Scott Gottlieb and the path to prohibition

My latest article for Reason digs a little deeper into the FDA’s plans for tobacco regulation in the United States, including the path that could lead to prohibition of traditional cigars:

Technically, the FDA is forbidden by law from requiring the complete elimination of nicotine in tobacco. But it could mandate that nicotine be reduced to near zero. The FDA says it is considering the pros and cons of “lowering nicotine in cigarettes to a minimally or non-addictive level through the creation of a potential nicotine product standard.” The idea is that new smokers would never get addicted, and current smokers would be forced to quit or turn elsewhere for their fix.

In this scenario, cigarette smokers would switch to e-cigs or similar devices. Realistically, however, many of them will choose to stick with actual tobacco, sourcing it on the black market or buying it in other legal forms such as roll-your-own, pipe tobacco, small cigars, and premium cigars.

Therein lies the threat for people who enjoy smoking any of those products. Cigarette smokers who switch to these instead of e-cigarettes would offset the gains of regulation, inviting further interventions. A rule that began by targeting only cigarettes could end up affecting all forms of combustible tobacco, including premium cigars.

I also flesh out some ideas from a previous post about where debates over tobacco control are headed. Abstinence vs. harm reduction is no longer the most important divide moving forward:

The increasingly aggressive moves by Gottlieb’s FDA reveal the biggest divide in today’s tobacco policy debate. On the one hand, there are people who favor an open, classically liberal approach to regulation that expands the range of choices. On the other, there are advocates of top-down, technocratic planning to reduce it.

Both groups recognize that nicotine products exist on a continuum of harm, with some substantially more dangerous than others. The liberals want to see cigarettes, the most dangerous product on the continuum, suffer creative destruction by voluntary means, with smokers choosing for themselves to take up safer alternatives. Educational campaigns, targeted advertising, and preferential tax treatment could provide additional nudges. The technocrats seek not to nudge but to shove, urging the FDA to manage the market from above by banning some products entirely and coercively rendering others less appealing.

Read the whole thing.

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Those new e-cigarette regulations

Over at Slate, I have a quick take on the new FDA regulations governing flavored e-cigarettes:

The announcement marks a striking departure from Gottlieb’s tenure at the FDA so far. A former fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, he was widely expected to champion deregulatory policies on e-cigarettes—which are, it’s worth saying, essential harm-reduction tools. One of his first significant actions was to delay overly burdensome rules that could have forced thousands of e-cigarettes off the market, imposed impossibly high costs on manufacturers, and subjected all remaining products to an opaque process of pre-market review. This was widely viewed as a victory for harm reduction, winning praise both from free-market libertarians and many public health advocates. In contrast, the policies revealed on Thursday are unlikely to please anyone: They fall short of the complete ban on flavored e-cigarettes that some anti-tobacco groups have championed, but make it harder for adult vapers to access the products they want

Expect more from me later next week on the longer term implications of the FDA’s current approach to tobacco regulation.

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Don’t panic: How dynamism and technocracy define the debate over e-cigs

Yesterday for Slate I wrote a long article on current regulations surrounding e-cigarettes, their potential for harm reduction, and teen use of Juul and other vapor devices. So naturally this morning the FDA announced major changes to its policies and secretive new data. (In an email to my editor this weekend I’d said, “Let’s try to run it soon, just because you never know when the FDA might announce something that would force re-writes.” I’ve been down this road before.) I’ll use this post to talk about both my article and the new announcement.

First, my article in Slate. The gist of it:

Teenage use of e-cigarettes is a legitimate concern to address, but it’s important not to panic. The media’s alarmism obscures a wealth of good public health news: Smoking rates are lower than they’ve ever been, they’re dropping fastest among young cohorts, and young adults actually have a better understanding of the relative risks of conventional and electronic cigarettes than do their elders.

