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Seamus McGrenery

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Can we do anything about the marketing of illegal drugs?

We know that the distribution and sale of illegal drugs is a multi-billion dollar industry. But it is an illegal industry, so how does it advertise? Maybe deliberate product placement in movies is one way.

Maybe many people assume that the illegal drug business does not need to advertise. Or maybe people think that the industry can rely on the occasional ‘free’ plug by pop stars.

Offhand, though, I can’t think of any other large scale consumer industry that does not put a lot of effort into persuading more people to try it’s products.

The illegal drugs industry is constantly losing customers, to arrest, to recovery and-like the tobacco industry-to early death. It would be naieve to think that it does not work hard to replace them.

Product placement is a well-known, and widely studied, market for placing normal commercial products in movies as a way of marketing them. The practice is as old as the cinema.

So how would that work for the illegal drugs industry? We could look at how the tobacco industry reacted to the banning of its advertisements from TV. One way was to pay for product placement in movies.

A study found one in five movies features illegal drugs, not so far off the number the feature cigarette smoking. The tobacco industry pays for the inclusion of smoking in many of the films that feature it. Why wouldn’t the illegal drugs industry do the same? After all they have the same need to keep recruiting new users.

Both Misha Glenny and Rodrigo Canales tell us that the illegal drug business often works like other multinational businesses.

Freakonomics author Steven Levit claims that the economics of the illegal drug industry works in a similar way to McDonald's. It is the McDonald's corporation, not your local restaurant that arranges for its products to feature in the movies. They do it to boost local sales, and their own profits.

So, if illegal drugs are being deliberately marketed through movies, is there anything we can do about it?


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  • Apr 8 2014: BAN EVERYTHING! KILL EVERYONE! Then we will have complete obedience to all laws! That should make you very happy.

    Those of us who actually have the capacity for rational thought realize we need to examine these "illegal" drugs on the basis of actual hazard instead of the silly scare tactics used by moralists.
    • Apr 14 2014: Bryan Maloney. Thanks for your input.

      The actual hazard.
      I have 2 grown grandson's. Their Dad sired them while high as a kite.
      Their Mother lost them to a Judge after he gave her two years to straighten out.
      Now they are grown men.
      One is being released from Prison this month. The other is running from the law.
      They are broken, like broken toys. Drugs and violence are their way of life.

      I live in the center of my town. My health is poor, and I can only walk a block or
      two. My neighbors are on Housing assistance and varies Social Welfares.
      I watch over them, and cull out the bad ones.
      In my 6th year here, we now have a genuine good community of happy campers.

      The other day, my daughter brought me home from the hospital.
      Suddenly I was assaulted by 4 or 5 neighbors who needed me to toss out some bad guys,
      who had invaded the apartment of another neighbor, and had spent the last 2 nights in
      raucous fun, and had solicited 2 young girls to come and do cocaine. One girl was 10 and
      the other was 12. The 10 year old was my granddaughter.

      I took care of business.
      The police arrived 2 hours later.
      Silly scare tactics Bryan Maloney?

      I pose this to be a real life moral problem.
      • Apr 14 2014: That was cocaine, and rational analysis agrees that cocaine is a very high-hazard substance. They also agree that alcohol is high-hazard. Where's the outcry to ban alcohol?


        It links to the Lancet paper that gives more detail.

        Taking the three categories (dependency, social harm, physical harm) as input to a clustering algorithm produces three distinct clusters. The most hazardous cluster consists of heroin, alcohol, cocaine, barbituates, and street methadone. If we attempt to correlate cluster membership with legal status, we get a correlation coefficient of 0.19. If we square that, we get approximately 0.04, which means that roughly 4% of the legal status of an intoxicant has anything at all to do with its actual hazard.

        Yes, SOME drugs are extremely hazardous. Others are not. The law does not reflect the level of hazard. I gave the citation for the paper. You can look it up, yourself. The clustering analysis was my own.
        • Apr 15 2014: Bryan, I spend (or used to) 10 to 15 hours a day deep into algebra as I design
          my computer spreadsheet program. Thank you for all your hard work.

          I can tell you from observation that hard drugs are bad, and cause deaths
          and wreck families.
          But, as a young man, there were no hard drugs. None, zero. We heard on the
          grapevine about "reefers" and the college kids sneaking down to TJ in Mexico to
          try and buy some.
          So these last 65 years I have watched corporal punishment vanish, and kids tell
          their parents to "stuff a sock in it", and "crash pads", "hippies", "yippies", etc.

          I have watched as the San Fernando Valley began to cover the windows of homes
          with bars of steel, as crime exploded with drive-by shootings.

          I have seen Navaho, and Apache become 80% alcoholic.

          I have experienced my Children and Grandchildren fall to the ravages of Drugs.

          I have wondered --- Why our US Government allows such? To what purpose?
          Today --
          The Poppy Fields of Afghanistan are yielding 36% more poison this year than last.
          Liken to Viet Nam, will our soldiers return as addicts?
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        Apr 15 2014: Thank you for sharing the real harm done to your family.

        When we discuss these subjects we should never forget that we are talking about real people.
      • Apr 15 2014: Frank, you are obfuscating and fear-mongering. Give a definition of "hard drug". List them. Do you count alcohol among them? Do you count marijuana? The math can't be quibbled with. Actual risk-based assessment have NO CORRELATION AT ALL with legal status of a given substance. Heroin and cocaine ARE bad. But that does not mean the law is infallible and that ALL substances classified by the government as "bad, no matter what" actually are that hazardous.
        • May 6 2014: Bryan, I am confusing and scaring? I think not.
          What about you? Are you obeying the laws of the land?
          Whether or not you agree, the laws are there for your protection.
          Society doesn't make laws for you to pick and choose which ones to obey.

          Alcohol is by far the worst poison consumed that the Law allows.
          Marijuana, like cigarettes, is a slow acting poison, but it is illegal.
          We all know what happens when someone smokes Marijuana
          over long periods of time. It causes economic losses to society.

          Ask your local Policeman about Drugs and their Effects. You may
          be surprised to learn, the truth, from someone who has to deal with
          the results on a daily basis.

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