A Justification for the Criminalization of Tobacco!

Don’t let the title fool you, I’m actually a supporter of drug legalization. However, the hypocrisy in this country has to be called out. As misguided as many may view my opinion as being, I’m of the belief that as adults, we should have the right to choose what we do or don’t put into our bodies. If it were up to me, all soft-drugs would be legalized or at the very least decriminalized. We live in a world where it’s acceptable to eat, drink, and smoke yourself to death, provided you do so on the legal, taxable substances. Make no mistake: the most dangerous thing about soft-drugs is getting caught with them. Taking the government view on these matters into consideration, I’m going to explore the legality of certain substances in order to truly highlight the blatant hypocrisy and to demonstrate that public safety is not the government’s concern.

Understanding the Law

Tobacco UK

image via Wikimedia

I’m from the UK, and so I’ll be composing this argument with the UK government in mind. Depending on the information and research available, I will occasionally focus on specific countries within the UK, mostly Scotland and England. It speaks volumes that we have to travel all the way back to 1971 in order to view the law controlling drugs in the UK.

The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) serves to classify illegal substances into one of three categories, known as the ABC system. ‘A’ represents the most harmful drugs and ‘C’ represents the least harmful (as far as illegal drugs are concerned). ‘B’ represents some form of arbitrary middle ground. Unlike many other countries, the UK does not attempt to clearly define the “entry requirements” for each class in the ABC system. As the parliamentary website states:

“The Misuse of Drugs Act did not specify why particular drugs were placed in Class A, B or C but did create an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to keep the classification of drugs under review.”

Cannabis has an interesting history within the UK’s ABC system. Originally a class B, it was reclassified as class C in 2004. However, it was moved back to class B in 2008 as a result of stronger strains becoming available and the potential connection this had to mental health issues. Yet around 7.2% of adults (between 16 and 59) have used the drug, which is around 2.4 million people.

Soft Drugs vs Hard Drugs

Tobacco UK

image via Wikipedia

As I mentioned, the UK does not divide its illegal substances into categories based upon the addictive qualities and overall harm of the drugs. This distinction leads to terms such as ‘soft drugs’ and ‘hard drugs’. These are incredibly vague and don’t have a set definition, which can confuse matters. Typically, ‘soft drugs’ is used to “describe drugs like cannabis or LSD which cannot result in physical dependency.” While the term ‘hard drug’ “usually refers to drugs that are seen to be more dangerous and more likely to cause dependency such as heroin and crack cocaine…”

So, why am I mentioning the terms at all? Despite the definitions being somewhat open, there is certainly a clear distinction between the two. One group can be used in moderation without negatively impacting the induvial or society to any great extent, the other, not so much. You don’t have to have seen Trainspotting to know that weed and psilocybin don’t really compete with the harm of heroin.

My argument is formed around this simple point of view: when we explore the reasons why certain drugs are illegal (soft drugs such as marijuana, psilocybin mushroom, and DMT) and legal (such as alcohol and tobacco) we find that the justifications for each are flimsy, at best. If safety is the government’s main cause for concern, surely that must mean that alcohol and tobacco are safe to use, right?

Tobacco

Tobacco UK

image via World IP Review

The UK’s history with tobacco is a little strange. Having arrived in England in 1565, tobacco didn’t seem to take with the British public. King James I spoke out publicly on the matter, describing tobacco as:

“…loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain [and] dangerous to the lungs.”

However, it soon followed the common path that most drugs take: it became a medicine. During the plague, it was believed that tobacco smoke could protect people from “disease miasmas” (a poisonous vapour carrying disease that could be detected by its bad smell) (somewhat ironic). The connections between slavery and tobacco imports are widely known, and this was a major issue until machines took over in the late 1800s.

Anti-smoking campaigners were largely regarded as “eccentrics” and yet they are primarily responsible for the introduction of a clause in the Children’s Act in 1908 which made the sale of tobacco to those under the age of 16 illegal.

Despite a connection between ill-health and smoking being widely known, the supposed stress-relief provided by tobacco came with “health benefits” that would serve as a major selling point. Sound familiar? Only recently have the supposed health benefits of “a glass of wine a day” been shown to be inaccurate from a scientific standpoint.

In the 1950s, the first reports linking smoking to the formation of lung cancer were released. The government, very aware of the economic domino effect that would follow a decline in smoking, didn’t speak out on the matter until the 1960s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that cigarette packaging included a health warning. In the 1980s, the risk associated with public smoking was raised, but again, it took until 2007 for the government to ban smoking in enclosed public places. It wasn’t until this same year that the government raised the minimum age for purchasing tobacco to 18.