This is all still accurate and much of the piece expands on this with data. Polling among adults shows that beliefs about e-cigarettes are still wildly out of touch with the developing consensus that they are much safer than conventional cigarettes. In addition, many people erroneously believe nicotine to be a primary disease-causing agent in tobacco. Media alarmism and the FDA’s marketing restrictions both contribute to the spread of this misinformation.

I also write a bit about the Swedish and Norwegian experiences with snus, a form of oral tobacco that imposes fewer risks than both smoking and American-style chewing tobacco. The Swedish success is fairly well-known at this point, the Norwegian one less so. Snus use eclipsed smoking in Norway for the first time last year, with the shift in consumption most pronounced in young people. Smoking rates in both countries, especially among young cohorts, are now remarkably low.

The last part of the article gets into the fundamental approaches to nicotine regulation. The debate is usually portrayed as between two camps: those who want to eliminate nicotine use entirely and those who focus on harm reduction. I suggest that a deeper divide is between technocrats and dynamists, the latter term borrowed from Virginia Postrel:

[Allowing] adults to make informed choices about nicotine frightens regulatory gatekeepers. The abstinence-only and harm reductionist camps have different visions for combating smoking, but both believe that their visions should be imposed via legislation or through agencies like the FDA. They share a technocratic approach that tolerates change only when it’s tightly managed. As Virginia Postrel described technocracy in her insightful 1998 book The Future and Its Enemies, “Technocrats are ‘for the future,’ but only if someone is in charge of making it turn out to plan.” That there must be a plan is never questioned: “The issue isn’t whether the future should be molded to fit one static ideal. It’s what that static ideal should be. There must be a single blueprint for everyone.”

Opposition to technologies like Juul must be understood in part by the ways that they upset that static vision. Technocracy depends on central planning and top-down control. E-cigarettes, in contrast, are all bottom-up and unruly. They arose in vape shops and strip malls hacked by users mixing flavors, components, and nicotine concentrations to meet their individual needs. This messy disorder made room for an evolutionary process that refined innovations that worked and discarded those that didn’t. While no one could have predicted the spectacularly sudden rise of Juul in particular, it’s not so surprising that the leading e-cigarette company turns out to be a total newcomer rather than one of the pharmaceutical or tobacco companies that have profited from decades of stasis.

Which brings us to today’s announcement from FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb. When he delayed enforcement of the agency’s pre-market review requirements last year, I wrote approvingly that this signaled a lighter touch at the FDA that recognized the potential of harm reduction. A year later, armed with new data and perhaps motivated by a summer of media stories about teens addicted to Juul, he’s threatening to roll this back:

[In] view of the accelerating use among youth, we’re actively considering whether we will enforce the premarket review provision earlier, when it is apparent that these products are now subject to widespread youth use.

One factor we’re closely evaluating is the availability of characterizing flavors. We know that the flavors play an important role in driving the youth appeal. And in view of the trends underway, we may take steps to curtail the marketing and selling of flavored products. We’re now actively evaluating how we’d implement such a policy.

[…]

[We’re] seriously reconsidering our compliance dates for the submission of product applications when it is apparent that there’s widespread youth use of the product. We’re especially focused on the flavored e-cigarettes. And we’re seriously considering a policy change that would lead to the immediate removal of these flavored products from the market.

In addition, the FDA is stepping up enforcement at the retail level and launching a campaign to deter e-cig use among youth. If implemented properly, these latter two initiatives are entirely appropriate responses to youth uptake of e-cigs. Juul as a company has also been justifiably criticized for its lifestyle marketing (though the FDA makes advertising as a harm reduction tool virtually impossible). But bringing back the agency’s notoriously burdensome pre-market review and banning flavors (which are preferred by many adult users) threatens to undermine the potential of e-cigarettes to reduce conventional smoking.

According to Dr. Gottlieb, this reversal is justified by data that the agency is not ready to make public:

We have good reason to draw this conclusion based on the trends and data that we’ve seen, some of which is still preliminary and will be finalized in the coming months and presented publicly.

