MLB, union agree to phase in ban on chewing tobacco

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Babe Ruth selling chewing tobacco. Ruth, a lifelong chewer, died of throat cancer in his 50s.

As expected, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association agreed to a ban on chewing tobacco in baseball, though it’s a bit of a wishy-washy ban because it only applies to incoming players. Basically, they’re going to phase it in.

This means expect to see chew around on the baseball field for the next 10 years, though you will gradually see less and less of it.

It’s a step in the right direction, I suppose, and perhaps the best that could be accomplished going up against a very powerful players’ union. Some tobacco control advocates likely won’t be that thrilled with it, but I would tell them, this is arguably the most powerful union in the country. Getting anything out of them is a win.

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Someone pointed out to me it’s very similar to how batting helmets were introduced into baseball. Existing players who didn’t like them didn’t have to wear them, but new players did (actually, hockey was the same way. You still saw a few old-timers not wearing helmets into the early 90s. The NHL finally made visors mandatory in 2013, but again, existing players who don’t want to wear them are grandfathered in, so you will slowly see visorless players disappear from the game.).

For Libertarians screaming “Freedom of choice!” think of it as a workplace ban. Name a workplace, any workplace, in which chewing tobacco is allowed in the building. Maybe warehouse workers, truck drivers and longshoreman can chew on the job. That’s about it. No one is telling ballplayers they can’t chew if they really want to deal with the gum disease and losing their teeth. They just can’t chew on the job, in the ballpark.

Chewing tobacco has been banned for years in the minor leagues and by the NCAA. In fact, according to this article, it’s not unheard of for players to be thrown out of NCAA games for chewing.

For some reason that no one can really explain, chewing tobacco is deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. According to this story, 47 percent of NCAA baseball players chew. 47 percent! Keep in mind less than 10 percent of adult males chew tobacco. It really is a baseball thing.

And dying of throat cancer is also a baseball thing — going all the way back to dipper Babe Ruth, who died of throat cancer.

The latest push to ban chew came after Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, a lifelong chewer, died in 2014 of salivary gland cancer. Gwynn advocated against chewing tobacco the last few months of his life, as has Curt Schilling (Yeah, I know he’s a butthead), who survived a pretty serious bout of oral cancer around the same time.

In addition to the MLB ban that will begin next year, several cities have banned chew in ballparks — Boston, New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco (Oakland and San Diego are included in a statewide ban, too, but this ban doesn’t really have an enforcement tool attached).

 

Smoking rate now down to 15 percent; biggest single-year drop ever recorded

A story from National Public Radio that the smoking rate in the U.S. is now down to 15 percent, the lowest ever recorded.

This also gives me the opportunity to fire up my Excel and make a new smoking rate graph! This is especially cool because it is actually the 50th anniversary of the CDC keeping track of smoking rates. In those 50 years, the smoking rate has dropped by nearly two-thirds from 42.4 percent to 15.1 percent.

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The last time I wrote about this, almost exactly a year ago, that figure was at 16.8 percent. These numbers released this month by the Centers for Disease Research actually refer to the 2015 smoking rate; it takes several months to put out a report, so that figure could be even lower now.

This is also the biggest single-year drop in the smoking rate ever recorded by the CDC. The next closest was 2009 to 2010, when the smoking rate dropped from 20.6 percent to 19.3 percent.

The news gets better. The smoking rate for people aged 19-24 is just 13 percent. There’s virtually no future smokers after someone turns 24, so that 13 percent figure will just drop as those smokers grow older and wiser.

Another bit of good news — California just passed a $2 a pack cigarette tax increase, which could drop the smoking rate in California down by as much as 20 percent (studies have shown a $1 a pack increase in cigarette taxes drops the smoking rate by roughly 10 percent).

If the California smoking rate drops by 20 percent, that’s 500,000 to 600,000 smokers giving up the habit, and that will have a major effect on the national smoking rate. That all by itself is more than 1 percent of the smokers nationwide.

There’s myriad reasons for the drop in the smoking rate — higher cigarette taxes, indoor smoking bans, more awareness of the health risks, social disapproval of smoking and, to be honest, the rise of e-cigarettes.

From the graph up above, you can see there is actually a pretty frustrating era from 1990 to 2009 in which the drop in the smoking rate was excruciatingly slow — in fact, incredibly, one year (2008) it actually went UP. That’s the effect of Joe Camel and a big increase in tobacco advertising in the 1990s and an increase in smoking in PG-13 and PG movies and cuts to tobacco education in the 2000s, in my opinion.

