03/18/20 Katharine Neill Harris

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Katherine Neill Harris
Paul Stanford
Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy

Katharine Neill Harris Alfred C. Glassell, III, Fellow in Drug Policy re "Vaping: Clearing the Air" + Paul Stanford, cannabis activist returns from speaking gig in Mexico

Audio file



MARCH 18, 2020

DEAN BECKER: I am the Reverend Dean Becker, keeper of the moral high ground in the drug war for the world and this is Cultural Baggage.

Alright folks, this is the Reverend Dean Becker and here in a little while we are going to here from Mr. Paul Stanford who is just now returning from an excursion to Mexico to educate them about marijuana but first up, more locally we are going to hear from the Baker Institute. As has been true for decades on end, a recent report tells us that an estimated 480,000 deaths occur in the U.S. that are linked to smoking tobacco. That means that about 16 million people live with smoking related disease. I am taking that from a report issued a couple of weeks ago by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. This report was put together by the Director, William Martin as well as our guest for today, Katharine Neill Harris, she is the Alfred C. Glassell Fellow in Drug Policy. Welcome, Katie.

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Thank you for having me, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Katie, this is a fairly substantial report. Please tell us what is contained therein?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Our report looks at vaping as well as the trends in vaping and compare those to the trends in cigarette use. We also look at some of the research that is trying to determine whether vaping functions as a smoking cessation tool or as something that initiates young users to nicotine addiction. We also take a look at the role of Juul and the vaping industry encouraging vaping use among teens and young adults and then we propose several possible avenues for policy responses to the increase in vaping among young people.

DEAN BECKER: Among your key findings you list that vaping among teens and young adults has increased significantly in the last few years while the rates of smoking have continued to decline for all age groups. Is that a good thing?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: The decline in smoking is a good thing and it is part of a longer term trend. The latest numbers we have for 2019 is an estimated less than 6% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the past month, so that is an all-time low in terms of cigarette smoking. On the other hand, the rate of vaping in 2019 showed that 27½% of high school students said that they had used an e-cigarette in the past month so that is more than a quarter of high school students, which is more than double the rate that it was in 2017. When looking at the teen population it is unlikely that all of that increase in vaping are just people who would have been smoking otherwise. What that means is that there are a lot of young people who are initiating an introduction to nicotine who probably would not have smoked cigarettes absent the vaping option. The news is mixed as the decline in smoking is good but the rise in vaping is not so good; then again, vaping is still preferable to cigarettes.

DEAN BECKER: I think that is the key point that those who vape may switch over to cigarettes because they develop a “nicotine addiction”, which is a horrible result, right?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes, that is one of the concerns and there have been some studies cited that show that kids and teens who vape are more likely to smoke cigarettes later in life. One of the challenges with those studies is that they are not very good at ruling out confounding variables. In other words, they are not really good at ruling out the possibility that the same risk factors that make someone susceptible to vaping are also likely to make them susceptible to smoking cigarettes. In the same way, when we talk about cannabis use and we look at people who smoke cannabis and then go on to use heroin. There is usually underlying risk factors for both behaviors that are independent of the cannabis use which is the same with vaping and cigarettes, but not always. Again, we are still trying to figure out how all of these pieces fit together.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. You did bring up cannabis, and there is the cannabis or THC vaping, which is similar to the nicotine vaping. It is my understanding that many of these illnesses and deaths that have been created by vaping are more the result of black market THC vaping cartridges rather than Juul, or the more legitimate concerns. Am I right?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Correct. One of our reasons for putting this report together was that there was all of this heavy attention and panic in a sense over vaping since last summer when there was an outbreak of what was called EVALI (E-cigarette and Vaping Associated Lung Illnesses). We still see new cases but the rate has declined significantly. Officials from the CDC are fairly confident that most of those cases are due the presence of Vitamin E Acetate, which is the solution that is a Vitamin E pill that can be ingested safely but that you should not inhale. The presence of that chemical in particular black market THC cartridges because it is used as a cutting agent in those THC cartridges. That has been the primary source it seems of that lung illness. However, that illness really shined a spotlight on this increase in vaping that has been occurring over several years now and it spurred action on the topic.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. Now as a guy who quit smoking ten years ago, I have something like 50-pack years of Marlboro’s under my belt and now as a result I have COPD. It is a horrible habit and I am glad we having vaping to perhaps distract the children from that horrible habit. The fact of the matter is that we have this situation where there is a dual use that sometimes goes on where people start with the vaping and/or they start with cigarettes and then they may switch to chewing tobacco as well. There is a dual usage that sometimes becomes an even bigger problem. Right?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. The dual use is a big concern from a public health perspective. Right now it is kind of difficult to know for sure the nature of that Juul use. I am fairly confident that most of that Juul use are people who were smoking cigarettes and then they took up vaping perhaps to quit or cut back on smoking or as a supplement that they can use in public when they are in nonsmoking areas. I think it is more like that behavior than the other way around in that large numbers of people who take up vaping don’t eventually transition to cigarettes. I am not saying it doesn’t happen, I just don’t think that is the majority of that group. The dual use is still concerning from a public health perspective, even if you are reducing your cigarette use with vaping. There have been studies that show even a reduction in cigarette use from a pack a day to a half a pack a day or even one or two cigarettes a day, you are still exposing yourself to those cancer causing chemicals within cigarettes and you are not really getting the health benefits you would be getting if you quit smoking cigarettes completely. Meanwhile, the dual use can increase your nicotine exposure which can enhance the addiction to nicotine making it more difficult to quit both substances.