I’m certainly curious to see this data. Based on the latest publicly available figures, this is what I wrote for Slate:

The 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey, for example, found that nearly 38 percent of high school students had ever tried an e-cigarette. That sounds alarming, but very few of them (2.5 percent) reported regular use—and regular use is particularly rare among non-smoking youth. The latest available figures also suggest that use of e-cigarettes among high schoolers is down from its peak in 2015. That’s no reason to be complacent about teen use of Juul or any addictive substance, but the most current data available suggest that nightmare stories of a vaping-to-cigarette pathway are the exception, not the rule.

I’d considered adding an obvious disclaimer that the next release of statistics might show youth use increasing again due to the popularity of Juul, and in hindsight I wish I’d included it. This morning I asked the FDA about both the source of the data and more specifics about what they show, but their press officer was unable to provide any further information so we’re stuck evaluating the FDA’s announcement in the dark. If we did have access to the data, I’d want to know the degree to which increases are in experimentation, occasional use, and regular use.

What’s notably absent from Dr. Gottlieb’s remarks is any mention of youth smoking. While teenage use of e-cigarettes or any addictive product is worrisome in itself, the chief fear is that teens who try e-cigs will move on to take up the real thing. Unsurprisingly, teens who experiment with one forbidden product are more likely to experiment with another, so many young people report having tried both. But thus far the rise in e-cigarettes has been accompanied by a fall in smoking. The 2017 youth smoking rate was 7.6%, a record low, down from 12.7% in 2013. In terms of actual health outcomes, avoiding cigarette use remains by far the most important aim. If the FDA has new survey data, it’s reasonable to guess that it asks about both vapor products and cigarettes. An increase in the use of the latter would bolster the case for the agency’s new course of action, so the omission of any remarks about youth smoking is curious. I asked if their new data indicated anything about trends in youth smoking, but once again their press office was unable to provide additional information.

As with any controlled substance, it’s challenging to balance an open market for adults with the need to prevent uptake by youth. But it’s vital not to shut down innovation in the market for cigarette alternatives. The FDA says it still believes in the potential non-combustion products, but today it’s a very open question whether its actions will reflect this. As Jacob Sullum remarks at Reason:

The federal government is threatening to eliminate that alternative even while tolerating conventional cigarettes, which are far more hazardous and also end up in the mouths of people who are not old enough to buy them legally. If underage consumption does not justify a ban on tobacco cigarettes (and I don’t think it does), it cannot possibly justify a ban on competing products that are much safer.

The narrow questions about flavors and lifestyle marketing are a preview of the debates to come. The abstinence/harm reduction divide is gradually going to become less salient than the technocracy/dynamism divide. Harm reduction advocates have been focused on the benefits of shifting consumption from cigarettes to much safer forms of nicotine delivery. This is entirely correct, but the achievement of this goal will bring other questions to the fore. What’s the best approach for people who continue to smoke cigarettes in spite of everything? What about people who smoke for pleasure, perhaps with cigars or pipes? What about non-smokers who take up vaping because they like it?

Scott Gottlieb has taken a looser approach than his predecessor, but the FDA is still committed to central planning. The agency has already noted that it intends to mandate lower nicotine yields in cigarettes, and if history is any guide then it won’t be long before this rule is extended to other forms of tobacco. The pervasive assumption is  that bringing tobacco and nicotine use down to zero is a universal goal that everybody shares. Gottlieb speaks of “on-ramps” and “off-ramps” to nicotine as if he’s a city planner optimizing traffic patterns. But we’re not all headed to the same destination. As the gains of harm reduction are realized, the underlying questions of consent and coercion that have always surrounded tobacco will coming roaring back.