In those 19 years, the smoking rate only dropped from 25.5 percent to 20.6 percent, an average of 0.26 percent a year. Since 2009, the smoking rate has dropped from 20.6 percent to 15.1 percent, a drop of 0.92 percent a year over the past six years. The rate has actually dropped more during the past six years than it did in the 19 years prior to that. I do think e-cigs have something substantial to do with that, as well as Hollywood stubbing out smoking in PG movies.

If FDA regulations of e-cigarettes go through, and I’m sure it will be tied up in court for a while, it will be interesting to see if there is any effect on the smoking rate, because these regulations are expected to all by wipe out all the small e-cigarette companies, which make up roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of the market. Big Tobacco itself owns the three best-selling e-cig brands — Vuse, Blu and MarkTen.

 

 

 

California voters raise cigarette tax by $2 a pack

 

sjm-tobacco-09xx-021Lost in all the hubbub over this election (and a reason why I waited a week and a half to post about it) was California voters approving a $2 a pack increase in their cigarette tax.

California will go from having one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country at $0.87 a pack to $2.87 a pack. Big Tobacco spent tens of millions to defeat prior attempts at raising California’s cigarette tax (in fact, a 2012 measure failed literally 49.9 percent to 50.1 percent), but this time it failed.

According to Salon, Big Tobacco spent $71 million to defeat the California measure, which was approved with 63 percent of the vote. California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country at about 10 percent, so why would Big Tobacco care? Because that’s 10 percent of 38 million people — basically about 3 million adults.

It’s estimated (and studies have backed this up) that raising the cigarette tax by $1 a pack cuts the smoking rate by about 10 percent. So a potential 20 percent cut in those 3 million smokers (that’s 600,000 smokers), each of them no longer spending roughly $1,000 a year on cigarettes? You can see why Big Tobacco cared.

The Salon article claims this measure will cost Big Tobacco $250 million a year in lost sales (at least, that’s roughly a loss of 250,000 smokers). A drop in the bucket for Big Tobacco, but enough to get their attention.

Big Tobacco was able to defeat similar measures in Colorado and North Dakota, where health agencies didn’t have that much to spend against the industry. In California, health agencies spent $36 million to offset the industry’s $71 million.

From the Salon article:

Big Tobacco killed similar tax proposals in Colorado ($1.75 a pack; 46 percent yes) and North Dakota (44 cents; 45 percent) by outspending proponents by a factor of six.

The lesson: You don’t have to spend as much as the tobacco industry, but you need enough money to get your message out.

As an aside, California also approved legalizing pot, as did Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. The Salon article goes on at length about the danger of Big Tobacco moving into the pot industry, something I’ve written about extensively in the past and don’t need to rehash in this post.

 

Report: Smoking will kill more HIV patients who smoke than the virus itself

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Here’s a chilling report from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and a pretty stark reminder of just how dangerous smoking is.

According to a study involving a computer projection, smoking will actually kill more HIV patients than the virus itself, thanks to the fact that treatment today can effectively contain the HIV virus for years. In fact, a person with HIV has the same life expectancy as a person without it — if they receive treatment.

From an NBC News article:

Smoking is worse, they report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. On average, smoking cuts six years from the life expectancy of an otherwise healthy 40-year-old with well-controlled HIV, they found.

“It is well known that smoking is bad for health, but we demonstrate in this study just how bad it is,” Reddy said in a statement.

“We actually quantify the risk, and I think providing those numbers to patients can help put their own risks from smoking in perspective. A person with HIV who consistently takes HIV medicines but smokes is much more likely to die of a smoking-related disease than of HIV itself.”

 

 

Not surprising — Southerners most likely to die from smoking-related cancers

Auto Racing: NASCAR Heinz Southern 500: Dick Trickle (84) smoking cigarette on track before race at Darlington Raceway.  Darlington, SC 9/3/1989 CREDIT: George Tiedemann (Photo by George Tiedemann /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X38788 TK3 R6 F13 )
Getty Images, obviously. A totally non-stereotypical depiction of Southern cigarette smoking.

This is a bit from the “Well … duh” department. A new study from the American Cancer Society shows that Southern states have the highest death rates from cancers caused by smoking.

Forty percent of the cancer deaths for men in Arkansas are smoking -related cancers, while 29 percent of the cancer deaths for women in Kentucky are for smoking-related cancers, according to the ACS.

Nationally, roughly about 29 percent of all cancer deaths are blamed on smoking-related cancers, primarily lung cancer.

The study also looked at other cancers thought to be linked to smoking, such as liver, throat, pancreas, colon and kidney, as well as leukemia.

