San Francisco is aiming to crack down on smoking in public. A new bill would ban tobacco at all outdoor events like street fairs and concerts on city property—but medical marijuana would still be allowed. "This is another step forward to protect the public's health from the dangers of second-hand smoke," says supervisor Eric Mar, who proposed the bill. He adds that 73,000 non-smokers die every year from second-hand smoke. "It's a critical public health danger with no safe level of exposure." However, he feels the rule shouldn't apply to medical marijuana smokers. "My hope is that people wouldn't light up at community festivals," Mar explains, "but if it's something medical and prescribed by a doctor, that should be permitted." That wouldn’t mean toking anywhere is allowed, though; in San Francisco, smoking marijuana is already banned in public parks. If passed, the bill would require event organizers to post signs and enforce the smoke-free rule, as additional law enforcement resources aren't provided for.
Naturally, plenty of smokers are displeased about the prospect of yet another tobacco ban, and some challenge the accuracy of the science that the bill is based on. "Most people simply don't live long enough to die from secondhand smoke exposure," declares an article on PolicyMic.com. But many San Franciscans seem to support the proposal. "As the community norms are changing, people are expecting that all these things are non-smoking, so they become incensed when they find out there is no law to protect them," Serena Chen, a director of policy for the American Lung Association in California, tells The Fix. As you'd expect, many anti-smoking advocates welcome the proposed ban as a step in the right direction, but regret that it would exclude medical marijuana. Under California's Prop 65, you have to post a warning to alert people if they're being exposed to certain carcinogens. "I think that every city and its collected officials need to decide what their community wants or doesn't want," says Chen. "All I can say is what the facts are. The facts are that the state of California has listed marijuana smoke as a Prop 65 carcinogen." Still, advocates of the bill hope it will benefit the whole community and make events inclusive for everyone, whether they smoke or not. "Everybody has a right to breathe healthy, clean air," says Chen. "And no one has a right to pollute anybody else's air."
Medical experts and problem gamblers are claiming a surprising link between the common anti-depressant Effexor and gambling addiction. Although there's no clinical proof of this so far, numerous gambling addicts have reportedly come forward to claim that they began gambling compulsively after being prescribed the drug. Tim Hiller says his gambling habits started immediately after he was prescribed Effexor to treat both depression and OCD; the former investment banker went into financial ruin after making several weekly $1,000 bets on Aussie rules football games. He even once bet $80,000 on a tennis match. "I thought I'd feel upset, but because of the medication I was on, and the blunting effect that it had on me, I didn't feel much at all," he says. "I actually went to sleep and got up the next day and was fairly normal." Leanne Scott, who is currently serving two years in jail for fraud after stealing $800,000 to feed her poker machine habit, says she started taking Efexor in late 2003—and her problem gamblling started months after. "I'm actually [undergoing] therapy at Statewide Gambling therapy service, and my counselor says she is actually seeing a lot of people who are taking Efexor," she says. Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, director of Psychiatric Research at Melbourne's Alfred Hospital in Australia, can believe it: "I think here we could have a link in the neurochemical sense between the use of a medication that increases two neurochemicals, seratonin and noradrenalin, and the development of new problem gambling behaviors."
How big a part did drugs play in the Aurora movie theater massacre? James E. Holmes opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado just after midnight on Friday, killing 12 people—including a six-year-old girl—and wounding 59, among them a three-month-old baby. As new details emerge about the 24-year-old PhD student, there's been inevitable speculation that drugs may have played a part. Holmes reportedly admitted to police that he took 100mg of Vicodin about two and a half hours before the shooting, and unconfirmed reports say he was hooked on the prescription drug. Health Ledger—who played the Joker in The Dark Knight—had Vicodin in his system when he died back in 2008. Sources also claim that Holmes regularly smoked pot outside his home. “I’d see him smoking weed behind the apartment,” says his Aurora neighbor Lance Bradshaw. “Nobody ever really talked to him. He was alone a lot.” Authorities are also looking into a post on the sex site AdultFriendFinder.com that was placed by Holmes prior to the shooting. It said: “Will you visit me in prison?” He also described himself on the website as a “light/social drinker” and wrote on the question of whether he took drugs, “Prefer not to say.” Holmes remains in custody and is scheduled to be arraigned early this week.
