News and Notes

Compiled by John Witton and Jean O'Reilly


Bhutan's Tobacco Control Act of 2010 made selling tobacco or possessing cigarettes that have not been declared to customs an offence that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. The Independent reports that this has led to the arrest of more than 50 people. Earlier this year a 23-year-old monk was sentenced to three years imprisonment for smuggling and illegally possessing 48 packets of chewing tobacco he had bought in an Indian border town. Under the Tobacco Control Rules and Regulations 2011 that came into force in June smokers in Bhutan are restricted to private use of a maximum of 150 grams of tobacco and 200 cigarettes per month that can be legally imported. Users have to keep the customs receipts to prove that duties of up to 200% have been paid. Bhutan's anti-smoking legislation is seen as the strictest in the world. The sale of tobacco in Buddhist-majority Bhutan was already banned before the introduction of the act, as was smoking in public places, but the new law sought to tackle smuggling by introducing a prison term for offenders. However, against a backdrop of critical media coverage and public dissent, the Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said that the law imposed ‘excessive punishment’ on those caught in possession of small quantities of tobacco and this would be reviewed later this year. ‘I don't think we have the right balance,’ he said in an interview. ‘I am hoping that we will be able to make amendments . . . The kind of punishment is something that I think needs to be looked at.’



The WHO report Noncommunicable Diseases Country Profiles 2011 provides an overview of the Noncommunicable Disease (NCD) situation in each WHO Member State. Each country profile provides the number, rates and causes of deaths from NCDs; the prevalence of selected risk factors; trends in metabolic risk factors in each country; and information describing current prevention and control of NCDs. Noncommunicable diseases are related to lifestyle and the use of tobacco and alcohol. A World Economic Forum and Harvard School of Public Health report The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases estimates that low- and middle-income nations could lose about $7 trillion from 2011 to 2025 if NCDs are allowed to flourish at their current rate. To decrease deaths from non-infectious diseases, countries should pass excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol, encourage smoke-free public places, and increase awareness of diet and physical activity, according to a further WHO report.



The Guardian reports that the Dutch government plans to reclassify cannabis containing more than 15% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and put it in the same category as drugs such as cocaine. It says the amount of THC in cannabis has gone up, making it far more potent than a generation ago. The Economic Affairs Minister Maxime Verhagen said that higher potency cannabis ‘played a role in increasing public health damage,’ at a press conference in The Hague. The decision means most of the cannabis now sold in the Netherlands' cannabis cafes would have to be replaced by milder variants. The Dutch Justice Ministry said it was up to cafes to regulate their own products and police will seize random samples for testing. But Gerrit-Jan ten Bloomendal, spokesman for the Platform of Cannabis Businesses in the Netherlands, said implementing the plan would be difficult ‘if not impossible.’‘How are we going to know whether a given batch exceeds 15% THC? For that matter, how would health inspectors know?’ he said. He predicted a black market will develop for the more potent cannabis. From next year, the Dutch government also plans to ban tourists from entering coffee shops across the country. Amsterdam and other cities are strongly opposed to such a ban.



The Daily Telegraph reports that the Scottish National Party Finance Minister John Swinney announced a new ‘public health levy’, in the form of a business rates supplement paid by large retailers who sell both alcohol and tobacco from April next year, in the government budget announcement in September. This is projected to raise around £110 million over the next three years. The Finance Minister said the levy was ‘fair and proportionate.’ The SNP now has a majority in the Scottish parliament, meaning opposition parties do not have the numbers to block the new proposal. However, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), which represents the major supermarkets, warned it could be households that end up funding the tax rise. Ian Shearer, the organisation's director, commented: ‘Supermarket margins are already cut to the bone as stores compete to offer the best deals to cash-strapped consumers. This tax would make it harder for food retailers to keep prices down for customers, and makes Scotland a less attractive place to do business, invest and create jobs.’ Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association added: ‘The tax on large retailers will place an additional burden on Scottish businesses and push the price up for all consumers regardless of whether they consume alcohol at all.’



Europe's top scientific papers on drug-related topics have been acknowledged this year in a new award launched by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Abuse (EMCDDA). The award was granted by the EMCDDA and its Scientific Committee which assessed papers on their scientific significance, EU policy relevance, originality and creativity and clarity. The prize giving will take place in Lisbon. A paper published in the May 2010 issue of Addiction‘Evidence for the effectiveness of sterile injecting equipment provision in preventing hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus transmission among injecting drug users: a review of reviews’ by Norah Palmateer, Jo Kimber, Matthew Hickman, Sharon Hutchinson Tim Rhodes and David Goldberg was selected by the awards committee as one of the top five papers of the year.


The sale of tobacco from vending machines has been prohibited across England, with anyone caught selling cigarettes in machines facing a fine of £2,500 The ban has been introduced to prevent under-age sales to children and to support adults who are trying to quit. According to the Department of Health, nearly all adult smokers started smoking before they turned 18 and every year more than 300000 under-16s try smoking for the first time. Of the 11 to 15-year olds who smoke regularly, 11% say they buy their cigarettes from vending machines. It is estimated that 35 million cigarettes are sold illegally through vending machines to children every year. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: ‘Cigarette vending machines are often unsupervised, making it easy for children to purchase cigarettes from them.’ The rest of the UK is expected to implement a similar ban next year.



The 2011 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Afghanistan Opium Survey found that opium poppy crop cultivation in Afghanistan reached 131000 hectares in 2011, 7% higher than in 2010. 95% of total cultivation took place in nine provinces in the Southern and Western regions, which include the most insecure provinces in the country. In addition the number of poppy-free provinces decreased from 20 in 2010 to 17 in 2011 as Baghlan and Faryab provinces in the Northern region and Kapisa province in the Eastern region lost their poppy-free status, although their levels of cultivation were very low. The amount of opium produced has risen from 3600 metric tons in 2010 to 5800 metric tons in 2011. With high prices and increased production, the survey estimates that the farm-gate value of opium production alone is US$1.4 billion or 9% of the country's GDP.



