Amy Winehouse, Kate Moss 'glamorise' drugs
Colin Freeman, Chief Foreign Correspondent
Last Updated: 10:00am GMT18/11/2007
One of the world's top drug enforcement officials has launched a fierce public attack on "celebrity" cocaine users Amy Winehouse and Kate Moss, accusing them of glamorising a global drug trade that now threatens to devastate parts of Africa.
Antonio Maria Costa, head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, singled the pair out as he warned that Britain faced a massive new threat from Colombian cocaine barons, who have recently carved out new transit routes to Europe via Africa's west coast.
He said the burgeoning trade posed a severe risk to youngsters in Britain, where cocaine use has doubled among 16- to 24-year-olds in the past 10 years. It also threatened the "complete collapse" of some impoverished West African nations, where weak and corrupt governments were now uniquely vulnerable to the corrosive influence of drug money.
Although celebrities were often the first to endorse campaigns to fight African poverty or the trade in so-called "blood diamonds", Mr Costa said they showed no such concern about the cocaine trade.
"Europeans now understand that they should not buy blood diamonds, or clothes made by slaves working in sweatshops," Mr Costa told a drug conference in Madrid last week. "Yet with cocaine, the opposite occurs.
"Look at Kate Moss who still receives lucrative contracts after she was photographed sniffing. Rock stars, like Amy Winehouse, become popular by singing 'I ain't going to rehab' [the Winehouse song, Rehab] even though she badly needed, and eventually sought, treatment.
"A sniff here and a sniff there in Europe are causing another disaster in Africa, to add to its poverty, its mass unemployment and its pandemics."
His comments echo the findings of a Sunday Telegraph investigation last June, which revealed how the war-torn West African nation of Guinea-Bissau was being turned into a virtual "narco state" by Colombian cartels.
Bribes to officials in the country's bankrupt security forces had allowed drug traffickers to operate with near impunity, despite the trade causing a spiralling domestic addiction problem with crack cocaine.
Mr Costa spoke out in a week when the cocaine habits of Ms Winehouse and other British celebrities were again once in the public spotlight.
Ms Winehouse, who was rushed to hospital in August after allegedly taking a drug cocktail including heroin and cocaine, was booed off stage in Birmingham on Wednesday after delivering a shambolic performance in which she appeared to be under the influence of intoxicants.
Meanwhile, former Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty, convicted of a string of drug offences, was pictured in a tabloid newspaper snorting lines of cocaine.
Their antics have already drawn condemnation from anti-drug campaigners in the UK, who say their unapologetic use of cocaine is encouraging a new generation of British teenagers to follow suit.
Figures released last month by the British Crime Survey revealed that six per cent of 16-24 year-olds admitting to taking the class A drug, helping make Britain Europe's biggest cocaine consumer alongside Spain.
West Africa has grown massively as a cocaine transit point in the past two years as Colombian cartels — facing a saturated market in the US — have attempted to tap into growing appetites for their product in ­Europe.
Yet what is a major concern for Europe is even more worrying for Africa, given the potential of the drugs trade to generate violence and corruption.
While Guinea-Bissau has suffered the worst problems, traffickers have also targeted Nigeria, Mauritania and Ghana, which between them now dispatch up to 60 cocaine "mules" a week into Britain.
Two British schoolgirls currently face up to 10 years' jail in Ghana after being accused of trying to smuggle £300,000 of cocaine to London in laptop bags.
Mr Costa said he hoped to make cocaine as "socially unacceptable" as heroin.
"Nobody makes movies about 'blood coke'," he said. "But models and socialites who wouldn't dare to wear a tiger fur coat, show no qualms about flaunting their cocaine use in public."