LONDON – Does white powder damage your green credentials?
Colombia's vice president said Tuesday that Britain's middle classes, who recycle and haul their groceries home in reusable cloth bags, should realize that they are destroying the rain forests by taking cocaine.
"These people, who have good jobs and drive a hybrid car or cycle to work because they care about the environment, may go to party and do some lines of coke and they are thinking it is no problem," Francisco Santos told The Associated Press Tuesday. "They are absolutely unaware of the ecological impact of their drug taking and we want to change that."
Santos is not the first person to take on Britain's middle class drug users. In 2005, London's Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair said he would target affluent drug users, who he said offered lines of cocaine to dinner party guests along with good wine and organic vegetables.
But about 7.7 percent of Britons used cocaine last year—the highest rate in Europe and over double the rate ten years ago, according to statistics from the European Union and the British government.
Taking cocaine is not seen as a career-destroying move, either.
Three years ago a newspaper published a photograph of wildly popular model Kate Moss apparently snorting a white powder through a rolled-up five-pound note. An apology and a stint in rehabilitation in the United States was enough to allow her to regain her status as a top model and style setter.
Now Santos hopes his message—that snorting cocaine harms the environment—will resonate in Britain, where recycling rates have leapt in recent years and supermarkets have begun to discourage customers from using plastic bags.
The Colombian government says 4.8 sq. yards of rain forest have to be cleared to produce a gram of cocaine—and 5.44 million acres of Colombian tropical forest have been cut down to grow coca in the last twenty years.
Colombia launched a campaign to make Europeans aware of the impact of the drug industry on their country two years ago. But European cocaine use has doubled in the last year, and Santos is changing tack and hopes that a plea to people's eco-conscience will get through. Santos plans to launch a similar campaign in the US next year.
"Cocaine is seen as the champagne of drugs and people who would not take heroin or amphetamines take cocaine and say there are no victims, but there are," Santos said. "We want to show them destroyed rain forests, wasted land. Maybe if they don't care about their own brains they care about this."
Cocaine is classified as a Class A drug in Britain, which means it carries the stiffest penalties for dealing and possession. People found guilty of possession can be jailed for seven years or given an unlimited fine, but police say it is still considered more glamorous than other Class A drugs like heroin and ecstasy.