In my Slate piece I briefly quoted an interview with Karl Lund, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Here’s a longer excerpt from that interview that gets to the point:

I think nicotine will become a more accepted drug if delivered without severe health risks. The tobacco control community will eventually have to accept that we have to separate nicotine from tobacco. In the 1990s the strategy was to warn against the axis of evil; cigarettes – nicotine – tobacco industry. Now we are paying the price for this merging. The goal should be to reduce tobacco-related deaths, not to make the society nicotine-free.

I think much of the opposition against THR and novel nicotine products comes from the fact that health side has been on the outside and not in the driver-seat of its development. These innovative products have emerged without their control and approval. This is a consumer-driven process. It is difficult for us to realize and accept that these products may have greater potential to make smoking obsolete than the regulations many of us have spent a lifetime fighting for.

Reducing tobacco-related deaths is a noble goal, but there are limits to what planning can achieve without crushing personal liberties. The dynamic approach to tobacco regulation empowers smokers by giving them safer alternatives to the cigarettes. Like Scott Gottlieb, I’m optimistic that many of them will take them and eventually quit using nicotine altogether. But the purpose of government should not be to impose the preferences of regulators onto everyone else by micromanaging the market and placing ever more coercive restraints on adult behavior. It’s too often forgotten by authorities in tobacco control, but the aim of a liberal society is to give people the space to pursue their own ends, not to insist that they conform to ours. An open market in nicotine products will indeed lead to healthier outcomes than the status quo, but the ultimate patterns of use are not ours to control.

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The FDA and e-cigs at Slate

A fun thing about being a public policy writer is when you put a lot of time into researching and writing a piece, only to have the federal agency you’re covering make a surprise announcement of significant changes right after your finish it. That happened to me on Friday morning, when I awoke to an unexpected announcement from the FDA that made the article I’d stayed up writing the night before obsolete.

That was inconvenient for me, but the news is great for users of e-cigarettes. The FDA’s new direction looks like it will avert the regulatory disaster that was on the way. My revised article for Slate explains exactly what’s going on.

Although I didn’t have space to go into at Slate, the announcement is also a reprieve for cigar smokers and producers.

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Smoking bans at Slate, plus a new study from Japan

Longtime readers of my blog may remember the “heart miracle” studies of the previous decade. These studies purported to show that implementing smoking bans would bring about drastic and immediate reductions in the rate of heart attacks. I and several other writers expressed doubt for a variety of reasons, noting the small sample sizes and methodological oddities that seemed to point to a pre-determined conclusion. At the time, however, there weren’t many large scale studies being done that could settle the question.

Those large scale studies now exist, and as I write today at Slate, the evidence for the heart miracle hypothesis isn’t holding up:

[…] now that the evidence has had time to accumulate, it’s also become clear that the extravagant promises made by anti-smoking groups—that implementing bans would bring about extraordinary improvements in cardiac health—never materialized. Newer, better studies with much larger sample sizes have found little to no correlation between smoking bans and short-term incidence of heart attacks, and certainly nothing remotely close to the 60 percent reduction that was claimed in Helena. The updated science debunks the alarmist fantasies that were used to sell smoking bans to the public, allowing for a more sober analysis suggesting that current restrictions on smoking are extreme from a risk-reduction standpoint.

It’s a rather long piece and it covers a lot of ground, from the original heart miracle in Helena, Montana to the pervasive outdoor smoking bans that stigmatize smokers today. Read the whole thing.

During the editing of the article I also came across yet another new study from Japan. This one compares data from Hyogo Prefecture, one of the first regions in Japan to impose a smoking ban, to the control population of Gifu Prefecture. The time period is fairly long (one year before the ban, two years after) and the populations are large (5.58 million residents in Hyogo, 2.07 million in Gifu). One limitation of the study is that the Hyogo ban isn’t 100% comprehensive; businesses such as bars can allow smoking and some other businesses can have separate smoking rooms. Nonetheless, given the pervasiveness of smoking in Japan, even a partial ban would be expected to significantly reduce non-smokers’s exposure to secondhand smoke.

