Friday, May 6, 2016

Vote Green, Not Brown!

We at Twenty-One Debunked just seriously lost some respect for California, a state that we, until fairly recently, regarded as one of the least-worst states in the country (though the bar is set rather low to begin with) in terms of social policy in general.  Looks like the Golden State just joined Hawaii, NYC, San Francisco, and a growing number of localities in this country in raising the purchase age for tobacco to 21, with Governor Jerry Brown (remember him?) signing it into law on May 4, 2016.   The law change takes effect on June 9, 2016, just a few weeks later, when the age limit will rise from 18 to 21 overnight without even so much as a grandfather clause.  Brown also signed other bills on the same day restricting e-cigarette use (i.e. "vaping") in public and expanding the coverage of various no-smoking zones, among other things, but the one that really stood out the most (and rankles the most with us) is the 21 smoking age.  The one exception:  active-duty military members age 18-20 can still buy cigarettes and other tobacco products.  But this exception is a rather hollow way of addressing the fundamental injustice of being old enough to die for one's country but being too young to smoke (or drink for that matter), and doesn't make things much better.  So even with this exception, Twenty-One Debunked still opposes this new law regardless.

Hopefully, there will be a ballot measure in November that will undo the hike in the smoking age.  Until then, though, we might just want to boycott all things from California whenever possible.  That includes major Hollywood movies (which still feature omnipresent product placement from Big Tobacco) and fruits/vegetables grown with fracking wastewater thanks to the very same Governor Jerry Brown.  VOTE GREEN, NOT BROWN!!!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tobacco, The Ulitmate Dark Horse of Drugs

Almost immediately after posting a recent article about the roundly debunked "gateway drug theory", we at Twenty-One Debunked felt we should post another separate article about the particular case of tobacco, especially in the form of commercial cigarettes. While our organization does not generally view tobacco as a particularly high-priority issue, perhaps it is something we should be revisiting given both recent evidence as well as recent efforts to raise the smoking age to 21.

While the primary dangers of smoking tobacco (i.e. cancer, heart disease, stroke, emphysema, birth defects, etc.) have been well-known for decades, what has been much less appreciated is the neurotoxic properties of cigarettes.  The thing is, nicotine is a known neurotoxin, and it is likely that at least some of the thousands of other chemicals in cigarette smoke are also toxic to the brain as well.  One reported effect of nicotine is that it can "prime" the brain's reward system for addiction in general, including to other substances.  This seems to be particularly true for the early adolescent brain.  While these findings are based primarily on rodent studies, human studies seem to dovetail with this idea far more for tobacco than for cannabis or even alcohol.  Thus, the psychopharmacological aspect of the gateway hypothesis seems to hold true indeed for tobacco, and if there were such a thing as an actual gateway drug (which is a very big "if", if you ask us), tobacco would have to be it, hands down.

Additionally, tobacco is also emerging as a potential "dark horse" in the etiology of psychosis and schizophrenia as well.  This has been informally hypothesized for many years now while being overlooked by most researchers, and is only very recently beginning to be taken seriously by mainstream science.  Perhaps cannabis (which is often mixed with tobacco in many countries, and whose use is often predicted by prior and concurrent tobacco use in general) has been taking a major bum rap in that regard as well?  All while Big Tobacco has subtly and sedulously promoted tobacco smoking as "self-medication" for decades, of course.

That said, Twenty-One Debunked strongly opposes any attempts to raise the smoking age any higher than 18.  Instead, we (along with the TSAP) believe that we should deal with cigarettes the way we would deal with any other defective product such as the historical examples of the Ford Pinto, lawn darts (Jarts), leaded gasoline and paint, DDT, incandescent light bulbs, and old-style refrigerators.  Either 1) require the defects to be sufficiently fixed, or 2) failing that, remove such products from the market.  And yes, commercial cigarettes as they exist today are indeed defective by design in that they addict, enslave, and kill far more people than they have to.  Worldwide, they kill about 6 million people per year, hence the name of Robert N. Proctor's bombshell of a book, Golden Holocaust.

