Don’t Make Nicotine a Prescription Drug

If you thought that nothing could be more hazardous to Oregonians’ health than plastic grocery bags, just wait until the health police make nicotine a prescription drug.

Think I’m kidding? House Bill 2233 is already in the pipeline in Salem. Among other good works, it would classify nicotine, an active ingredient in cigarettes, as a Schedule III controlled substance available only by prescription. It would be a crime to possess nicotine, punishable by up to year in prison, a fine of up to $6,250, or both. And it would be a crime to unlawfully distribute nicotine, with the same punishments.

I testified at the bill’s first public hearing before the House Health Care Committee last Friday. Here is basically what I said:

I have never smoked, and personally don’t care if anyone in Oregon smokes or not, but reality tells us that lots of adults do legally enjoy tobacco, and lots of retailers earn a living selling them cigarettes. Also, the state enjoys lots of tax revenue from those sales, even though it’s torn between getting the cash and encouraging people to quit for their health.

Even if you dislike smoking, don’t be too quick to cheer on the nicotine police, lest you unleash a number of unintended consequences.

First, classifying nicotine as a prescription drug likely will result in a nearly total black market for cigarettes. Who will go to their doctor seeking a cigarette prescription? And what physician will actually write such a prescription? Cigarette sales will go underground, just like illegal drugs. Internet sales will skyrocket and risk-taking entrepreneurs will purchase large quantities and smuggle them into Oregon and onto our streets and school grounds.

Second, speaking of school grounds, ask kids today if it’s easier to get cigarettes on the street or marijuana. If we want to keep cigarettes away from minors, pushing them totally underground is not the way to do it. The higher prices will attract drug dealers eager to hook kids onto their newest profit center.

Third, state revenue from tobacco sales will dry up and blow away, making our budget woes even worse. Of course, legislators can slap massive taxes on those nicotine prescriptions; but since none will be written, no revenue will flow across Salem’s transom.

Fourth, who exactly will this new police state tactic harm? Research shows us who the smokers among us are:

• Cigarette smoking adults are more likely to be uninsured than non-smoking adults.

• Cigarette smokers are in poorer physical condition than non-smokers.

• Cigarette smokers generally have lower incomes and less formal education than non-smokers.

• Cigarette smokers are more likely to be unemployed or unemployable than non-smokers.

In summary, the nicotine police will be going after the less educated, lower income and sicker Oregonians.

Finally, criminalizing a habit, even a bad habit, is a step toward the Nanny State with all the attendant problems and backlash. Oregonians would do well to reject this latest step onto that slippery slope.


Steve Buckstein is senior policy analyst and founder at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s free market public policy research organization.

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Posted by at 10:30 | Posted in Crime & Sentencing, Health & Human Services, Individual Responsiblity, OR 76th Legislative Session, Oregon Government, Oregon House | Tagged , , | 26 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Sybella

    In my small store, the purchases of tobacco products for resale resulted in just over one million dollars revenue for Oregon. Course I guess if they decide to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, I’m ready to retire. Don’t know what my employees will do though. Ihope they listened to me and saved some money. Stupid people in Salem.

  • Sybella

    In my small store, the purchases of tobacco products for resale resulted in just over one million dollars revenue for Oregon. Course I guess if they decide to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, I’m ready to retire. Don’t know what my employees will do though. Ihope they listened to me and saved some money. Stupid people in Salem.

  • Ecig

    These idiots just want more tax dollars and this way they can include the ecigs.
    I get mine from some guy in Denmark, so I am not too worried.
    Anyway, I hope these fools do this so they will learn the hard way that they are stupid.

  • Peacepipe

    I thought the native American peoples needed cig sales to fund themselves. I would hope that whatever these morons in Salem do it won’t hurt tribal sales of cigs. These people need the money.

  • Jan

    Oregon tribes are not big tobacco merchants, they have their casinos. Rep. Greenlick is a shot gun legislator. He fires off a few rounds of insanity every session. Fortunately, the bills usually dies in committee. He waste time and money and aught to retire.

    If they tax nicotine, does that include the nicotine patches & gums the drug industry makes too? The state hands out millions of dollars of this “free” stop smoking gimmick that has a 98.4% failure rate afer one year. The drug companies are laughing all the way to the bank at the state stupidity, maybe they should get to pay taxes for being nicotine distributors.

  • Steve Buckstein

    I’m not sure, but assume the bill would make nicotine patches and gums prescription items also. This would make it harder for people to quit smoking; exactly the opposite of what the bill apparently intends.

  • Steve Buckstein

    I’m not sure, but assume the bill would make nicotine patches and gums prescription items also. This would make it harder for people to quit smoking; exactly the opposite of what the bill apparently intends.

  • Steve Buckstein

    I’m not sure, but assume the bill would make nicotine patches and gums prescription items also. This would make it harder for people to quit smoking; exactly the opposite of what the bill apparently intends.

  • inspiraven

    Hi, I’m in CA and became aware of this bill by an article The Good, the Bad and the Terrifying Proposals Out There to Curb America’s Tobacco Smoking on AlterNet
    http://www.alternet.org/drugs/150089/the_good,_the_bad_and_the_terrifying_proposals_out_there_to_curb_america's_tobacco_smoking?page=2.
    This bills attack on nicotine, and not just second hand smoke is it’s weakness.
    Nicotine can be found in eggplant, cauliflower, potatoes, and tomatoes for example.
    The Nicotine Content of Common Vegetables
    New England Journal of Medicine August 5, 1993
    http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199308053290619
    Nip this absurdity in the bud.

  • Anonymous

    Read the bill. This does not affect tobacco. This bill will affect nicotine, as a product. This will be patches, gum, and (most importantly to the proposers of the bill) e-cigarettes. Tobacco is a “precursor” to nicotine, not nicotine itself. The Oregon DA does NOT want e-cigs sold here and has made that very clear.

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