Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ian M. MacIsaac: Iceland moves to classify nicotine as a narcotic, its users as gov't-registered drug addicts

  Cigarettes, and nicotine products in general, are--besides caffeine--the most accessible recreational drugs on earth. (Yes, both nicotine and caffeine are recreational drugs. So is alcohol.)

  And yet the eccentric European island nation of Iceland, located hundreds of miles north of the United Kingdom in the northernmost reaches of the Atlantic Ocean, is seeking to regulate all nicotine products in the way many other European nations have begun to do with heroin and its unfortunate addicts, who suffer from the disease of drug dependency.

  The same disease of drug dependency, argue many in Iceland's government, that cigarette smokers suffer from, simply on a rather lower level of medical and societal concern.

  The law, should it pass, would remove cigarettes from the traditional liquor- and corner-stores and instead relegate their licit sale only to pharmacies--and only to citizens age twenty and older (compared to the current Icelandic age of 18), who must possess what legislators are calling a "medical certificate of nicotine addiction." Cigarettes would be prescription-only.

  Icelandic people who choose to smoke would effectively be legally and medically classified as diseased people, forced off to the pharmacy to get the medication they have to have just to make it through the day.

  Quite a radical premise for those of us in the southeast United States, the most tobacco-friendly region in by far the most tobacco-friendly western nation, and not necessarily a good premise, either.


  Iceland has always been one of the developed world's more unique countries. About the size of Kentucky, Iceland sports a population smaller than that of metro Montgomery. In addition, more than two-thirds of those just-over-300,000 citizens live in or around the capital of Reykjavik.

  And Iceland is not only geographically unique--Iceland is just plain eccentric in all kinds of ways that make the proposed cigarette ban seem, really, not so crazy in historical perspective.

  Iceland is one of the very few developed nations with no standing army. (Even Switzerland, famously neutral even through the two World Wars, has a standing army--with conscription.)

  More recently, Iceland's parliament in 2005 voted to give sanctuary and full citizenship to chess prodigy turned eccentric anti-Semitic fugitive Robert Fischer until his death in early 2008.

  A year later, in February 2009, Icelanders elected Johanna Siguroardottir, the first openly homosexual head of a developed nation.

  And currently, Iceland is considering some of the most liberal and wide-ranging free speech laws in the world, laws that would make the country a safe haven for organizations like Wikileaks. Julian Assange has spent a lot of time working in Iceland.

  Iceland is also currently busy in court over its rejection of the involvement of the international Wall Street-World Bank-I.M.F. banking system in their nation’s finances and their renouncement of their own role in the business of that economic establishment, a set of moves no nation has made since the founding of those three institutions without facing overthrow.

  Indeed, it was usually only easily-overthrown and -vilified countries such as Iran or Guatemala (their democratically-elected leaders violently overthrown for economic reasons by the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, respectively) that would dare to turn away the world's dominant post-World War II economic alliances.

  But now, a western, developed nation full of white people is doing the same thing at exact the same time it's considering besting the U.S. four or five times over in being the free speech capital of the world. And did I mention they're planning to treat smokers like heroin addicts?


  "It’s as hard to give up nicotine as [to give up] heroin,” said the President of Iceland’s Society of Cardiology Thorainn Gudnason to the British Guardian. “[N]ot in terms of the side effects, but in terms of the cravings, and how quickly one becomes addicted. We want the government to license cigarettes like a medicine.”

  Gudnason goes on to say that, when one notes that one out of every five deaths in Iceland is from lung cancer, heart attacks, or COPD (including emphysema)—the three leading causes of death cigarettes contribute to the most—it seems relatively rational to further restrict the availability of cigarettes and other nicotine products.

  Neither Gudnason nor Icelandic legislators, however, have been very clear about what would be required of citizens to become officially registered on the so-called nicotine addict list.

  Many are concerned that the law and the ‘list’ would become a way to effectively ban cigarettes in the country simply by making it hard for anyone to get registered as a nicotine addict—similar to how the U.S. government first made marijuana illegal in 1937 by requiring every grower, seller, and possessor of any amount of the cannabis plant to have a government-issued tax stamp for the plant, not having a stamp for one’s marijuana being illegal.

  But then the government never printed any stamps. And so marijuana became illegal simply because no one could get the government to recognize their cannabis as legitimate. Could the same thing happen in Iceland with tobacco?

  Another concern is how tourists in the country would be able to get cigarettes while on vacation. American or, say, French visitors to Iceland won’t be happy to have to line up with cancer patients and dope addicts in the pharmacy line just to have a puff as they walk back to their hotel.

  It’s getting crazy out there, folks. Hold onto your smokes, kids, and stay south of the British Isles if you’d like to have your tobacco in peace. Smoking my cigarette here in Montgomery, Ala., I couldn’t feel any better-placed to keep up such a lovely bad habit a more paternalistic nation to the northeast might try to quash.

  About the author: Ian MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, Alabama and former co-editor of the school newspaper, the AUMnibus.

Copyright © Capital City Free Press

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