Since 2013, the endgame strategy that the TSAP (and Twenty-One Debunked) currently supports has been to let tobacco phase itself out by gradually reducing the nicotine content of cigarettes to a (relatively) non-addictive level.  Since 2009, the FDA now has the authority to set a legal limit on the nicotine content of tobacco products, as long as the limit is not zero.  Much research indicates that there is a threshold level of nicotine required to create and sustain addiction, and if all cigarettes were to fall below this threshold, smoking rates would plummet precipitously.  In fact, one tobacco executive was quoted as saying, "‘If our product was not addictive we would not sell a cigarette next week."  This idea was originally proposed by Henningfield and Benowitz in 1994, and has been endorsed by the American Medical Association and several other experts including Proctor himself.  Malcolm Gladwell also discussed it in his aptly-titled 2000 book The Tipping Point.   Thus, the TSAP recommends reducing the maximum nicotine content (not delivery) of cigarettes from the current level of 1-2% to less than 0.1% within 5 years, and doing the same for quasi-cigarettes (i.e. little cigars) and perhaps roll-your-own tobacco (but no other products).  That alone would reduce smoking prevalence by as much as 80% within a fairly short timeframe, with further reductions possible in the more distant future.  Alternatively (or in addition), the FDA could require the pH of such products to be raised to 8 or higher to discourage deep inhalation, as is naturally the case for most typical cigars and pipe tobacco currently.

The TSAP and Twenty-One Debunked also recommend that the following measures be taken as well:

  • Ban the use of additives in cigarettes, especially those that are harmful or increase the addictiveness of tobacco.
  • Ban the use of any radioactive fertilizers or harmful pesticides for growing tobacco.
  • Phase-out the practice of flue-curing tobacco, which is a major resource hog and bad for the environment.
  • Improve the quality control standards for tobacco products (and electronic cigarettes) to be at least as high as for food.
  • End all government subsidies for tobacco farming and production.
  • Divest completely from Big Tobacco at all levels of government.
  • Vigorously enforce the current age limit of 18 for tobacco and e-cigarette sales to achieve 100% retailer compliance. 
  • Continue to allow widespread availability of reduced-harm tobacco and nicotine products (i.e. snus, e-cigarettes, etc.) so that smokers can easily switch to less dangerous alternatives.
  • Improve education and smoking cessation programs, funded by tobacco tax revenues.
  • Give out free nicotine patches, gum, etc. to any smokers who want to quit.  NYC already does this. 
At the same time, the TSAP most certainly does NOT support outdoor smoking bans or any other policy that treats smokers like criminals or second-class citizens.  Smokers are NOT the villains here, as that dubious honor belongs to the merchants of death known as tobacco companies.  In fact, we have repeatedly pointed out that, far from being a drain on society, smokers actually save society money in the long run since they more than pay their way as far as taxes go.  Cigarette taxes, especially in NYC where they are extremely high, have basically become a "reverse Robin Hood" way to rob from the poor and give to the rich, since smoking has increasingly become a poor man's vice.  And the wide disparity in cigarette taxes across states has led to a serious black market for untaxed/low-tax/counterfeit/stolen cigarettes, with the main beneficiaries being organized crime syndicates and even terrorists.  Thus, we recommend that the handful of states with cigarette taxes higher than $2.00/pack reduce their tax to $2.00/pack or lower, and the states with taxes of less than $1.00/pack raise it to $1.00-$2.00/pack.  NYC should cut its tax in half.  At the federal level, we recommend no further tax hikes, but a national price floor of $5.00/pack including tax to discourage smuggling.

The tobacco industry has basically dug its own grave.  Time to push them in there, yesterday.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

DARE Quietly Removes Cannabis From List of Gateway Drugs

Yes, you read that headline correctly.  The well-known drug and alcohol prevention program for kids, Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), has quietly removed cannabis from its list of "gateway" drugs.  And they apparently have also stopped lying to kids about the purported dangers of cannabis in general as well.  That is probably because the recent evidence that debunked their previous propaganda has been overwhelming.  And that is a sign that "reefer sanity" is slowly starting to return to America.