Is Smoking Harmful?

Tobacco UK

image via BBC

According to the Office for National Statistics, it is estimated that 15.1% of adults in the UK smoke cigarettes as of 2017. This number varies slightly between sources as Cancer Research suggests that around 19% of UK adults smoke. This would be around 9.4 million people (which is nearly double the entire population of Scotland). They also suggest that smoking is the “largest cause of cancer” in the UK, with it being responsible for around 15% of cancer victims. It’s also worth noting that the same website reports the significantly higher prevalence of smoking within poorer areas.

We can delve into these figures a little more. For example, we can consider the hospital admissions related to smoking. According to NHS England figures, in 2016/17 there was estimated to be 484,700 admissions attributable to smoking, which is around 4% of ALL hospital admissions.

The above graph is also from the NHS England website. As you can see, adults who had never smoked were more likely to report feeling healthier than those who were ex-smokers or current smokers.42% of non-smokers described themselves as being in ‘very good health’ compared to 26% of current-smokers. 11% of current-smokers described themselves as feeling in ‘bad or very bad health’ compared to only 5% of those who have never smoked.

It’s important for people to realise that tobacco carries a mental health impact as well. You’ll often hear discussions about other drugs and how they cause mental illness (such as marijuana), and yet the same types of studies show the exact same thing for tobacco consumption. More in-depth research paints a fuller picture of the impact of smoking on neurological processes being akin to that the government/media claim is the case for marijuana consumption.

Death by Tobacco

Tobacco UK

image via TidatBase

Given that we’ve explored the general health implications tobacco quite clearly has, does it cause death? Of course it does! Throughout the UK, there is alarming number of preventable deaths each year as a result of smoking. In Scotland, the number is 10,000 (one fifth of all deaths), in Wales the number is 5,500, in Northern Ireland its 2,300, and in England it’s a staggering 78,000 death. Every year in the UK, 95,800 people are dying from a drug that the government deems safe enough to be legal.

When it comes to passive smoking, which is arguably more horrifying given that nobody chooses to be a passive smoker, we find some pretty similar results. Research suggests that around 11,000 deaths in the UK each year are the result of passive smoke inhalation, with 20% of these being from smoking at the workplace and 80% being from home.

The impact of passive smoking is most noticeable in children, who rarely have a choice as to whether or not to be in the vicinity of smokers. Cancer Research suggests that there is overwhelming evidence to support that idea that second-hand smoke can lead to lung cancer (among other types), heart disease, strokes, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and more. Children who live in a household where at least 1 person smokes are more likely to develop asthma, chest infections, meningitis, ear infections, and coughs and colds.

Smoking and Pregnancy

Tobacco UK

image via OPTO

One shocking statistic relates to pregnant women. According to NHS England, 10.8% of mothers were smoking at the time of delivery. Why does this matter? During pregnancy, it isn’t just the health of the mother that is a cause for concern. Research suggests that smoking during pregnancy can have an adverse effect on the child’s neurodevelopment. It has been suggested that this is a result of the carbon monoxide contained in tobacco smoke which limits the oxygen available for the baby’s brain. Smoking during pregnancy can also result in tissue damage which could include lung or brain development issue, or the development of a cleft lip.

Even pregnant women who simply inhale smoke passively (as well as those who smoke directly, obviously) are likely to give birth to a child with weaker lungs, which leads to a major increase in potential health problems in later life.

The negative health impact that smoking has isn’t limited to the development of the child though. When a mother smokes, she is more likely to enter premature labour. Given that the leading cause of death, disability, and disease among new-borns, is preterm birth, this is a huge cause for concern. This issue includes passive smokers. Mothers who smoke (either directly or passively) are more likely to give birth to a low-weight child, which typically has long-term health implications.

Even if the labour and birth seem to go smoothly, babies whose mother smoked during pregnancy or who smoke near the baby after birth are three times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This goes above and beyond choosing to consume a drug. This is quite clearly an epidemic that is impacting the lives of those who haven’t even been born yet! What say do they get in the matter?

Cost

Tobacco UK

image via Wallpaper Up

Since we’ve already established that widespread death and disease hasn’t been enough of an incentive to outright ban tobacco smoking, perhaps money is a better approach. The problem we have here is that the tobacco industry contributes around £12 billion in tax each year which is arguably the main reason that the government would never consider making the substance illegal. But how much does it cost?

Smoking costs NHS Scotland (a public body that gets its funding from the government) as much as £300 million each year, which in the face of £12 billion is barely a drop of water in the ocean. In England, this figure is as high as £2 billion though, which certainly begins to raise the cost.