So what were the results? No trend in the number of acute coronary syndrome admissions appeared in either prefecture. “For the primary endpoint of this study, we did not observe a significant change from before to after the implementation of the partial smoking ban.”

The study did identify a small downward trend in Kobe City, which the authors attempt to spin as evidence that the smoking was in fact having the desired effect:

The reason why only Kobe City showed a significant decrease in the number of ACS admissions irrespective of subgroups is unclear. One possible reason is that the Hyogo Prefectural Capital Office is located in Kobe City, and social understanding of smoking legislation might have been accepted more widely. Indeed, questionnaires by Hyogo Prefectural Government Health & Welfare Department, distributed in the bars and restaurants larger than 100m2 in 2015, showed that the adherence rate to the smoking ban legislation was 97% in Kobe City and 88% in other Hyogo districts included in the present study. Therefore, compared with the other districts in Hyogo, the adherence rate to the smoking ban legislation was higher in Kobe City.

OK, maybe, but this seems like a stretch. One should always be skeptical of post-hoc attempts to explain why the effect one was looking for only appears in a certain subset of the data. It’s easy to come up with just-so stories that fit the expected narrative. There are myriad other factors that could be causing the decline, and chalking it up to slightly better adherence to an already partial smoking ban strikes me as a very unlikely (and very convenient!) candidate.

In any case, the bulk of high-quality research published in recent years weighs heavily against the idea that smoking bans will bring about miraculous health benefits. So as I argue in my Slate piece, let’s move on to a post-miraculous policy and make sensible accommodation for smokers’ preferences.

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A super bowl of punch

abbey street punch
Photo by David L. Reamer

I contributed the “Cocktail of the Week” feature for Distiller this week. There being some sort of big football game today, they asked me to write up something involved beer. I went with one of the recipes featured in my book, Erick Castro’s Abbey Street Punch from Polite Provisions in San Diego, California. This is a great one for winter parties, combining Irish whiskey, Jamaican rum, allspice dram, and stout. Click over for the recipe and some historical notes on using ale in punch.

(For more recipes like these, buy Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer.)

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Mezcal, Citizens United, and Donald Trump

My latest article for Reason combines three of my favorite things: mezcal, free speech, and insulting Donald Trump. “Donald eres un pendejo,” says a popular campaign from Ilegal Mezcal:

Messaging like Ilegal’s has struck a chord, but it’s also in tension with the idea, popular on the political left, that corporations should not engage in political speech. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, it has become common for liberals to assert that corporations don’t have free speech rights, that money is not speech, and that corporate expenditures intended to influence politics can be restricted unproblematically. A question worth asking then is: Would a hypothetical President Trump have constitutional authority to forbid mezcal companies from calling him a pendejo?

Nothing that Ilegal has done so far would have violated election laws as they stood before Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. At the time of the decision, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act applied only to broadcast, cable, and satellite communications that explicitly mentioned a candidate by name. But if that decision had gone differently, it’s also easy to imagine election laws being extended in ways that would have a chilling effect on advocacy.

Read the whole thing here.

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Assorted links

For my first contribution to the Distiller weblog, I take a look at the sudden arrival of rice whiskeys on the American market, including Kikori from Japan and Vinn from right here in Portland, Oregon.

I was also a guest on Greg Pulscher’s “Free to Brew” podcast out of North Carolina, discussing corporate welfare for craft brewers. (See my recent Reason article on the topic.) On that note, we can unfortunately add Ballast Point to the list of West Coast breweries getting public subsidies to fund their East Coast expansion.

And speaking of Reason, Baylen Linnekin quotes me in his column today about one of the USA’s most ridiculous alcohol laws, Utah’s “Zion Curtain.”

