Big Tobacco files litigation, raises $17 million to fight California tobacco tax

smoking2-698c0074376bea246f3fcf5ab527a5cc

Big Tobacco has already filed bullcrap litigation attempting to get a ballot measure removed from the November 2016 ballot that would raise the California cigarette tax by $2 a pack. And on top of that, the industry is planning to spend at least $17 million in order to defeat the measure.

Big Tobacco spent up to $40 million several years ago to defeat a $1 a pack cigarette tax increase. That measure was defeated in 2012 by an incredibly narrow margin —  50.2 percent to 49.8 percent. It lost by 24,000 votes out of 5.1 million votes cast.

Prop  56 would double that increase to $2.87 a pack. Right now, the state cigarette tax is only 87 cents a pack, which surprising to a lot of people, is one of the lowest state cigarette taxes in the U.S. Yup, tax-happy California is actually in the bottom third for cigarette taxes in the country. The $2.87 a pack tax would be one of the highest in the nation. New York has the highest at $4.35 a pack.

First, the industry filed a suit claiming that proponents of the measure have lied that the measure — Proposition 56 — would actually take money away from schools rather than provide a new big revenue stream for education (estimated to be $20 million a year). The industry is claiming that the title of the ballot measure contains inaccurate information and is therefore against the law.

0505-California-Smoking

A hearing was held last week, not much must have happened because I can’t find any news stories about the result of the hearing. According to a letter written to the court by Tom Torlakson, head of Public Instruction for California, the tobacco industry states that “make no mistake, Proposition 56 will not take a dime away from education.” Torlakson calls Big Tobacco’s claims “false and misleading,” “preposterous” and “insulting.”

This LeftofCenter story, not particularly well-written honestly, talks about the measure’s effect on e-cigarettes and how this is one of the reasons Big Tobacco is opposed to it. This is an important point. Prop 56 would not only raise the tax on cigarettes, it would add a tax to vaping products, too. On the Crooks & Liars article about it, some commenters mistakenly state that Big Tobacco is threatened by or competing against the vaping industry. Not really, not as much as a lot of people think. The article is correct that this would hurt Big Tobacco by taxing vaping products. Big Tobacco actually controls 75 percent of the vaping industry. The top three vaping brands on the market are actually owned by RJ Reynolds, British-American Tobacco and Philip Morris. So, yeah, this tax is hitting Big Tobacco in two directions.

Big bucks to fight the tax measure

While this lawsuit apparently didn’t accomplish anything, Big Tobacco has put together a war chest of $17 million to advertise against Prop 56.

From Capitol Public Radio:

Proponents such as Jim Knox of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network say they’re preparing for an onslaught of opposition.

20150826_061220_SJM-CIGTAX-0827-90-01_300

“This is classic tobacco industry strategy and deception,” Knox said of the cash infusion. “They will spend tens of millions of dollars to confuse and deceive the voters about the deadly nature of their product, as they have been doing for decades.”

 

Expect the industry to hide behind a bunch of Libertarian anti-tax “choice” bullshit in its advertising. That’s Big Tobacco’s MO.

From the story:

Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for No on Prop 56, says her campaign wants to educate voters about the problems it sees with the cigarette tax. She said it sidesteps requirements that money from new taxes fund schools.

“The proponents claim the tax increase will help people quit smoking. But it really is a tax hike grab by the insurance companies and other wealthy special interests,” Miller said.

The good news is Prop 56 backers have raised $16.6 million themselves to promote the measure.

Polls show roughly two-thirds support for the proposed tax increase. However, the 2012 measure also had strong public support until the tobacco industry spent millions to defeat it.

Prop 56 and marijuana measure
expected to raise $2 billion

One of the arguments in favour of the proposed tax is that it along with a measure to legalize marijuana, would raise $2 billion annually for the state of California.

Currently, California brings in $800 million in tobacco taxes. A state agency has estimated that Prop 56 would generate another $1 billion to $1.4 billion a year for state coffers. While the tax would triple, the revenue would roughly double. That makes sense, because such a huge tax increase would likely drive down the smoking rate.

Additionally, the state is estimating another roughly $1 billion a year in tax revenue from legalizing marijuana. That’s based on revenue increases seen in Colorado and Washington from their marijuana measures (I suspect pot hasn’t been legal in Oregon long enough to get a lot of revenue information).

 

 

Jimmy Carter on the forefront of possible breakthrough in lung cancer drug

160616-jimmy-carter-cancer-1215p_e510b4c7e214f042414c426212d131b0.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000

Jimmy Carter was diagnosed about a year ago with advanced liver cancer that had metastasized into his brain and other organs. Usually, for a 90-year-old man, the prognosis is not good.

However, a year later, Carter is at the moment cancer-free and apparently has no plans of dying any time soon. Carter was given an experimental immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda, which I’m going to use because it’s easier to spell), which worked wonders on his cancer.