DARE's current list of "gateway" drugs can be found on this page of their website.  Note that only two substances remain on that list:  1) tobacco, and 2) alcohol, in that order.  And even the part about alcohol, with warnings against the dangers of "underage" drinking, interestingly enough makes no specific mention of what the legal drinking age is or should be, as the actual words "twenty-one" and "21" are literally nowhere to be found in the text.  It does, however, note that 90% of young people will experiment with alcohol by age 18, and that only a small number abstain completely while an even smaller number become addicted and need help.  And the page encourages parents to, among other things, be good role models as far as alcohol and tobacco are concerned (which is important as that addresses the real pink elephant in the room).  Overall, DARE has really come a long way it seems, and we hope their recent progress continues.

We at Twenty-One Debunked should note, however, that we believe that the whole "gateway theory" (which should really be called the "gateway hypothesis") has been grossly overstated at best, even as far as alcohol and tobacco are concerned.  A few years ago, we wrote an in-depth article about this phenomenon, which the best evidence strongly suggests is really nothing more than a socially-constructed narrative.  Constructed by prohibition laws, disingenuous propaganda, and ageism/adultism, that is.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why 18?

We at Twenty-One Debunked realize that, over the past several years, we have spent so much time and energy trying to convince people why the drinking age should NOT be 21, that we left ourselves wide open for criticism from the other end of the spectrum.  To wit, some have asked, either honestly or disingenuously, why 18?  Why not 16, or 13, or abolish it altogether?  Until recently, we have been ignoring such questions, but we now feel that such questions must be fielded properly after having debated exactly those questions in youth-rights forums and elsewhere.  If we keep ignoring such questions, we could perhaps alienate many in the youth-rights movement, while also ironically and inadvertently giving ammunition to the pro-21 side.

For a good set of arguments as to why the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18, and not be any higher than 18, please take a look at our intro page, as this post will only deal with the other side of the question (i.e. why not less than 18?) for the most part.  We have already established that the drinking age should never be any higher than the age of majority in a free society.  So what are our arguments for not pushing for lowering it any further than 18, exactly?

First and foremost, there is the issue of pragmatism, as there is truly a snowball's chance in hell of getting the drinking age lowered any further than 18 (which is hard enough as it is).  America is truly not ready for such a massive change, as one poll found that no more than 5% of American adults support lowering it to 16 (the same poll found 30% favored 18), and the last time any state had a drinking age below 18 was in the 1930s (Ohio was briefly 16 and Colorado had no age limit for a few years).  So aiming for a drinking age of less than 18 is basically a political non-starter, and will remain so until many, many years after lowering it to 18 (which itself is no small feat).  And pursuing such a goal, at least doing so openly, would alienate a huge chunk of potential supporters.

Secondly, even if it was politically feasible to lower the drinking age to 16 or abolish it altogether, such a move could foreseeably have unintended consequences if done too quickly and too soon.  The best studies such as Miron and Tetelbaum (2009) find that the "parade of horrors" that would supposedly occur if 18-20 year olds were allowed to drink legally would most likely not occur--but unfortunately the same can't be said about abolishing the drinking age or lowering it further.  There is simply not enough evidence to reassure anyone that such problems won't happen--and if they did, even if only in the short-term, that would backfire and set our movement way, way back to where it was in the late 1980s.

Third, as the pro-21 crowd is so fond of pointing out ad nauseam, "America is not Europe".  Culturally and otherwise, that is certainly true.  America is indeed a largely Anglo-style drinking culture in many ways, as well as a car culture.  The closest comparison country would be Canada, with a drinking age of 18 or 19 depending on the province.  So that should be our model for the time being, not Europe.  And the next closest ones would be Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, all 18.  In fact, nowadays most of the world sets the drinking age, or at least the purchase age, at 18, not 16.   Note as well that several European countries are also 18, and even Spain and France have recently raised their drinking ages from 16 to 18 (despite the fact that such laws are largely unenforced).