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How the FDA will snuff out innovation in cigars and e-cigs

I awoke yesterday morning to the news I’ve been dreading for years: The FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products announced that it will extend its authority over cigarettes to all tobacco products, including cigars and e-cigarettes. When I last covered this topic, the FDA was considering a proposal (“Option 2”) to exempt premium cigars from some of the agency’s more onerous regulations. I was optimistic that the agency might take this path, allowing it to concentrate resources where they might do more good and avoiding conflict with politically vocal cigar smokers. Unfortunately, as I write at Reason, that optimism was misplaced:

As of yesterday, Option 2 is dead. And so, perhaps, is innovation in the cigar business.

Cigars that were on the market in 2007 will be allowed to remain for sale, but any cigars introduced since then will have to endure the same sort of regulatory hassles as Hestia tobacco. If they can’t prove they’re substantially equivalent to existing products—not just in their composition or their effects on smokers, but in their essentially unknowable potential health impacts on the population as a whole—then they will be ordered off the market.

It’s hard to predict what those applications will cost, but the most likely outcome is that the market for cigars will soon become a lot less diverse and a lot more boring. (Cuban cigars, which by definition were not legally on the US market in 2007, will obviously not be grandfathered in.)

Read the rest here.

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New at Reason: The latest threat to mezcal

This week at Reason, I look at the proposed Mexican law that threatens small producers of mezcal:

That legislation is NOM 199, a proposal that would place additional restrictions on some of the least advantaged producers of agave spirits just as just as mezcal is finally beginning to receive the global acclaim it deserves. These distillers are already forced to compete without using the word “mezcal” on their labels; the term is governed by Denomination of Origin (DO) regulations that limit its use to just seven states in Mexico. Producers outside of those regions make spirits historically and informally known as mezcal, but they’re not permitted to call it that on their labels or when exporting. Instead, they must market their products as “destilado de agave,” or agave distillate.

This is a truthful description of their product, though many producers resent being excluded from the mezcal DO and make the case that use of the word has precedent in a much larger area than current law recognizes. But all definitions of spirits by geographic borders involve some arbitrary demarcation, and if this were only a debate about where to draw the line for where the word “mezcal” can be put on a bottle, it would be a less interesting story. NOM 199 goes even further, banning producers not only from calling their product mezcal, but requiring them to abandon use of the word “agave” as well. A new word, “komil,” would be forced upon them. Critics assert that this would further marginalize the producers of these spirits, many of whom are poor and live far from the central Mexican government.

Read it all here.

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Crony capitalists of craft beer

My latest story for Reason looks at how some of the biggest names in craft beer are raking in millions of dollars in public subsidies to fund their expansion:

“Virginia is for beer lovers,” Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) proclaimed at a recent press conference. He was obviously not referring to a lawsuit challenging the state’s use of an antiquated “habitual drunkard” law to jail indigent citizens without due process, but rather to $3 million in corporate welfare from the state’s Commonwealth Opportunity Fund that he approved to lure Bend, Oregon based Deschutes Brewing toRoanoke for the construction of their first East Coast brewery.

For those of us who follow the beer industry, the announcement stirred feelings of déjà vu. It was less than two years ago that McAuliffe was tapping a keg from San Diego’s Stone Brewing and putting Virginia taxpayers on the hook for a $5 million grant to bring Stone to Richmond. That was in addition to a $1.5 million economic development grant, a $500,000 sustainability grant, and $31 million in bonds from the city to build a brewery and bistro.

Read the whole thing, which includes many more breweries, including Stone’s new operation in Berlin.

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The blend that dare not speak its name

Today at Reason, I write about antiquated liquor laws that forbid producers from being completely honest with consumers:

Like many other whisky brands, Compass Box doesn’t distill their own spirits. They source whisky from other producers to create unique, proprietary blends. And like most companies making blended whisky, they tend to keep their precise recipes secret.

But for these two blends they took the unusual step of posting infographics on their website that provided detailed breakdowns of every component whisky, including the source distillery, tasting notes, the exact proportion each takes up in the blend, the type of cask used for ageing, and the length of time each whisky spent in barrel.

