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“I Believe that Fentanyl is Not Addictive”
Big Tobacco and Harm Reduction Extremists Shake Hands to Bring Deadly Drugs to Market. What Could Go Wrong?
In 1994, ten CEOs of the major U.S. tobacco companies were called to the carpet for the addictive qualities of their products. They gave sworn testimony before Congress. What they said, under oath, shocked the world. When asked, “Yes or no, do you believe nicotine is not addictive?” each man responded with a version of the same answer:
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“I believe that nicotine is not addictive.”
Immediately these captains of industry were vilified in the press and by the people. Their statements directly contradicted not just established scientific research but personal experience and common knowledge. Anybody who has tried to quit smoking cigarettes knew that nicotine was indeed addictive.
The congressional hearing was a damning and costly public relations disaster, but it didn't stop there. In 1996, the CBS news program 60 Minutes ran a segment about Jeffery Wigand, former director of research for Brown & Williamson, the country's third largest tobacco company at the time. He presented evidence that the company deliberately intensified nicotine to produce a more habit-forming product. So compelling was Wigand’s testimony that it was later adapted into a movie, The Insider, starring Russell Crowe and Al Pacino.
Today some of these same corporations are promoting illegal and highly toxic substances. Using a false front media outlet called Filter Magazine, big tobacco corporations and their subsidiaries are disseminating reports that extoll the enjoyment and virtues of most addictive and deadly drugs for sale in underground markets.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 100,306 people fatally overdosed in 2021, primarily from opioids and methamphetamine.
Here’s why billion dollar companies want in - and who they’re partnering with to make it happen.
Capitalizing on Safe Supply
Tobacco and nicotine delivery companies aim to be first in line to reap the profits involved in “safe supply” - the government giving such substances as heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine to people struggling with addiction.
Safe supply is ostensibly intended to help curb untimely drug deaths, since the substances would be tested for strength and purity. It’s also marketed as a way to stop the illegal drug market.
However legalization didn’t prevent the underground cannabis industry from flourishing in jurisdictions where it’s legal. Quite the opposite, reported Politico, in November 2022. The tax revenue from legal cannabis sales never materialized because illegitimate sellers undercut costs.
Additionally, opioids such as Oxycodone and Hydrocodone are available by prescription, but the black market trade in these and many other addictive pharmaceuticals (and their counterfeits) decimated huge regions in the United States. That they are legal is irrelevant.
The illicit drug trade thrives because the product they sell is stronger and cheaper than the regulated product, making it far more appealing to users.
Big Tobacco Launches Filter Magazine to Promote Drug Use
Filter Magazine has a mission to “advocate through journalism for rational and compassionate approaches to drug use, drug policy and human rights.” The online publication is backed by a nonprofit organization called the Influence Foundation, which was created to “expand the capacity of Filter Magazine to disseminate informative and evidence-based information about tobacco harm reduction and related issues.”
So where does the Influence Foundation receive its funding? In 2022:
Philip Morris International. The largest tobacco company in the U.S., currently worth $131.81B
Reynolds American, Inc. The second largest tobacco company in the U.S., and a subsidiary of British American Tobacco, currently worth $87.54B.
Altria Client Services.. An American corporation and one of the world's largest producers and marketers of tobacco and cigarettes. Previously known as Philip Morris Companies Inc.
The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World: A Philip Morris International organization.
Joe Gitchell: President of Pinney Associates who has “deep expertise in tobacco control and harm reduction” and spearheads worldwide efforts that to “advance public health policy, devise, refine, and defend product claims, and uncover strategic market opportunities and directions.”
Juul Labs, Inc. An American electronic cigarette company.
Knowledge Action Change. A London-based business that receives contracts from the Foundation For A Smoke-Free World (funded by Philip Morris International)
Past years’ Filter Magazine financial backers include The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) a national advocacy organization that works with public health departments across the country.
With what passes for journalism, these firms and organizations are exploiting social media platforms to spread such stories as Drug Euphoria Is a Good Thing, Actually and “Rainbow Fentanyl” Is Probably a Good Thing, at This Point. Its ties to tobacco companies are overt in stories like The Stigmatization of Smoking Is Not Harm Reduction.
Big Tobacco Partners with Progressive Harm Reduction Activists
The big tobacco-funded Filter Magazine is forming allegiances with progressive groups that claim they want to end the “war on drugs” and do better by society. It's a health measure. For example, in the story, A Long-Awaited Harm Reduction Gathering in Puerto Rico, Helen Redmond, the publication’s senior editor wrote, “legalizing and regulating all drugs—the only way to end the overdose crisis.”
DPA equates illegal drugs to alcohol prohibition, and that legalizing everything - including fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine - will nullify their ill effects. Moreover, providing these drugs for cheap or free is equitable, helping disadvantaged, marginalized people have greater access to the substances they crave.
Among DPAs stated goals:
The distribution of a regulated drug supply of known potency and free of contaminants (i.e. medical-grade drugs from a licensed seller).