There are other costs to take into consideration that go beyond health. For example, early death due to cigarettes causes an employee’s company to lose manpower, the costs of cleaning up cigarette butts and packaging, putting out fires caused by cigarettes, the loss of time (including in hospitals) of the extra breaks that smokers typically take, not to mention the lost time when people get ill as a result of smoking-related illnesses. When you add up all the costs of smoking, you find that it comes to around £14 billion, according to Policy Exchange.

Addiction

Tobacco UK

image via ECigarette Reviewed

The final point I want to make relates to the addictive nature of tobacco (or more accurately: nicotine). I discussed earlier that the ABC system for drug classification ignores the addictiveness of drugs and instead focuses on a more arbitrary approach based on the opinions of people who aren’t carrying out any significant research on the matter.

Most smokers would like to quit, yet only around 6% of smokers are able to quit each year. On top of that, it takes most smokers multiple attempts to successfully quit, if at all. Cigarettes contain a number of different chemicals that a person can become addicted to, but the main one is a result of the nicotine and its effect on dopamine, which ultimately results in the rewiring of neural pathways until what we consider to be addiction kicks in.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, withdrawal symptoms for nicotine can include:

 “…irritability, craving, depression, anxiety, cognitive and attention deficits, sleep disturbances, and increased appetite. These withdrawal symptoms may begin within a few hours after the last cigarette, quickly driving people back to tobacco use…withdrawal symptoms peak within the first few days of the last cigarette smoked and usually subside within a few weeks. For some people, however, symptoms may persist for months”

When it comes to addiction, it’s difficult to compare one drug to another. One study from the 1990s by Henningfield and Benowitz used a set criterion for determining addiction (which included aspects such as withdrawal, tolerance, dependence, and intoxication) to rank the most addictive drugs. When it comes to withdrawal, nicotine was tied in 3rd place with cocaine, beaten only by heroin (number 2) and alcohol (number 1). Nicotine ranked first for dependence and 2nd for tolerance.

Results from more recent versions of this study support its conclusions. Other sources place nicotine as the 5th most addictive substance on the Earth, behind barbiturates, cocaine, alcohol, and heroin. The New York Times even wrote an article in 1987 about nicotine being harder to quit that heroin.

In Conclusion

Tobacco UK

image via The Truth Revolution

We often hear that you can’t compare one drug to another, which is arguably true as each drug varies from another in a number of ways. Cannabis is a class B drug in the UK which can land you up to 5 years, an unlimited fine, or both, for possession, and up to 14 years, an unlimited fine, or both, for supply/production. Could we compare it to tobacco? In several ways, yes. One causes undeniable mental and physical health issues which leads to thousands upon thousands of deaths every single year (including newborns and children). One costs the government and taxpayer and estimated £14 billion per year, which it doesn’t cover with the £12 billion in returns in tax. And one is legal and readily available in most shops to anyone over the age of 18. The other is cannabis!

The continued outlawing of marijuana and its consumers is largely a result of the government’s failed “war on drugs”. News articles use intimidating and misleading headlines to scare the populous into believing that cannabis causes mental illness (when using correlation as a justification for concluded causation) and yet ignore the far more relevant and blatantly obvious connection between tobacco, mental and physical illness, and ultimately death.

I can see no real justification for the continued legalization of this substance while still outlawing recreation marijuana use. Tobacco is addictive beyond measure, it’s harmful beyond what could ever be justified, and it costs more money to the government and the country than it makes. If life, health, and money are all being neglected for the sake of keeping a harmful substance legal, then what possible precedent could any government have for outlawing other, less harmful substances?


Thanks for reading! What are you thoughts on the legality of tobacco, particularly when compared to marijuana? Let me know down below! 

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Peace!

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The Importance of Free Speech and the Death of Comedy

With the recent news that a man in the UK has been charged for teaching his dog to do a Roman salute (perhaps more commonly known as a Nazi salute) and reporters such as Lauren Southern being denied entry to the UK for criticizing Islam, I think now more than ever it is important to discuss why being able to say whatever the fuck you want is essential. Before we jump right in, it’s important to acknowledge one thing: I’m not encouraging anyone to be offensive. There is a HUGE difference between thinking someone should be able to say anything and actually pushing hatred, violence, racism, sexism, etc. None of the people I mention in this post have pushed any of these things. Just to clear that up at the start!

Why Does It Matter?