The Jellinek Memorial Award for 2011 has been jointly awarded to Professor Deborah A. Dawson at NIAAA and to Professor Deborah S. Hasin at Columbia University. The award consists of $5000 (Canadian) together with a bust of E.M. Jellinek. The specific category for the 2013 awards is ‘Social, Cultural and Policy Studies’. Nominations should be sent to Professor Wayne Hall, Deputy Director (Policy), UQ Centre for Clinical Research, The University of Queensland, Royal Brisbane Women's Hospital, Building 71/918, Herston, Qld 4029, Australia—Fax + 61 7 3346 5598—Email by January 16 2012. Nominations may also be submitted online at


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Iggy was looking a little tired when she delivered her copy to Addiction's editorial team. Green iguanas are a species with a great range of emotional expression and so it is with our world-syndicated columnist. ‘Oh dear, oh dear, oh dearie me’ mumbled Iggy.

Iggy's sick and tired column

I am sick and tired with the Portman Group's prevarications, play acting and habit of crowing on dung hills. Here is the latest instalment; readers may enjoy a muted chuckle at the latest piece of Portman-speak [1].

Years ago Portman emerged as an organisation that offered press handouts for the drinks industry. It openly promoted the industry's interests. How times have changed! In this latest document, the Group is rebranded as the Industry's ‘regulator’. What?! No amount of rubbing of eyes changes the words on the page. There it is ‘regulator’. Oh I get it . . . it's a joke right? Ha ha. That outfit is funded entirely by the industry and everything it does gives the impression of being dedicated to serving the interests of its paymaster (you might as well have hyenas regulating hyenas).

The document to which I have referred above is headed ‘Portman Group will monitor Responsibility Deal labelling pledge’. ‘Pledge’ is an epithet currently much favoured by Portman and can be seen as closely synonymous with ‘empty gesture which will not harm the industry's interests and with luck will help them negate effective public health policies that will reduce the harm done by drink to the public health but sadly reduce the industry's massive profits.’ This memorandum ‘pledges’ to persuade 80% of manufacturers to put health message information on their bottles by 2013.

That information will offer a link to Drinkaware. What is the evidence that meeting this ‘pledge’ will save a single human life, a single battered wife or a single child run over by a drunk driver or . . . anything? Not great. But at least it won't dent the industry's profits and that's the main thing. With its instinctive gift for opacity the Portman Group does not declare the inherent conflict of interest; the Group is the largest financial sponsor of Drinkaware.

I would like to negotiate with a West End theatre the staging of a new comedy to be entitled ‘The Portman Pledge—I'll drink to that’. Unfortunately as an iguana it is difficult to get taken seriously by theatre ‘angels’.


We run a single limerick each month, chosen according to the Commissioning Editor and Editor-in-Chief's tastes. Please feel free to send us some should our pages inspire you to this form of poetry. This month's limerick comes from Griffith Edwards:

The Disease Concept Inspired my Youth

E.M. Jellinek is a difficult name for a limerick to nibble,

And, seen in hindsight, the disease concept is probably quite questionable.

‘Spare us your rhymes, hack rhymester’, you may say.

‘He's just a guy who once passed this way.’

But I'm grateful still to Bunky as prodigiously inspirationable.


Global Addiction 2011, 5–7 December 2011, Lisbon, Portugal. Website:

European Society for Prevention Research (EUSPR) Conference 2011, 8–9 December 2011, Lisbon, Portugal. Website:

American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry 22cd Annual Meeting and Symposium, 8–11 December 2011, Scottsdale Resort & Conference Center, Scottsdale, Arizona, USA. Website:

20th European Congress of Psychiatry, 3–6 March 2012, Prague, Czech Republic. Website:

SRNT 18th Annual Meeting, 13–16 March 2012, Hilton Americas Houston Hotel, Houston, Texas, USA. Website:

15th World Conference on Tobacco or Health, 20–24 March 2012, Suntec Singapore, Singapore. Website:

5th Annual Psychopharmacology Institute and ISPN 14th Annual Conference, 27–31 March 2012, Grand Hyatt Atlanta in Buckhead, Atlanta, Georgia. Website:

Addiction Medicine 2012 Conference, 30–31 March 2012, Asheville, North Carolina, USA. Website:

12th Social Research Conference on HIV, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases, 12–13 April 2012, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. Website:

American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) 43rd Annual Medical-Scientific Conference, 19–22 April 2012, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Website:

American Association for the Treatment Opioid Dependence (AATOD) National Conference, 21–25 April 2012, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Website:

2012 Annual Idaho Conference on Alcohol and Drug Dependency, 14–17 May 2012, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho, USA. Website:

Substance Abuse Librarians and Information Specialists (SALIS) 34th Annual Conference, 22–25 May 2012, Reno, Nevada, USA. Website:

Europad 12th International Conference: Heroin Addiction and Related Clinical Problems, 25–27 May 2012, Barcelona, Spain. Website:

College on Problems of Drug Dependence 74th Annual Meeting, 9–14 June 2012, La Quinta Resort and Club, Palm Springs, California, USA. Website:

International Narcotics Research Conference 2012, 14–20 July 2012, Hyatt Regency Hotel, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Website:

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Conference entries should be sent to Jean O'Reilly at Subject to editorial review, we will be glad to print, free of charge, details of your conference or event, up to 75 words and one entry only. Please send your notification three months before you wish the entry to appear.