THE COMING NICOTINE MAFIA
The Federal Death Agency
If a libertarian genie granted me the power to eliminate one and only one agency of the federal government, I would choose the FDA – the Food and Drug Administration, which more properly should be named the Federal Death Agency.
It would be a tough choice, I know – passing up the chance to get rid of such bureaucratic pestilences as the IRS or the EPA. The FDA, however, has caused the death of countless millions of people by preventing the development or approval of medicines that could have saved their lives – and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. That means you and I will die prematurely due to the FDA’s perverse blocking the path to medical progress.
The FDA is the penultimate case of government having the uncanny ability to pose as the solution to society’s problems while in reality making them vastly worse. The US Senate’s current efforts to give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products provides a perfect example.
The Right to Be Stupid
In a free country, one ought to have the right to be smart, and the right to be stupid – as stupid as you want to be, provided you initiate no violence to others.
Smoking tobacco is unfathomably stupid. Anyone who smokes is suicidal. Cigarette smoking accounts for some 400,000 cardiopulmonary deaths a year in America, more than 60 times the number of deaths (6,000 to 7,000) attributed to all illegal drugs combined.
Tobacco use is one of the greatest health hazards in America today, needlessly causing hundreds of billions of dollars annually in medical expenses. If US Senators desired a truly effective disincentive regarding nicotine use, they would pass a law excluding anyone suffering a nicotine-caused disease — and thus a voluntarily acquired disease — from any government medical benefits.
Drug users should not be treated as helpless victims. A tobacco addict is no more justified suing a cigarette manufacturer than a cocaine addict would be suing his or her supplier. Such an addict cannot expect the taxpayers to pay his medical bills resultant from the willful self-destruction of his health, or for her drug pusher to financially reward her for her drug habit.
The FDA’s War
What the Senate is attempting to do is enable the FDA to wage war upon nicotine – which it will do by ordering the amount of nicotine progressively reduced in tobacco products. This will create a black market for high nicotine content cigarettes smuggled from overseas. As government attempts to stop the smuggling escalate, the smugglers will look for ways to reduce the bulk of their illicit goods – and will soon discover the ideal value-to-volume ratio in an unbelievably dangerous form: crack nicotine.
To understand why, we must understand just what nicotine is and why it is addictive.
Nicotine as an Insecticide
Nicotine is a naturally occurring substance found in many plants, such as eggplant. Its highest concentration occurs in tobacco leaves. Its function is to protect the plant against insects, i.e., it is a natural insecticide.
Black Leaf 40, an environmentally safe and biodegradable agricultural insecticide used around the world, is 40 percent nicotine sulfate. Farmers have been using nicotine sulfate insecticide since the early 1800s. To make it, all you do is boil tobacco leaves in water with a little sulfuric acid (the same acid as in a car battery).
If you mix the resultant nicotine sulfate extract with a common alkali such as lime, then add a solvent such as ether, pure nicotine alkaloid — or free-base “crack” nicotine — will float to the top dissolved in the solvent, which is then evaporated off. A trivially simple procedure that anyone with a high school chemistry course can perform, it is the same process as making free-base cocaine from cocaine hydrochloride powder.
And just as “crack” or free-base cocaine is far more addictive and lethal than cocaine hydrochloride powder, so crack or free-base nicotine would be frighteningly more addictive, and lethal, than tobacco.
The faster a drug rises in the brain, and the higher its concentration, the more potentially addictive it is. Smoking tobacco leaves is a quick and concentrated, and thus addictive, way to administer nicotine — unlike the nicotine skin patch, which delivers the drug slowly. Faster still, much faster and far more concentrated, than smoking plant leaves would be smoking nicotine free base.
Tobacco companies have been aware of this for years. In 1973, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco determined that certain of their competitors (such as Phillip Morris’ Marlboro) were dosing their tobacco with ammonia. This makes the smoke more alkaline, enabling more of the nicotine to be in the smoke, giving it a higher “kick.”
For the same reason, chewers of coca leaf in the Andes always do so with a little lime. New Guinea tribespeople carry a gourd full of powdered lime with a thin bone of the cassowary bird as a stopper; when they chew betel nut, they lick the lime off the bone.
It is thus a small leap to apply these primitive practices and crack cocaine chemistry to tobacco, and make full strength, pure free-base nicotine.
Nicotine as an Addictive Poison
Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to science. It is more addictive than any illegal drug, including heroin (that is, a lower percentage of nicotine addicts are able to permanently quit than heroin addicts). Smoking crack nicotine would be the fastest way to administer the drug, making crack nicotine many times more addictive than tobacco.
Nicotine acts by stimulating the nicotinic cholinergic receptors located throughout the brain and body’s nervous system. If these receptors are mildly stimulated, such as via smoking tobacco leaves, there will be a sensation of heightened alertness, an improved capacity to focus and block out extraneous stimuli.
