France has recently been developing some alarming drunk driving rates to add to its reputation for fine food and, ahem, wines. Now, in an attempt to protect both drunk and innocent drivers, the country is requiring all drivers to carry two breathalyzer kits in their vehicle. The law—which came into effect Sunday, but will allow people a four-month grace period to purchase the kits—aims to get drivers to check their own alcohol levels before they start their engines. France suffered about 4,000 road deaths in 2011—around 30% of which were alcohol-related. The law allows for a fine of €11 (about $14) for those who don't comply—and surveys find that most drivers have yet to do so. The new rule is inevitably causing controversy. Critics say that it's nothing but a way for breathalyzer manufacturers to make a quick buck—and that there's already a breathalyzer kit shortage in the country. Others argue that breathalyzers are no guarantee that an inebriated driver will act responsibly. "The whole idea of self-testing sounds like nonsense," scoffs Keith Peat of the Association of British Drivers. But safety advocates in the US would happily back a similar law here. "If they were mandatory in every vehicle," says Capt. Ted Richardson of the Laurens County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina, "the roads would be safer. There's no doubt about that."
Much has been said about addicted moms, both during pregnancy and after—but what about those who want to be moms, and can't? Women who never have children due to infertility are at a much higher risk of substance abuse, according to a new study from Europe; other serious psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, were also found to be higher among these women. Researchers at the Danish Cancer Society Research Centre tracked almost 100,000 women who had been to an infertility specialist, and then compared two groups: those who went on to have children, and those who did not. They found that hospitalizations for alcoholism or substance abuse were more than twice as likely to occur in women who remained childless. The researchers say these findings are “only the tip of the iceberg”—since the numbers only reflect those whose conditions required in-patient treatment, the actual substance abuse among this group could be much higher. Dr. Allan Pacey, chairman of the British Fertility Society, says: “I was aware that women who were unable to have children were not happy and had difficulty with their ongoing lives, but these results are really shocking.” The risk appeared just as high even a decade after the women tried to conceive—suggesting a need for continuous psychological support for women who undergo unsuccessful infertility treatment.
In the near future, you may not be allowed to light up at any US colleges and universities—many schools across the country are pushing for smoking bans on campuses. Such bans cover both outdoor and indoor, smoking, as well advertising and sales of tobacco in any form. They apply to students, staff and faculty. The anti-smoking movement is an attempt to reduce the ill-effects of secondhand smoke, making smoke-free dorms universal. City University of New York will enforce a ban on advertising in September, for example, while California’s state system will introduce its ban in 2013. The University of Missouri at Columbia will go completely smoke-free in 2014, and it's projected that many more schools will follow. "There are many reasons why a college or university may choose to pursue this type of policy, whether secondhand smoke, dorm fires, or other issues," says Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. "They are also questioning what the role of tobacco is in this academic setting, where we're supposed to be standing for truth and training the next generation of leaders."
Not everyone welcomes the bans. "This isn't a health issue anymore. It's a moral issue," says smoking rights advocate Audrey Silk. "There's absolutely zero reason for a smoking ban outdoors. They use it as a tool. Harm from smoke outdoors is an excuse to frustrate smokers into quitting because they can't find a place to light up." That's a charge many anti-smokers would happily admit to. While tobacco companies have also questioned whether universities have the right to enforce such prohibitions, a blanket ban is still odds-on to become a reality.
Wondering why anyone would ever want to drink? Booze increases social bonding in groups, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh—as well as centuries of research from people at cocktail parties, teens passing around 40s in basements and legions of college students. The new study claims that alcohol can increase the frequency and enhance the coordination of smiles. The effects of solo drinking have previously been examined in more detail, but this study—published online in Psychological Science—focuses on the effects of booze on groups. "[Past] studies may have failed to create realistic conditions for studying this highly social drug," says lead author Michael A. Sayette. "We felt that many of the most significant effects of alcohol would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting." Over 700 male and female participants were assessed by Sayette and his colleagues, using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and well as the Grouptalk model for speech behavior. Each group was instructed to drink a beverage—either alcohol or a placebo—and then assigned to different social scenarios. “Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of ‘true’ smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of ‘golden moments,’ with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously,” a researcher says. “Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the non-alcohol drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.” All the more reason to give time to your social life if you're sober.
- In Presidential Vote, Mexicans Have Eye on Tainted Past [New York Times]
- Colleges Move Toward Absolute Bans on Smoking [Chicago Daily Herald]
- Addiction and Divorce [Huffington Post]
- Most Canadians Firmly in Favor of Decriminalizing Marijuana: Poll [Canada.com]
- Moderate Doses of Alcohol Increase Social Bonding in Groups [Science Daily]
- Artists Capture Pain, Desperation of Addiction for Annual Competition [DelawareOnline.com]
- Chinese Zombie Attack? Drunk Man Tries to Eat Woman's Face During "Cannibal" Assault [NY Daily News]
Mexico will elect a new president on Sunday—but the nation's drug cartels have more at stake in the country'slocal elections. The gangs rely heavily on local politicians—especially mayors—who control the police force and can often be made willing to turn a blind eye to drug-trafficking operations. In the lead-up to gubernatorial and mayoral elections in states across Mexico, there have been numerous reports of the notoriously violent cartels using bribery and scare tactics to back candidates who won't interfere with their activities—and sabotage those they see as a threat. Graco Ramirez, a gubernatorial candidate in the central state of Morelos, says armed gang members approached his campaign staffers, and warned him to stay home on election day. "Drug gangs don't want me to become governor," he says. "We would stop turning a blind eye to their activities." On April 30, members of La Familia drug cartel opened fire on the house of Saul Garcia—a candidate for mayor in a small Morelos town—and left a note threatening to kill him and his family if he didn't withdraw from the race. "I don't have enemies," says Garcia. "When I realized they were threatening me and saying I had to quit I thought, 'But wait, we are free to vote and to be elected.'"
Drug gangs have reportedly been "influencing" local elections in such ways for decades. With six governors about to be elected, as well as hundreds of mayors and council members in states across Mexico, officials say violence and kidnappings have increased. "We've said for several months that we have to recognize the presence and action of criminal groups around the election, particularly in the local sphere," said Mexico's federal interior secretary, Alejandro Poire, on Thursday. "We are acting to contain it, to prevent it and to bring those responsible to justice."