- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 29, 2002

In my book, smoking tobacco is unfathomably stupid. About the only thing more lethally dumb are extortionate taxes on tobacco.

Egged on by anti-tobacco activists, politicians in state after state around the country are indulging in an orgy of greed. Tobacco taxes have become a golden goose for government coffers. With a city tax alone of $1.50, a pack of cigarettes now costs $7.50 in New York City. The tobacco companies' standard objection is that higher taxes will lead to more cigarette smuggling. The anti-tobacco crowd's standard response is to demand adjacent cities and states have ever-higher tobacco taxes as well.

Yet the entire argument regarding increased taxes and cigarette smuggling is irrelevant and astoundingly naive. The true threat is unimaginably worse.

Nicotine is a naturally occurring substance found in many plants, such as eggplant. Its highest concentration occurs in tobacco leaves. Its function is to protect the plant against insects, i.e., it is a natural insecticide. Black Leaf 40, an environmentally safe and biodegradable agricultural insecticide used around the world, is 40 percent nicotine sulfate. Farmers have been using nicotine sulfate insecticide since the early 1800s. To make it, all you do is boil tobacco leaves in water with a little sulfuric acid (the same acid as in a car battery).

If you mix the resultant nicotine sulfate extract with a common alkali like lime, then add a solvent such as ether, pure nicotine alkaloid or free base "crack" nicotine will float to the top dissolved in the solvent which is then evaporated off. A trivially simple procedure that anyone with a high school chemistry course can perform, it is the same process as making free-base cocaine from cocaine hydrochloride powder.

And just as crack or free-base cocaine is far more addictive and lethal than cocaine hydrochloride powder, so crack or free-base nicotine would be frighteningly more addictive and lethal than tobacco.

The faster a drug rises in the brain, and the higher its concentration, the more potentially addictive it is. Smoking tobacco leaves is a quick and concentrated, and thus addictive, way to administer nicotine unlike the nicotine skin patch, which delivers the drug slowly. Faster still much faster and far more concentrated than smoking plant leaves would be smoking nicotine free-base.

Nicotine is the most addictive substance known to science. It is far more addictive than any illegal drug, including heroin. Smoking crack nicotine would be the fastest way to administer the drug, making crack nicotine many times more addictive than tobacco.

Nicotine acts by stimulating the nicotinic cholinergic receptors located throughout the brain and body. If these receptors are mildly stimulated, such as via smoking tobacco leaves, there will be a sensation of heightened alertness, an improved capacity to focus and block out extraneous stimuli. Just as the high of crack cocaine is experienced more intensely by the addict than snorting coke powder, so will the high of crack nicotine be more intensely pleasurable to the tobacco addict than smoking tobacco leaves. But if the nicotinic cholinergic receptors are stimulated too strongly, one's brain and body will go into fatal convulsions.

In its ability to quickly and massively overstimulate one's nicotinic cholinergic receptors, crack nicotine is incredibly poisonous. One drop of 40 milligrams of pure uncut crack nicotine smoked in a glass pipe has a 50 percent chance of killing an adult. Two drops will kill you for sure. It is more toxic than cyanide, one-tenth (gram per gram) as toxic as typical military nerve gas. A few drops on your skin, one or two drops on your mucous membranes, and you are dead.

Thus, purveyors of crack nicotine would have to cut or dilute it with water (as it's water-soluble) by around 20-1. (The nicotine sulfate in Black Leaf 40, on the other hand, cannot be absorbed by the skin or membranes well; it is poison only if you ingest it like an insect is supposed to).

There is an average of 2 milligrams of nicotine in one high nicotine cigarette. Total state and city taxes in New York City are now about $3 for a pack of 20 a tax of 7.5 cents per milligram, or $75,000 per kilo of nicotine in cigarettes.

Three drums of nicotine sulfate extract would yield one drum, or 200 kilos, of crack nicotine. This could be manufactured at an average cost (ingredients, equipment, Third World labor) of less than $500. The tax-avoidance value ($75,000 a kilo) is 30,000 times that: $15 million for one drum of crack nicotine. That is a 3 million percent profit.

Further, one eyedropper-full of uncut crack nicotine would have a nicotine content of four cartons of cigarettes, one kilo poured in a 20 oz. soda-pop bottle would equal 5,000 cartons or 50,000 packs: a value-per-volume increase of 1,000 times for cigarette smugglers. A typical fix of cut crack nicotine (diluted 20-to-1, or 2 milligrams) would be 1 percent of a crack cocaine fix (200 milligrams) by weight making it 100 times easier, in terms of size, to smuggle than cocaine.

Given these numbers, the politicians' greedy tobacco tax crusade makes the creation of a crack nicotine market inevitable and irresistible to organized crime. And likely to develop soon.

The fantasy of anti-tobacco activists, that ever-higher tobacco taxes will result in fewer people smoking, is going to result in a hideous nightmare instead. They could infinitely improve public health by ending their tax crusade and demanding safe alternatives to cigarettes, such as Nico Water (mineral water laced with 2 milligrams of nicotine), recently banned by the FDA and ignorantly opposed by anti-tobacco groups like Tobacco Free Kids. Unless they do, such groups are about to learn a horrible lesson taught by the law of unintended consequences and all of us will suffer for it.

Jack Wheeler is president of the Freedom Research Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]

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