Free speech

image via Relaxed Focus

You may be wondering what difference it makes. Perhaps you’re even thinking that if somebody is offensive, they should be charged. Let me explain why that idea is moronic. For starters, where do we draw the line? Can anybody just come forward and claim to be offended? Can I get someone charged if they leave a mean comment on my blog? What if they name their dog Jesus and I’m a die-hard Christian, can I get them charged? What if I believe unicorns rule the world and someone criticizes my belief system? You may be thinking that these examples aren’t comparable to a dog doing a trick…so let’s discuss that.

What the fuck is offensive about a dog doing a Nazi salute. Do you want to know which comedians have done Nazi salutes in the past?  A fuck ton of them! When I take a look at some of my favourite comedians or comedy groups (such as Billy Connolly or Monty Python) I can think of several examples where a Nazi salute has been done for comedic effect. Now, if you’re training your dog to do that and then running into synagogues with your Nazi uniform and Hitler mustache -wearing dog, then I can see why that could create a problem. That’s a bit different from a dog being taught it to annoy the owner’s girlfriend. I mean sure, the video was on YouTube…but there are videos on YouTube far more offensive than that. There used to be a Jim Jeffries video on YouTube where he calls his microphone Muhammad and claims it’s a gay microphone. Yet I guarantee that he isn’t getting charged over it.

The Death of Comedy

Free speech

image via Chucks-Fun.Blogspot

You may think that comedy is simply a form of entertainment. When you need a laugh, that’s what you go for. But for decades now it’s comedians who have highlighted aspects of our society that are fucked up. Quite often we find comedians entertaining because they say some of the things we’ve been thinking. They can offer a social commentary unlike any other media outlet and also…they are funny (I mean that is their job). There are times when you laugh even though you know what you’re laughing at is offensive as hell…but so what? You’re not signing up to the KKK or joining a Hitler fan club, you’re watching a comedian in an environment where you’re simply trying to laugh. Is that such a crime? Being offensive isn’t on the same level as being evil or a criminal. Have we as a society forgotten that?

If we start censoring the jokes that comedians can tell then (and I hate when people say this because it always seems to over-dramatic but…) we’re one step away from 1984. If journalists can’t criticise religions then how long until the general public can’t? How long before we have to accept every aspect of every religion? It’s apparently not offensive to tell someone that they are going to burn in hell for all eternity for being a sinning piece of shit…but if you say that the Bible is immoral or that Muhammad consummating his marriage to a 9 year old is sick then suddenly your “crossing a line”. Is that really the path we want to go down? Banning journalists form your country in order to protect people’s feelings is fucking stupid!

Once the Greatest, Now the Most Criminal

Free speech

image via Imgur

One major aspect of this that worries me is that many of the greatest comedians of all time are offensive. Don’t believe me? The Rolling Stone website listed the ‘Top 50 Best Stand Up Comics of All Time’ and despite the fact that I’ve only watched about half the comedians, I know that 8 of the top 20 are offensive. I don’t mean that they may be offensive to some people. The 8 I am referring to are brutal! I mean take a look at the list for yourself and tell me that many, if not most of these comedians are offensive. Are we seriously suggesting that the road we want to go down is one that turns these people into criminals?

I know, I know, I’m perhaps sounding a bit on the crazy side.  The truth is that being offended is entirely subjective. What offends you might not offend me and so how are we supposed to live in a world where being offended trumps everything else? Soon we’ll all be scared to leave the house out of fear that our presence alone might offend someone. Courts will be convened to determine who is the MOST offended in order to press charges. We’ll have prisons set up entirely for offenders (pun!). We’re creating a society of fragile glass people who crack from opposing opinions.

Ricky Gervais: Humanity

Free speech

image via Google

I started writing this post before watching Humanity but now that I’ve seen it, I feel like I have to include a small section in here to highlight some aspects of it. Ricky Gervais is outrageous, he’s famous for it. His hosting of the Golden Globes made it spectacular but also sparked controversy. He made a joke regarding Caitlyn Jenner. He wasn’t being transphobic in the slightest (if anything he was being entirely respectful of her transition) but was instead using stereotypes surrounding women drivers. I won’t write the full joke but after highlighting how brave Caitlyn Jenner is and complimenting all of her successes over the years, Ricky Gervais goes on to say “she didn’t do much for women drivers”. In case you didn’t know, she hit someone with her car and they died.