The full decriminalizing of the manufacture, cultivation, sale, purchasing, possession, and consumption of drugs and paraphernalia within the regulated market.
Legal regulation and safer supply must be implemented the right way. This means providing the social and economic circumstances for people to thrive, ensuring big businesses and commercialization are not prioritized, and that we are centering the well-being and health of people.
Since the DPA is seeking a licensed seller, big tobacco companies are at the ready. Marketing and distributing habit-forming substances is their bailiwick, after all.
The corporations backing drug legalization and safe supply stand to gain by being first in, too. Potential customers abound. Data collected by the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics found that there were 37.309 million people using illegal drugs in 2020. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime 2022 World Drug Report found that cannabis legalization accelerated daily use. It makes sense to bank on the same happening with other substances when they’re freed to be sold.
Fentanyl is largely produced in China, heroin in South America, Mexico, Southeast Asia, and Southwest Asia. Some methamphetamine is cooked up in the United States, but a good portion is made in Mexico. People importing the substances into the U.S. are primarily Central and South American drug cartels. It’s a global, multi-billion dollar business. Why should foreigners make all the money?
Big Tobacco Bonds with Public Health Departments
Like many cities across the United States, San Francisco, California is grappling with the worst drug-related crisis in the city’s history, with an average of two people a day succumbing to fatal overdoses and drug poisonings. Those who haven't died yet are on the precipice. The city’s Department of Public Health (DPH), with its billion dollar annual budget, has failed to improve lives, or make a significant dent in the overdose numbers. Instead, they actively support destructive methods such as providing a non-stop flow of drug supplies, including meth pipes and foil for smoking fentanyl, and pushing for safe supply rather than encouraging and providing addiction recovery.
San Francisco’s residents, livid and distraught about the deplorable state of their communities, made it clear that they want a law-and-order approach to the problem. In June 2022 they ousted the soft-on-drug-crime district attorney Chesa Boudin. In the midterm election they voted in Brooke Jenkins, who intends to take a firm law enforcement approach to mitigate the criminal activity. Jenkins has vowed to pursue second-degree murder charges against fentanyl dealers who are linked to overdose deaths.
Gina McDonald is one of the founders of Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Deaths. Her daughter is a recovering heroin addict who had been living on the streets of San Francisco. McDonald staunchly opposes safe supply, and supports Jenkins’ approach.
The new DA’s strategy irked Rory Fleming, a Philadelphia-based progressive attorney. Nor is he fond of McDonald's organization. In his Filter Magazine story, San Francisco’s New DA Moves to Prosecute Overdose Deaths as Murder, he wrote:
“…since taking office, Jenkins has been supported by Mothers Against Drug Deaths (MADD) [the previous name for Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Deaths], a group that advocates for mandatory treatment and believes that “harm reduction has done some good things but it has gone too far.” MADD did not respond to Filter‘s request for comment…Trying to curb overdose deaths by prosecuting “dealers,” people who are often friends of the person who died, is like trying to fix a plumbing issue by poking holes in the pipe.”
McDonald says neither she nor anyone from her organization received an interview request. When she confronted Fleming on Twitter with this fact, he abruptly closed his account.
You Are Under Oath: Is Fentanyl Addictive?
Radical harm reduction organizations like DPA and urban health departments typically veer far to the political left are bonding with the largest, most capitalistic conglomerates in the world. They aren’t being open with their relationship because it conflicts with their philosophy and mission.
The DPA states they want to ensure that “…big businesses and commercialization are not prioritized” and “Wealthy corporations in established industries, such as alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical producers, should be limited from market participation to the greatest degree possible.”
However, Filter Magazine’s journalists are promoting safe supply and drug legalization policies while covering harm reduction conferences. The publication is funded by the same “wealthy corporations” progressives and socialists eschew. In effect, right-leaning tobacco companies are setting the groundwork to get into the fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine businesses by partnering with left-leaning organizations.
While some moderate politicians and healthcare experts are open to the idea of safe supply, it aligns with the programs in countries like Holland and Portugal. There, heroin is administered under close medical supervision and only after all other methods have failed to help people overcome their addiction. The DPA and the powers behind Filter Magazine are advocating for ubiquitous drug access. Two totally different intentions. One is medicinal, the other is recreational. However, opening the door even a crack with the former will be met with a full court press by the latter.
The impact of total drug legalization and the implementation of safe supply would be disastrous. Addicts would sell the weaker (but tested and legal) products for the stronger (non-tested and dirty) products sold by street dealers, ensuring the continued success of the cartels. People, from young, novice experimenters to hard-core users will pay the steepest price: early death.
Communities already struggling with shuttered businesses, blight and crime would worsen, too. Those that haven’t faced it yet will be unprepared for what residents in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Detroit now fight against.
Eventually, if it were to go down that road, the CEOs of Phillip Morris and Reynolds American might again be called to testify before Congress. They will be asked whether or not such drugs are addictive, and one can predict their response. But this time the leaders in the country’s health departments will also be put on the stand.
We would then wait for 60 Minutes to do the story - and for the Hollywood movie version to be developed.
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