DEAN BECKER: When I was a kid they had Joe Camel trying to sell kids on the idea of smoking cigarettes. We also had the Marlboro Man, John Wayne in the movies, and we had all of these people enticing us. Even doctors were saying they were outstanding and mild. All of these enticements and lures to bring our kids forward. We have had somewhat similar circumstances trying to attract our kids to these vaping products. Have we not?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. If you Google any of these things and you come up with the types of ads that Juul and others have used. Juul has been more of the focus because they cornered such a large share of the market in such a short amount of time. Most of the vaping devices try to appeal to a younger audience and it is really obvious from the marketing and from the appearance of the models in the ads they use who are young and attractive who look like they are having fun. They throw parties around vaping and they try to get celebrities and other people to use their products, they use social media sites very clearly geared toward a younger audience so the claim that the only intent of the vaping industry has been to offer a safer alternative to cigarettes rings false when you take in to consideration the type of advertising that has been occurring around vaping products.

DEAN BECKER: All right friends once again we have been speaking with Katharine Neill Harris, she is the Alfred C. Glassell III Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Now as we are wrapping it up here, Katharine, I want to focus on the thought that I think most of us in the Baker Institute agree that prohibition just doesn’t work. It has many horrible consequences and I think that is holding true for this vaping product as well and banning it is not going to do us much good, is it?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: No. Banning these products won’t work, for example, my point about the EVALI lung illness being associated with black market vaping products. I think that if there was some kind of blanket ban or prohibition on vaping products you would just see people transition to a black market for it where the products would be much more poorly regulated and you would also have to worry about additives and other things in the vaping products that people were using; so certainly bans do not work for that reason. The other point that I think is important is that it certainly makes sense that we don’t want people under 21 to use these products and it makes sense to enforce laws against selling them in businesses that might be selling to minors. It is important to not have any legal sanctions for people who might be using vapes because those punishments are much more likely to be harmful than the vape use itself. There was a recent report that shows in Texas schools there is a significant increase in disciplinary action against students for vape products, some had THC but the vast majority was nicotine. I understand that schools are concerned about vaping on their premises but on the other hand, tacking on suspensions and expulsions on kids is likely to have long term damage on their lives with regard to employment and school prospects. I think it is really important to weigh those other consequences when we consider what policies we want to use to respond to vaping.

DEAN BECKER: All right. The hope has always been that through the use of these vaping products people could taper and then quit their use of the deadly cigarettes. Right?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: The evidence is somewhat mixed. There is some reason to be cautiously optimistic that vaping might be a more effective smoking cessation tool than other nicotine replacement therapies that are already on the market such as the nicotine patches and the gum. Part of the reason is that vaping is a more satisfying nicotine delivery system than cigarettes and so more people might be attracted to them. On the other hand, the vast majority of people that try to quit smoking whether it is with a vaping product or any of the FDA Approved nicotine replacement therapy, they continue to smoke cigarettes. This is just a testament to the addictive properties of cigarettes. I do think that there is potential for vaping to reduce cigarette use among people who are motivated to quit and we have seen research to indicate that. Again, it is really that the health benefit hinges to a certain extent on people quitting cigarettes completely. Most people don’t actually do that. The other thing to consider is that when we talk about prohibitions or bans on certain vaping products, a lot of that is concerned with prevention of teens and young adults from initiating nicotine use with these products. I think it is important to consider the harm reduction potential of vaping in the context of helping people quit cigarettes, especially when you look at the populations that are most likely to smoke cigarettes. We know that there has been a decade’s long decline in smoking for the general population but certain groups are much more at risk for smoking today than others. Specifically, it is people that are low income and that have lower levels of education including blacks, Native Americans, people who identify as LGBTQ, veterans, people with mental illness, and people who use other drugs. These are all groups that are much more likely to smoke cigarettes and therefore much more likely to suffer the harms related to smoking. There is a potential for vaping to possibly be a significant harm reduction tool in that group of people as well. I think that we need to consider that when we are talking about crafting policy to respond to this and wanting to prevent young people from starting this, we also want to give a healthier alternative to groups who are most at risk of smoking cigarettes.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Once again, I have been speaking with Katharine Neill Harris with the Baker Institute. Katharine, is there a website where folks could study your report?

