volume. South Korean adults are the world's biggest hard-liquor drinkers, consuming 9.57 liters per capita in 2005, according to the World Health Organization. And a recent survey found that alcohol was a factor in almost a third of the three million serious crimes recorded in the past five years—including robbery, homocide and rape. An enormous 76% of public disturbances and 44% of domestic violence cases reportedly involved drunkenness. But cultural acceptance means that Korean courts tend to show lenience towards offenders who commit crimes while drunk. "We felt tremendously responsible for social problems caused by drinking," says a sales manager at Hite-Jinro, "and will help efforts to change our drinking culture to a more positive one."

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By May Wilkerson

Medical marijuana

7/12/12 12:02pm

Feds Target Nation's Largest MMJ Dispensary

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HCC's founders, Steve DeAngelo and David
Weddingdress Photo via

The federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries is now aiming at its biggest target yet. The government is looking to seize properties in Oakland and San Jose owned by Harborside Health Center, which is considered the largest and most high profile MMJ dispensary operation in California—and the country. Attorney General Eric H. Holder said last month that the government was only targeting large-scale growers and dispensaries that have "come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws, and going beyond that which the states have authorized." And US Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag believes Harborside meets these criteria—it allegedly has more than 108,000 customers. "The larger the operation, the greater the likelihood that there will be abuse of the state's medical marijuana laws, and marijuana in the hands of individuals who do not have a demonstrated medical need," says Haag. Pot advocates say the planned shutdown will harm those patients who truly need medical marijuana—and break promises made by the Justice Department to only go after dispensaries that violate state laws or operate near parks and schools. Harborside was also the subject of the 2011 Discovery Channel reality show, Weed Wars. "People are not going to stop using cannabis, they're just going to buy it in the illegal marketplace…on the streets," says founder Steve DeAngelo. "Why are federal prosecutors using their discretion to do something so profoundly destructive?" DeAngelo says he'll fight the Justice Department "openly and in public," and resist any efforts by landlords to evict the dispensaries.

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