- US Drug War Expands to Africa, a Newer Hub for Cartels [New York Times]
- Washington Hosts 19th International AIDS Conference [Washington Post]
- FDA Approves Two New Diet Drugs, But Doctors May Hesitate to Prescribe [Examiner.com]
- More Powerful, User-Friendly Heroin Moving to the Suburbs [Chicago Sun-Times]
- "The Situation" Sued for Hiding Rx Addiction [TMZ]
- Boozing Hamsters Don't Develop Beer Guts or Fight Hangovers [Alaska Dispatch]
According to a new Gallup poll, 81% of Americans feel that obesity is an “extremely” or “very” serious problem in society—significantly more than those who worry to the same degree about smoking (67%) or alcohol (47%). Gallup has conducted the same poll three times since 2003, with concern over obesity shooting up markedly over the other two. In 2003, 56% of respondents described obesity as extremely or very serious; the cigarette score was 57%. But by 2005, alarm over obesity hit 69%, surpassing smoking's 66%. Anxiety about alcohol’s ill effects has meanwhile held fairly steady: at 46% in 2003, 53% in 2005, and 47% this year.
These numbers track with government data on obesity rates, binge drinking and smoking. While the percentage of US adults who engage in binge or heavy drinking has hovered at 14–16% since the early '90s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity rates have nearly doubled—from 19.4% of the adult population in 1997 to 35.7% in 2010. (Meanwhile, smoking rates have declined from 25.5% in 1990 to 19.3% in 2010.) Another reason for the growing concern over obesity could be the increasing media and government attention, from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s war on jumbo sodas to First Lady Michelle Obama’s crusade against childhood obesity.
One issue not addressed by the Gallup poll, however, is the surge in prescription-drug abuse and attendant OD deaths: the toll reached 15,000 in 2008, more than three times the number of OD deaths (4,000) reported in 1999. At what point will this Rx pill epidemic be worrying enough to warrant inclusion in future health-threat surveys?
This table from the Gallup poll shows the increase in concern over obesity, compared with relatively steady anxiety over cigarettes and alcohol:
Whiteclay is a small town bordering the Pine Ridge Reservation in Nebraska, where some estimate 85% of the population is affected by alcoholism. The reservation is dry, so its residents flock to Whiteclay to purchase alcohol from the town's four liquor stores—which sell about four million cans of beer each year. Earlier this year, the Oglala Sioux tribe sued the relevant beer manufacturers for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for their contribution to the reservation's misery. Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council, says the state of Nebraska has turned its back on Pine Ridge because of the millions in tax revenue it makes from selling booze to the reservation's many addicts. "A lot of the issues that Whiteclay has created, and harm that is done to our people, Nebraska looks the other way and sweeps it under the rug," he says. “With this lawsuit that our tribe filed…maybe that will make this all go away." If the lawsuit is won, Pine Ridge—where about half the residents reportedly live below the poverty line—could receive millions of dollars. But many people will still be addicted, and it's argued that more than money is needed to solve the reservation's alcohol crisis.
Gayle Kocer and Suzy Dennis run an addiction treatment center in nearby Martin, South Dakota, that serves the Pine Ridge community, one individual at a time. "You’re choosing not to be the victim,” says Kocer, of addicts who come to the center to get clean. "It’s not Whiteclay’s problem and fault; it’s not the state of Nebraska’s fault. We as people have to make this choice to get in there and do something.” The small staff work long hours, some working pro bono due to a lack of funding, and regularly make home visits. “I always believe that love and faith can conquer it all,” says Dennis, a recovering alcoholic with 25 years sober. “That’s where it’s got to begin.” The center won't turn anyone away—even though most can't afford to pay. But no matter the outcome of the multi-million dollar lawsuit, Dennis says: “I always believe there’s hope. Or I would not do this for sure.”