Fourth, recent advances in neuroscience have uncovered some rather unpleasant-to-acknowledge truths about the effects of alcohol on teenage brains, as the pro-21 crowd just luuuurrrrves to point out.  Granted, such findings would apply primarily to truly heavy drinkers under 18 (and especially under 15) rather than 18-20 year olds, and not all of the evidence is 100% conclusive either, but to blithely ignore such findings regarding early to middle adolescents only gives ammunition to the pro-21 crowd.  And even if you believe that banning people under 18 from drinking for that reason is patronizing and paternalistic, you still need to see the pragmatism in acknowledging that it is not solely a civil rights issue but also a public health issue as well.

Finally, we at Twenty-One Debunked already support decriminalizing drinking for people under 18, with the penalty for the young drinkers (if any) being no more than a civil fine with no criminal record.  And we also support allowing parents to legally give alcohol to their own children (within reason) at home or other private property as well, which is already legal in many states now.  Those things, along with lowering the legal drinking age to 18, should take away most of the objections to not lowering the age further or abolishing it.  Purists in the youth-rights movement may very well disagree with us, of course, but please remember that compromise is, as the saying goes, "the art of the possible".

Keep in mind, Twenty-One Debunked is not categorically opposed to a drinking age lower than 18 at some point in the (albeit most likely very distant) future.  But we no longer consider such a goal to be worthwhile for the foreseeable future, and are thus sticking with 18 as our goal.

Let America be America again, and lower the drinking age to 18.  If you're old enough to go to war, you're old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Just Say NO to the Tobacco to 21 Act!

If some US Senators get their way, the entire nation will join Hawaii, NYC, and several other municipalites with a smoking age of 21 for tobacco.  Not only is the effectiveness of such an idea rather dubious, but just like the vile abomination that is the 21 drinking age it is ageist/adultist and tyrannical and has no place in a free society.  The age of majority is 18 in nearly every state, and in a free society no age limit for any civil right or privilege should ever be any higher than the age of majority except for senior citizen stuff and perhaps certain specific professions (i.e. President of a nuclear superpower) in which adulthood alone may not be fully sufficient.

We are especially disappointed in Senator Elizabeth Warren, an erstwhile favorite of the True Spirit of America Party.  She is one of the leading co-sponsors of the Tobacco 21 Act.  It's too bad since we at the TSAP love just about everything else about her.  Seriously.  If you are reading this, Sen. Warren, we strongly urge you to reconsider your position on this ageist and illiberal mockery of the age of majority.

Let America be America again.  Old enough to fight and vote = old enough to drink and smoke.  'Nuff said.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Tale of Two Nations

The latest Monitoring the Future results for 2015 are in.  Among students in grades 8, 10, and 12, alcohol and tobacco use have both fallen to record lows, and the use of most other substances has either declined or shown no significant change from last year.  Cannabis has held steady as well after falling a bit last year.  "Binge" drinking (5+ drinks per occasion) has also fallen to a record low, and as we noted last year, extreme binge drinking (10+ drinks per occasion) has also been falling for several years now.

Meanwhile, things aren't quite so rosy for the American population in general.  While drunk driving deaths specifically are at a record low, alcohol-related deaths (excluding crashes, accidents, and homicides) have actually reached a 35-year high in 2014.  This increase in the death rate, which began around 2000, is likely due to two things:  the aging of the population, and a general increase in per-capita alcohol consumption since the late 1990s.  Drug overdose deaths have also doubled since 1999 as well, driven mostly by heroin and prescription opioids.

In other words, America's overall drinking (and drug) problem appears to be getting worse, but it is clearly NOT being driven primarily by young people.  Those Baby Boomers (and now Generation Xers) who complain about the problems of "kids today" might just want to look in the mirror before pointing the finger at Millennials (and now post-Millennials).  So can we finally stop with the "vicarious puritanism" already?