Just as the high of crack cocaine is experienced more intensely by the addict than snorting coke powder, so will the high of crack nicotine be more intensely pleasurable to the tobacco addict than smoking tobacco leaves. But if the nicotinic cholinergic receptors are stimulated too strongly, one’s brain and body will go into fatal convulsions.
In its ability to quickly and massively overstimulate one’s nicotinic cholinergic receptors, crack nicotine is incredibly poisonous. One drop of 40 milligrams of pure uncut crack nicotine smoked in a glass pipe has a 50 percent chance of killing an adult. Two drops will kill you for sure. It is more toxic than cyanide, one-tenth (gram per gram) as toxic as typical military nerve gas. A few drops on your skin, one or two drops on your mucous membranes, and you are dead.
Poisonous Enough to Kill Castro
Thus purveyors of crack nicotine would have to cut or dilute it with water (as it’s water-soluble) by about 20-1. The nicotine sulfate in Black Leaf 40, on the other hand, cannot be absorbed by the skin or membranes well; it is poison only if you swallow it – like an insect is supposed to – or if it’s injected in an act of murder.
The famous “poison pen” with which the CIA, per John Kennedy’s request in 1963, tried to kill Fidel Castro was a hypodermic needle disguised as a ballpoint pen and filled with Black Leaf 40.
Do the Math
There is an average of 2 milligrams of nicotine in one high-nicotine cigarette. Let’s say conservatively that the FDA will rule this be cut in half: that the maximum legal amount of nicotine per cigarette be 1 milligram. Taxes, city, state, and possibly national, will stay the same if not increase. Less kick, more cost.
Three drums of Black Leaf 40 nicotine sulfate would yield one drum, or 200 kilos, of crack nicotine. This could be manufactured at an average cost (ingredients, equipment, Third World labor) of less than $500.
Total state and city taxes in New York City are now about $3 for a pack of 20: a tax of 7.5 cents per milligram, or $75,000 per kilo of nicotine in cigarettes. The tax avoidance value (@ $75,000 a kilo) is 30,000 times that: 15 million dollars for one drum of crack nicotine. The much higher nicotine kick over legal low-nicotine cigarettes would at least double the value. That adds up to a 6 million percent profit.
Further, a single eyedropper-full of uncut crack nicotine would have a nicotine content of eight cartons of 1mg nicotine cigarettes, one kilo poured in a 20-ounce soda-pop bottle would equal 10,000 cartons or 1000,000 packs: a value-per-volume increase of 2,000 times for cigarette smugglers.
Cocaine smugglers would be enticed as well. A typical fix of cut crack nicotine (diluted 20-to-1, or 2 mg) would be 1 percent of a crack cocaine fix (200 mg) by weight: making it 100 times easier, in terms of size, to smuggle than cocaine.
The Nicotine Mafia
Given these numbers, the combination of an FDA war upon tobacco and politicians’ greedy tobacco tax crusades will make the creation of a crack nicotine market inevitable and irresistible to organized crime.
More Americans are addicted to nicotine than any other drug. The market for crack nicotine is in the tens of millions of addicts, vastly exceeding any illegal drug by orders of magnitude. Crack nicotine would be far more lucrative for drug dealers and organized crime than heroin, cocaine or anything else.
The mortality rate from overdosing, compared to that of any other drug, would be of equal dimensions. Because crack nicotine would have a market 100 times larger, and a profit margin 100 times greater than crack cocaine, such plagues as drive-by shootings, gang turf wars, violent crimes by addicts needing fix money, and the corruption of judges and entire police forces could explode exponentially.
Prohibition created the original Mafia in America run by Italians gangsters. The coming Nicotine Mafia will be run by Mexican gangsters. Mexican gangs are already dominating organized crime in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Crack nicotine will be cheap to make in Mexico and easily slipped across the border in quantity.
Fantasies and Consequences
The fantasy of anti-tobacco activists, that an FDA regulatory assault upon tobacco plus ever-higher tobacco taxes will result in fewer people smoking, is going to result in a hideous nightmare instead.
The anti-tobacco activists must realize there are far better alternatives than FDA wars and tax crusades. They could become advocates of adult responsibility, and demand that taxpayers not subsidize the medical consequences of tobacco addiction. They could demand safe alternatives to cigarettes, such as Nico Water (mineral water laced with 2 mg of nicotine), recently banned by the FDA and ignorantly opposed by anti-tobacco groups such as Tobacco Free Kids.
Unless they abandon their fantasies and adopt realistic alternatives, such groups are about to learn a horrible lesson taught by the Law of Unintended Consequences. Drug and crime problems in America may about to become unimaginably worse, due to the FDA’s unintended creation of a Mexican Nicotine Mafia.