KATHARINE NEILL HARRIS: Yes. They can go to www.bakerinstitute.org/research/vapingclearingtheair

It’s time to play Name That Drug by its Side Effects. Headache; nasal ulceration; back pain; pyrexia; cough; reduction in children velocity; glaucoma; cataracts; fungal, bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections; Ocular herpes simplex; and adrenal suppression. Time’s up! The answer: from Glaxo-Smith Kline, Veramyst nasal spray for allergies.

DEAN BECKER: All right friends. Today we are going to hear from a man who has decades of experience as an activist, a grower of the cannabis plant, and a man who does many things to try to educate his fellow man and citizen to the fact that there has been a lot of lies put forth about the cannabis plant. He is also a man who has travelled the world in support of those ideas, and he is a man who was selected, elected, chosen and paid to speak around the world about the benefits of cannabis. I would like to welcome activist and entrepreneur, Mr. Paul Stanford. How are you, Sir?

PAUL STANFORD: Very well. Thank you, Dean. How are you doing?

DEAN BECKER: I am good. You are just now returning from Guadalajara, Mexico and you are at the Houston airport, right?

PAUL STANFORD: It is kind of like I am entering in to the Age of the Pandemic here at the Houston airport as it is pretty empty. I am going on to Portland and all of my flights are pretty empty, but the sole advantage is that I get free upgrades to first class because it is empty.

DEAN BECKER: Yes. Let’s talk first about the pandemic. It was a few weeks back when you were in Colombia and more recently you have been in Mexico for the second time this year, if I am not mistaken. How do you see things being handled down there in regards to this pandemic?

PAUL STANFORD: They have universal healthcare in Mexico so like Cuba, they have low cost healthcare even for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) so they can access care. They haven’t had a large outbreak, it is just a small number of people who have contracted it there. I can’t tell you what that number is but it is much smaller than in the U.S., and Mexico is the largest Spanish speaking country in the world with about 175 million people.

DEAN BECKER: Are they in a state of panic as we are here in the U.S.?

PAUL STANFORD: They are a little bit worried about it but they haven’t closed down events in Mexico. In fact the event that I was at the people did not seem to be overly concerned. I think that perhaps it is overblown, I would hate to be proved wrong, though. The economic impact can’t be overblown, however and neither can the social impact.

DEAN BECKER: Sure. One of the ways that you promote the idea that cannabis is good is that you do a television show there in Portland. Do you not?

PAUL STANFORD: That is right. I have been doing a cable television show since 1996 on the Portland Cable Access Unit. They have upgraded it to a studio that is paid for by people who subscribe to cable access in the Portland, Oregon area. They have really nice state of the art facilities that they have continually upgraded over the years from analog to digital. They also changed the name several times but we have been producing an hour-long show on marijuana called, “Cannabis Common Sense” since September of 1996. It has had quite an impact over the years and we have had many, many guests that are mutual friends of ours from Doug McVay to Jack Herer and many others that will go nameless for the moment.

DEAN BECKER: That is 25 years that you have been doing that show!

PAUL STANFORD: Yes. We just did show 1,000 in the past year and we are up to about 1,025 shows now I believe.

DEAN BECKER: Well more power to you, Paul. Let’s talk about why you get these invitations to Colombia and Mexico cannabis seminars.

PAUL STANFORD: There are various events such as the Texas Hemp Convention which was all about industrial hemp in Dallas back in January. I was one of the pioneers in industrial hemp and then I have experience with medical marijuana both as a medical marijuana grower and the owner of what is the largest medical marijuana clinics in the country. We are across ten states and 60 cities with 80 contracted doctors, at its peak there were about 90 other employees. We helped 270,000 Americans from Detroit, Michigan to Honolulu, Hawaii get their medical marijuana permits. The first clinics opened in Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Colorado.