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Lung cancer rates. Darker is deadlier.

Most of the 10 highest states for cancer death rates are in the South, while most of the 10 lowest are in the West, where smoking rates are low. The lowest state was Utah, with 22 percent of cancer deaths among men  attributable to smoking and 11 percent for women. Utah, mostly because smoking is a sin among Mormons, has the lowest smoking rate in the nation. California and Hawaii are the next two lowest, I believe.

What do almost all Southern states have in common? Low cigarettes taxes and virtually no statewide smoking bans (Only two or three Southern states even bother to ban smoking in restaurants, much less bars.). They also spend the least on tobacco education. And gee, what a coincidence, they tend to have the highest smoking rates (Kentucky and West Virginia keep trading back and forth over which state has the highest smoking rate).

The average cigarette tax in the South is 49 cents a pack, compared to about $1.80 a pack in the rest of the nation.

The South by far has a much higher lung cancer rate than the rest of the country. Add to that a high rate of diabetes (which probably has to do with the Southern diet, but smoking is a contributor to diabetes) and it’s simply not a very healthy part of the country.

I want to make clear I’m not making fun of the South here. Lung cancer is no laughing matter, no matter what part of the country it’s happening in.

 

 

What th….? Those monsters in North Korea taught a zoo chimp to smoke cigarettes

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I … I … just can’t. I don’t know.

North Korea, for some reason, is entertaining people by featuring a chimp at the Pyongyang Zoo, that smokes.

She doesn’t just smoke, either. She smokes an entire pack of cigarettes a day. That poor chimp. Hooked on nicotine, probably getting sick.

And those assholes in North Korea — letting him do it.

It wasn’t something that happened by accident, either. The North Koreans actually taught the chimp how to smoke cigarettes.

From the Washington Post:

When she puffs on a cigarette, onlookers “roar with laughter,” as the Guardian reported recently. “Her trainer seemed to be encouraging the smoking and prompted her to touch her nose, bow thank you and do a simple dance.” She appears to have been taught to use a lighter. On Wednesday, an Associated Press photographer caught Dallae on camera as she ignited a fresh cigarette from a smoldering butt.

Pyongyang Zoo officials said the chimpanzee, whose name when translated from Korean means Azalea, does not inhale the smoke. (Smoking remains a popular habit among North Korean men, with nearly half — 46 percent — estimated to smoke daily by World Lung Foundation’s Tobacco Atlas. North Korean women only smoke at a rate of 2 percent.)

Terry Francona’s body trying to send him a message — finds a tooth in his chew

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Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona, seriously, dude, your body is trying to tell you something. It would behoove you to listen.

Francona is a noted tobacco chewer. He’s publicly spoken about his habit and how hard it is to break. Maybe this will be enough to finally convince him it’s time to quit for good.

The other night during the Indians’ playoff game versus the Blue Jays, Francona’s tooth came out … in his chew.

Yes, he found his tooth in his plug of tobacco. About a 9 1/2 out of 10 on the grossness scale.

From a story:

“Right before the game, I mean, like literally, my lower tooth, the veneer popped out while I was chewing,” Francona told reporters Tuesday. “That thing came off, and I’m chewing, and it felt crunchy. I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ So I undid my tobacco, and there’s my tooth.”

Terry, seriously, man, one of the things chewing tobacco does is destroy gum tissue … meaning that chew likely had something to do with your tooth coming out … in your chew. You really need to try and try again and keep trying until you’re able to quit.

OK, wait until after the World Series is over. I give you that, that you have bigger things on your mind right now.

 

Ah, the good ol’ days, when people really smoked around babies

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I normally try to stay clear from partisan politics here, but here is a funny video from MoveOn.org about Trump’s campaign slogan of “Make America Great Again.”

In the video, two women dressed in 1950s pearls and hoop skirts sing about the good ol’ days of sexual harassment, domestic abuse, segregation, date rape and the days, “before we even knew that gays had rights.”

What cracked me up is later in the video, they’re both smoking around a baby. Yeah, the good ol’ days, when millions of parents smoked around their kids and gave their kids asthma, ear infections and upper respiratory infections from their omnipresent secondhand smoke. You youngins today might not believe it, but this was absolutely normal back then. It just boggles my mind today what people did to their kids 50, 60 years ago.

As an aside, I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually witnessed someone smoking around a child. It’s been at least five or six years. I remember it clearly, it was in a car parked in a parking lot of a mini-mart, a couple of idiots in the front seat smoking with a toddler strapped in his child seat in the back. I just wanted to slap those people.