Have a Safe And Happy Holiday Season

It is that time of year again when the holidays are upon us, and many of us Americans (and around the world) will be celebrating with alcohol and/or other substances.  We at Twenty-One Debunked would like to remind everyone to be safe and celebrate responsibly.  There is absolutely no excuse for drunk driving at any age, period.  We cannot stress this enough.  It's very simple--if you plan to drive, don't drink, and if you plan to drink, don't drive.  It's really not rocket science, folks.  And there are numerous ways to avoid mixing the two.  Designate a sober driver, take a cab, use public transportation, crash on the couch, or even walk if you have to.  Or stay home and celebrate there.  Or don't drink--nobody's got a gun to your head.  And the same goes for other psychoactive substances as well.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Latest New Zealand Study Reeks of Junk Science

A recent study has come out that supposedly shows a long-term increase in "serious traffic crashes" among 18-19 year olds in New Zealand following the lowering of their drinking age from 20 to 18 in 1999.  Previous studies found only a short-term effect, if even any effect at all.  But upon closer inspection, there is far less here than meets the eye.

First and foremost, the maxim that correlation does not prove causation holds true for any observational study of this nature, especially with such relatively modest "effect sizes".  Secondly, the study used 20-24 year olds as the comparison group, and we at Twenty-One Debunked have repeatedly noted how doing so is problematic in light of Dee and Evans (2001), Asch and Levy (1987 and 1990), and Males (1986), who found that raising the drinking age to 21 merely redistributed (i.e. delayed) some traffic deaths from 18-20 year olds to 21-24 year olds after controlling for a host of other variables.  There is no reason to believe that the reverse couldn't happen when drinking ages are lowered.  Thirdly, the study in question did not actually show an absolute increase in traffic crashes among 18-19 year olds, only a relative "increase" relative to 20-24 year olds as both decreased dramatically but decreased faster for the latter group.  Finally, the study found no evidence of a "trickle-down" or spillover effect on 14-17 year olds despite the fact that NZ doesn't even have a hard drinking age, but rather just a purchase age of 18 with rather shoddy enforcement.  Though since 2013, the loophole that allowed furnishing to minors was partially closed among other changes, but the study does not include any data beyond 2010.

Furthermore, another recent study casts further doubt on the claim that lowering the drinking age led to any sort of "parade of horrors" that the pro-21 crowd likes to claim occurred as a cautionary tale.  Put simply, lowering the drinking age was not a disaster after all, nor would it likely be the case if done in the USA.

So consider this latest claim debunked.  Old enough to go to war = old enough to go to the bar.  'Nuff said.

Hawaii Raises Smoking Age to 21

Recently, the state of Hawaii has raised the smoking age to 21, effective January 1, 2016.  Much to our chagrin, Hawaii will become the first state to set the smoking age to 21, joining NYC and a few other localities around the nation.  And unlike NYC, this law actually penalizes the young smokers themselves.

Twenty-One Debunked has repeatedly noted how much we oppose raising the smoking age any higher than 18, for the same reasons we oppose the 21 drinking age.  Thus, we are calling for a tourist boycott of the state of Hawaii, beginning on January 1 and lasting for as long as the new law remains in effect.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Be VERY careful what you wish for, fellas!

In recent years, advances in neuroscience (of which we are still just barely scratching the surface) have led to an increasingly popular tendency to view teenagers and young adults (i.e. anyone under age 25) as having "underdeveloped brains" that somehow justify having their civil rights revoked or curtailed.  Of course, as we have noted before, that same neuroscience has shown that the human brain continues developing well into the 30s and even 40s (and possibly even beyond that), and that the development that occurs between 18-25 (and even a bit earlier) is basically on the same spectrum as the development that occurs after 25.  And that inconvenient fact is clearly ignored by The Powers That Be, for obvious reasons.  But for argument's sake, let's pretend for a moment that no significant brain development occurs after age 25 or so, shall we?