For the type of whisky drinker who’s willing to shell out three figures for an exclusive bottle, Compass Box’s complete transparency is a welcome departure from brands that obscure the provenance of their spirits with varying degrees of honesty. But at least one competitor viewed Compass Box’s openness as a violation of liquor marketing regulations. An anonymous distiller contacted the Scotch Whisky Association, a trade group for Scotch, who in turn informed Compass Box that its detailed disclosure was illegal.

The article covers not just whisky in the European Union, but also gin and aquavit in the United States. Read the whole thing.

I was also quoted in The Wall Street Journal this week in an article about reviving hot drinks made with beer. Readers interested in trying these drinks at home should pick up my book, which has an entire chapter dedicated to “hot helpers.”

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Beer cocktails finally legal in Virginia

My former home of Virginia is known for its archaic, overly strict alcohol laws, but there is some good news from the Old Dominion: Beer cocktails are finally legal. Well, some of them anyway:

Virginia law allows restaurants to mix spirits with beer or wine “pursuant to a patron’s” order, meaning that individual cocktails prepared for a customer are perfectly legal. Storing drinks that mix spirits with wine or beer remains illegal, however, unless that mixture can be passed off as sangria (defined vaguely by the mixologists in the state legislature as containing “brandy, triple sec, or other similar spirits”).

Most of the drinks I write about would therefore be legal in Virginia, but there’s a long tradition of batched beer punches that the state’s bars are still forbidden from serving. Ale Punch, a recipe from the great nineteenth century American bartender Jerry Thomas, or Blow My Skull, the favorite of an eccentric Tasmanian governor known for drinking his subordinates under the table, would both fall afoul of the rules. So too would “Beer Nog,” a contemporary take on egg nog that adds porter to the usual mix of brandy, eggs, and cream. And if any Virginians want to go wassailing in the winter, they’ll have to settle for low-proof versions of the beverage that do not fortify the warm ale with stronger spirits.

That’s good news for my book Cocktails on Tap. Read the rest of my article at Reason for a look at more of the country’s liquor laws, and also check out fellow Portland writer Niki Ganong’s new book The Field Guide to Drinking in America, which breaks them down state by state.

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Gasp! New Orleans passes a smoking ban

In my first contribution to Eater, I put the New Orleans smoking ban into a national context:

As in most cities, New Orleans’ smoking ban debate centered on the trade-offs between the interests of business owners who fear lost patronage and the interests of customers and employees in avoiding secondhand smoke. It’s an apt time to inquire into what’s really at stake with smoking bans. Will the sky fall for bars and casinos in New Orleans? And will banning smoking save as many lives as advocates promise?

The answers may surprise you!

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Vaping in the Oregonian

In today’s Oregonian, I look back at a column I wrote in 2008 and say, “I told you so.”

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Day 2009, Oregon ushered in its statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants. I was at the Horse Brass Pub, one of Portland’s most notoriously smoky drinking dens, enjoying one last cigar with a bunch of other patrons who were none too happy about the new rules.

The ban, we were told, was necessary to protect employees and customers alike from secondhand smoke. Health researchers had conducted dozens of studies attempting to show that exposure endangered nonsmokers. Some of the results were medically implausible, but ban advocates at least made the effort of demonstrating actual harm to actual humans.

Many of us doubted that the evidence really mattered. As I wrote in The Oregonian/OregonLive at the time, “Protecting workers is simply the polite fiction by which nonsmokers have imposed their will on an increasingly unpopular minority.”

We suspected this, but how could we prove it? What if there were a device that looked like a cigarette and mimicked the effects of smoking, yet emitted a mostly harmless vapor instead of tobacco smoke? If authorities tried to ban that too, without bothering to establish that it endangered anyone, then our suspicions would be vindicated.

That device exists. It’s called an e-cigarette. And sure enough, the Multnomah Board of County Commissioners is voting on whether to ban its use indoors. The Legislature, too, may expand the state’s smoking ban to cover vaping.

Read the whole thing.

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