So, that’s pretty good in that I personally haven’t seen anything like that in at least five or six years. But, they’re still out there — those idiots, but they’re pretty few and far between. The vast majority of smokers today know full well not to smoke around their — or other people’s — kids.

Here’s the video. Again, as usual, enjoy it while you can, because I never know when YouTube is going to take these things down:

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14-year-old kid burned by exploding e-cig on Harry Potter ride

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Olivia Wilde. I’m using a photo illustration because real photos of victims of exploding e-cigs are pretty gross and intense.

A girl was burned when an e-cig in somebody else’s purse exploded while she was riding a Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios in Florida.

So, when these things blow up, they are not only a danger to the person holding the e-cig, but anyone in their general vicinity. The girl was injured badly enough that she had to be taken to the hospital.

I don’t want to overstate the alarm over these things, but I don’t want to understate it either. There have now been dozens upon dozens of incidents, perhaps hundreds now, of people being injured by these things exploding. They’re cheaply made, often times in China, with little or no regulation.

Some spokesman for the e-cig industry in this article claimed in this article that there’s only been 22 documented incidents of e-cigs exploding since 2008. E-cig industry flaks are starting to sound exactly like cigarette industry flaks from 30 years ago. I’m pretty positive I could round up more than 22 articles about exploding e-cig incidents just from Google (In fact, I did this, hundreds upon hundreds of articles about exploding e-cigs) … and that’s just from 2016. This one story from CNN had links to four other recent exploding e-cig incidents.

The person with the e-cig was kind of a jerk, apparently. She split without identifying herself and she’s being sought by police at last word.

L.A. Times editorial — time to increase California’s cigarette tax

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Associated Press photo

The Los Angeles Times has come out in favour of Proposition 56, a November ballot initiative which would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack.

This is the third time California has tried a ballot measure raising its cigarette tax (The State Legislature is too yellow to do it themselves.). A more modest $1 a pack proposal in 2012 lost by less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the vote (It lost by less than 25,000 votes out of 5 million ballots cast) after Big Tobacco spent more than $40 million to defeat it.

Most of the money from this tax increase is specifically earmarked for Medi-Cal.

So, every bit helps.

From the L.A. Times:

… tobacco taxes are really a brilliant and beautiful thing: They not only bring in revenue for government but also serve a social good in the process. On average, peer-reviewed studies have shown, a 10% increase in the total price of cigarettes will yield a 3% to 4% reduction in adult consumption — and a 7% reduction among young smokers.

While bringing down smoking rates, the tax also would bring in between $1 billion and $1.4 billion in its first full year — 2017-18 — after which, the revenue would decline slowly as the number of smokers shrinks. Some of the money would go to administration and enforcement of the tax itself; a sizable chunk would go to tobacco prevention and control programs; a portion would go toward research on cancer, heart and lung disease and other tobacco-related diseases. But the bulk of the funds would go to Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income residents — specifically, to pay healthcare providers more to treat Medi-Cal patients.

Many people are surprised to hear this, but California actually has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country — just 87 cents a pack. The national average for state taxes is about $1.65 a pack, so California is barely half the national average.

This proposal would jump California from the 37th highest cigarette excise tax in the country to ninth.

Increasing cigarette taxes has been shown time and again to be one of the most effective ways to cut the smoking rate. It gives people extra incentive to quit and kids extra incentive to not start to begin with. I mean, if someone is smoking just a pack a day of cigarettes, with this cigarette tax, quitting would save you $2.87 a day. That’s about $1,000 a year. That’s just one pack a day.

It’s interesting that Big Tobacco would spend so much in California trying to beat it, because California already has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country. But, if the measure cut the smoking rate by just 5 percent … that’s 5 percent coming from the biggest state in the country. That’s maybe 200,000 to 250,000 smokers, multiply that by maybe $1,000 a year they would no longer be spending on cigarettes (and this is for perpetuity) … you start seeing why Big Tobacco cares.

The tobacco industry is already trying to spread lies that the initiative would somehow take money away from schools. From the L.A. Times editorial:

The battle to pass Proposition 56 will be tough, as always, because of the power of the tobacco lobby, which already is making deceptive claims like this one: “Prop 56 cheats schools out of at least $600 million per year.” That’s baloney. Proposition 56 wouldn’t take a penny from schools; it would merely exempt the new tobacco tax revenue from the requirements of Proposition 98, the 1988 measure which guarantees public schools a large share of the state’s core revenues. Many initiatives include such an exemption.

Don’t believe the cynical, disingenuous opponents of this measure. Proposition 56 will save lives. The Times urges a yes vote.