DEAN BECKER: I know you are in Mexico and Colombia but it was Mexico and Colombia that was providing the marijuana we had in the 60s, 70s, and in to the 80s. Right?

PAUL STANFORD: That is exactly what I tell various audiences. Since 2016 I have gone to Mexico City eight times and this is my third time in Guadalajara in the past year. I have another booking in Puerto Vallarta for the first time in April and another one in Colombia in July. I will give a few lectures to different members who are there. This one that I just came from in Guadalajara was for two different organizations. The MediCannabis Summit and Expo was held on the main campus at the University of Guadalajara and it was a pretty spectacular to chill in. Then there was a Cannabis Cultivation seminar that I gave with a few other experts in a more relaxed setting over the weekend. They are very nice. They flew my wife and I down here and treat us like rock stars so it is kind of fun.

DEAN BECKER: I bet so.

PAUL STANFORD: I am very supportive of all of their efforts and have had various presentations at the MediCannabis Summit. They asked me to make a presentation about business entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging legal cannabis industry because Mexico is on the cusp of fully legalizing and regulating cannabis and so there are a lot of debates on the potential restrictive regulations. We have seen that in every jurisdiction in the United States and Canada so there is some concern about that. I was able to talk about everything from hemp plastic to building materials and hempcrete to hemp paper and seed oil and biodiesel and of course a variety of dispensaries and retail opportunities. I talked about how the bulldog pioneered the coffee shops in Amsterdam that are just now being closed, apparently. Marc Emery pioneered some of the cannabis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and social consumption in Vancouver but now there are stores all over the place. My town of Portland, Oregon has more marijuana stores than Starbucks. They are everywhere and they have one about every quarter mile. There is some centralization and some of them are buying out others but there is a lot of mom and pop operations as well.

DEAN BECKER: As you can tell, Paul Stanford is speaking to us from the airport and they have an announcement going on in the background there. We are about to run out of time but Paul, I want to bring this back to cannabis expertise. Each year you grow umpteen pounds of outdoor and indoor cannabis and you give away a lot of that as medicine for the folks in your city. Right?

PAUL STANFORD: That is true. I have taken care of a lot of medical patients over the years. The rules are becoming a lot more restrictive around that and my state of Oregon is requiring every grower to get certification from the owner of the property that they have permission to use the property for growing marijuana and that has potential implications on the banks mortgages and that has a lot of people worried. It seems to be implemented by more monopoly creating lobbyists.

DEAN BECKER: Okay. I have one last area of concern and that is I know that a little over a year ago the Canadian big boys in the marijuana industry took their companies to the stock market and made hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars. Their stocks have gone way down as of this point but they use those dollars they garnered from the original stock sales and they have attempted and in many cases are in fact taking over U.S. marijuana industry with those dollars. Am I right?

PAUL STANFORD: Yes. I have been a personal target of that and it is really pretty amazing. I don’t want to harp on the individual points, but I have had a group that is now Board of the Directors at the Chrono’s group attack me. They spent two million dollars to crush my work and take away – another thing I have done is put legalization of marijuana on the ballot in Oregon. We lost in 2012, which was the same time that Washington and Colorado won we came back and won in 2014. It is a long, complicated story and I will just leave it at that but it’s not just happening to me. The same people who attacked me are in every jurisdiction in the United States, Mexico, Latin America, and Canada. They have the big money behind them and in fact the Chrono’s group and their Board of Directors; Allen Fretman, Ryan Roebuck, and several others just brought in a huge investment of 1.8 billion dollars from the Altria group who are the owners of Marlboro tobacco. So I am in a battle with big tobacco and billionaires; it is pretty amazing but (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

DEAN BECKER: Well, yes. Paul, I want to thank you for your acumen, expertise, and willingness to educate folks around the world to the benefits and potentials. If you want to hook up with Paul, I urge you to go to his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/dpaulstanford. Are there other ways folks might reach you, Paul?

PAUL STANFORD: They can also go to our website at: www.crrh.org. Our television show is streamed on Friday night’s at 8 pm Pacific time at: www.facebook.com/restorehemp.

DEAN BECKER: In closing, I want to thank Katharine Neill Harris from the Baker Institute, I want to thank Paul Stanford, and I want to thank you for listening to today’s program. Once again, I remind you that because of prohibition you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful!

Drug Truth Network transcripts are stored at the James A. Baker, III Institute for Public Policy and more than 7,000 radio programs are at www.drugtruth.net …and we are all still tap dancing on the edge of an abyss.