I was completely unaware that Humanity had been slated for its offensive nature when I started watching it. My first question would be: why would someone who is easily offended watch a comedian who you know for a fact is going to be offensive? Anyway, a lot of the criticism was based around Gervais being transphobic, racist, sexist, etc. Did he perhaps take a few low blows? Sure…but he also manages to make an incredibly valid point within his stand-up: If you label people like him transphobic for making a joke about a trans person (NOT about the fact that they are trans or anything related to their previous gender), you take away meaning behind the word and as such, people who genuinely are disgustingly transphobic get grouped in with comedians. It’s sort of like calling some who smokes a joint every once in a while a drug addict.

What you have to take into account is that 1) We have no control over what we find funny. Why do we find people taking a shot to the nuts funny? It’s fucking agony and can cause serious damage. Yet when you see it happen, you laugh. 2) Comedians wouldn’t be comedians if they didn’t have an audience so don’t watch their shows, don’t watch their interviews, don’t tweet about them, write about them, see any films their in…if they lose an audience, they’ll stop. So if you don’t find a comedian funny, there is your solution! 3) You are allowed to be offended but you don’t have to ruin the enjoyment for others. There are plenty of comedians who have entire bits making fun of Scottish people and Scottish culture but I don’t start a petition to have them jailed because of it. Hell, some of them are hilarious!

Context is VITAL!

Free speech

image via WFL Atheism

One aspect of comedy that everyone seems to forget is the context. You don’t go to see a comedian because they are kick-starting a hate group or because you want to devote your life to their teachings. You go to see comedy to laugh and as such, anything you hear or see is designed to achieve that outcome.

Take, for example, the detaining and banning of Lauren Southern and her “accomplices” from the UK under the terrorism act. If you went by the reports of “the law”, she is banned entry for distributing racist material. Firstly, you’re not racist for commenting on a religion. I’m not racist for saying Jesus looked like a weed smoking hippy! Secondly, her flyers simply said “Allah is gay”. Now obviously, these are meant to be provocative, despite what anyone may say. They knew there would be a reaction from these fliers which was the entire point of the exercise.

However, you have to consider the context as well. Southern and her team were carrying out a “social experiment” in an effort to highlight that Islam and LGBT don’t go hand in hand, despite what many claim. By calling Allah gay and getting a reaction (you can find the video here) they believe they proved their point. For the record, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I think there are always going to be consequences when you’re intentionally provocative. That being said, banning a respectable journalist from the country for it is ridiculous and beyond unreasonable. This stunt may have been a bit “on the line” but Lauren Southern as a reporter does an excellent job of providing a non-mainstream news outlet. Something the UK is in DESPERATE need of (I’m looking at you BBC).

Feelings>Freedom

Free speech

image via Slap the Stupid

Once again let me just reiterate that I’m not condoning randomly shouting abuse at people. When I say that freedom of speech is essential, there can be consequences. To use the Lauren Southern example, I think it’s completely fair to put an end to their experiment for the sake of public safety. The police have the right to do that and given the situation, I think that it was understandable. Similarly with Count Dankula and his Nazi saluting dog, I think it’s more than fair to remove the video from YouTube, perhaps (and this is a stretch) give him a warning of some sort…but charging him with a hate crime which could potentially result in a prison sentence? No. If he was doing the same thing in Germany, that would be a completely different story…but in Scotland? Fuck off!

Why is it that religious freedom is now more accepted than any other freedom? I’ve been told that I’m going to hell on several occasions. I’ve seen signs from several different faiths claiming that homosexuals are sinners (and will burn in hell for all eternity) and that those who don’t believe in, follow and worship [insert some irrelevant deity here] will also…you guessed it…burn in hell. Calling someone gay is now classed as inciting hatred, being racist and an act of “right wing terrorism” for some fucked up reason. I have to say that if I was religious, I’d be a lot more offended by someone telling me my God was a lie and that I was going to be tortured for all eternity for it than someone calling him gay…

Sigh!

You’re probably wondering if there is any point to anything that I’ve written here. The truth is that this is the only way I can show some sort of support for the idea of free speech. I don’t think that offending someone is a criminal act. My logic is that by expressing my opinion and sharing it with the small number of followers I have, I might be able to at least show one side of the coin. Most of this is nonsensical ramblings but if even one person reads this and thinks “actually, he has a point” then I’ve achieved what I set out to.

In all honesty I am ashamed that my country would take these actions and all I can do is shake my head. Following the UK news is like watching a time-lapse of coastal erosion or melting icecaps. You know that you as one person can’t do anything to change it, so you simply watch in despair as houses collapse off cliffs or polar bears stand stranded on an iceberg. Thank fuck that I don’t live there anymore! The sinking ship has been abandoned!


Thanks for reading! Do you think I missed anyone out? Who are your favourite actors from your country? Let me know down below! 

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Peace!


I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.

-Voltaire