In case you haven't realized yet, this entire argument that young people under 25 should have less rights than people over 25 is really just a warmed-over version of a centuries-old and widely discredited ideology known as "biological determinism".  Similar arguments have been made in the past for black people, women, various immigrant groups, Jews, and other oppressed non-dominant groups in society.  Based on real or imaginary differences between groups, the dominant groups of the time would use such differences to justify their privilege over and oppression of the non-dominant groups. And essentially every single one of these arguments have been roundly debunked, and are really only taken seriously anymore by a few dodgy ideologues on the fringes (*cough* Charles Murray *cough*) and their brainwashed followers (*cough* Faux Noise *cough*).  That's not to say that the demographic groups in question are no longer oppressed or discriminated against (spoiler alert: they are), but today people are far less likely to openly claim "scientific" justifications for such discrimination/oppression than in the past.  Except when it comes to young people, for whom such junk science has apparently become de rigeur as of late. And the dominant group in this case, adults over 25, are certainly all-too-smug about it.  Nevermind that it too has actually been debunked by people like sociologist Mike Males among others. 

It should be obvious now that ageism/adultism is simply one more crucial component of the pyramid scheme known as the kyriarchy, which needs to end yesterday.  But what if there really was a demographic group that actually did show differences, in both physiology and behavior, that could (using the same dubious arguments) be used to justify that group's rights being curtailed?  Well, that group does exist, fellas, and I'm talking about you and me.  In other words, I'm talking about MEN in general, regardless of age.  Based on what we know from Ashley Montagu's 1953 bombshell of a book, The Natural Superiority of Women (last edition published in 1998) as well as its (sort-of) sequel Women After All by Melvin Konner, there are indeed enough brain differences to imply that, on average, males are basically the inferior gender.  Not only do our brains mature at a slower rate than for females, but we ultimately never really catch up completely.  In fact, the gender gap seems to actually widen with age.

Of course, it doesn't matter if we fellas think with our adenoids.  What really matters is how we ACT.  But here too, the evidence is rather abysmal:
  • Contrary to stereotypes, we apparently really suck at driving, or at least we are more likely to take stupid risks behind the wheel.  And auto crash and fatality statistics bear this out rather well--and not just for young people, either. 
  • Despite having a somewhat higher tolerance to alcohol than women on average (even after controlling for body weight), men are more likely to abuse alcohol and get into trouble with it.  Men are four times more likely than women to become alcoholics and four times more likely to drive drunk. 
  • Violent crime of all kinds is overwhelmingly committed by men, especially violence against women. 
  • But most crime is male-on-male, making us both dangerous AND endangered at the same time.
  • At least 99% of all school-shooters and other mass-shooters have had one thing in common, aside from guns of course.  Care to guess what that is?
  • Practically every war ever fought in history was started and waged by men.
  • For the past 7000 years or so, most positions of power were overwhelmingly held by men.  And what happened?  We paved paradise and put up a parking lot, we created a desert and called it "peace".  We have devoured and suffocated our own empire, and we will all pay a heavy price for it soon enough.
And these differences between men and women greatly dwarf the differences between young people and older adults, at least when other variables such as socioeconomic status are accounted for.  That's the pink elephant in the room that the (mostly male) purveyors of the new anti-youth biological determinism don't want to talk about.  Why?  Because men are a privileged and dominant group in our society.  That's why.  DUH!

So be careful what you wish for, fellas.  Check your privilege, and your karma as well.  Yeah, you may laugh and be smug about it now.  Snicker, snicker.  But if the futurists are correct, and I think that they most likely are, women will eventually reclaim their rightful place as the new leaders of the free world.  And when that does happen, they will remember exactly how they were treated, so it really behooves us fellas to clean up our act yesterday--both in how we treat women as well as how we treat the younger generations.  The choice is ours, so let's make the right one.