Keytruda has also been shown to be effective in treating small-cell lung cancer, still one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat. Despite the dramatic drop in smoking rates the past 25 years, lung cancer remains the No. 1 cancer killer in the West.

Because Keytruda is working so well in treating lung cancer among 300 trial patients, the drug company Merck announced that it will no longer hold trials and will make Keytruda available to these lung cancer patients. According to Merck, Keytruda worked as well if not better than conventional chemotherapy and helped stopped the growth of lung cancer tumours.

From an NBC story:

The details are not available yet. “We look forward to sharing these data with the medical community and with regulatory authorities around the world,” said Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president, of Merck Research Laboratories.

Independent committees look at the details of the patients and how well they are doing in drug trials like these. It was one of these independent committees that recommended stopping the trial based on what they saw but that doesn’t necessarily mean they shared the details with the company or anyone else.

“I suspect the findings were significant enough that this will be a practice-changing finding,” Dr. Pasi Janne, lung cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told NBC News.

Keytruda has not been approved yet for wide use by the Food and Drug Administration, but the process of getting its approval has begun. Keytruda has been OK’d for patience for whom standard chemotherapy has failed. Merck is seeking its approval as a first-line drug for lung cancer. The FDA has been known to give quick approval to these kind of immunotherapy cancer drugs.

From NBC News:

They treat cancer by stopping tumor cells from cloaking themselves against the normal, healthy immune system response.

They work on the principle that it’s not where cancer starts that matters, but the genetic mutation that causes the cancer. So a lung tumor in one patient may look like the melanoma in another.

Keytruda — known generically as pembrolizumab — targets the activity of genes called PD-1 (anti-programmed-death-receptor-1) and PD-L1. The interaction between the two genes lets some tumors escape detection and destruction by immune system cells.

PD-1 stops immune cells from attacking normal healthy cells by mistake. Tumor cells make PD-L1 turn on PD-1 when immune cells approach.

This trial only included patients whose tumors cells made a lot of PD-L1. That is only a portion of people with lung cancer – 25 percent in one recent trial.

Immunotherapy is a whole new way of treating cancer, including lung cancer,” said Janne, who was not involved in the study. “Having seen patients benefit who failed existing therapies, now doing well on these new therapies, is fantastic.”

Mike Pence: Cigarettes aren’t deadly … yes, he really said this

abc_tw_pence_150329a1-800x430

In case you needed another reason not to vote for Donald Trump/Mike Pence. Pence, the governor or Indiana, once wrote an oped piece about how cigarette smoking is not dangerous.

I’m serious. He really did. I’m not talking secondhand smoke, either. Pence wrote his column about smoking … period. And this was 15 years ago — 2001 — not the 1960s.

Here’s an excerpt of the idiocy that Pence wrote:

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you…. news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit. The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.

… Those of you who find the tobacco deal acceptable should be warned as you sit, reading this magazine, sipping a cup of hot coffee with a hamburger on your mind for lunch. A government big enough to go after smokers is big enough to go after you.

Sigh … Mike, Mike, Mike.

First of all, it’s utter BS that 2 out of 3 smokers don’t die from a smoking-related illness. It’s actually about 2 out of 3 that DO die from their smoking — either through cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease or other illnesses. Not to mention the loss of quality in their lives from various diseases such as arthritis and diabetes now known to be linked to smoking.

Secondly, yeah, about 1 out 10 smokers gets lung cancer … but Pence neglected to mention that the ratio among non-smokers who get lung cancer is less than 1 out of 100 people. This is just stupid and lazy and massively debunked thinking by Pence: That because all smokers don’t get lung cancer, therefore smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. My parents used to argue this 40 years ago … before they got cancer.

So, never mind what the EPA, U.S. Surgeon General and countless physicians and scientists say … Pence says smoking doesn’t kill people … so there. If he had written this in the 60s or 70s, I might give him a pass that people just didn’t have all the information, but no, people KNOW today smoking kills. End of discussion. It’s like trying to argue that lead plumbing or asbestos insulation isn’t dangerous. It’s just … STUPID.

I would dearly love some interviewer to call this idiot on his words, but to my knowledge, no one has, and as long as Pence only gives interviews on Fox and CNN, I’m not holding my breath.

What such an oped shows me is Pence, regardless of his or my politics,  is simply not a bright guy (what a shock, he’s also a global warming denialist). I can’t believe in this day and age there’s still people trying to argue that smoking isn’t dangerous.

 

Samantha Bee: Big Tobacco and Little Vape — and a criticism of “Full Frontal”

Full Frontal
Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

This is a really funny and fairly sympathetic piece done by Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” about the new Food and Drug Administration regulations and its effect on the vaping industry. The piece did miss one big point about the vaping industry, however.

The proposed regs, while missing a lot of important proposals anti-tobacco advocates wanted, like curbs on marketing and Internet sales, would require all vaping products to individually go through a lengthy approval process. Vaping advocates say this would cripple if not completely wipe out the vaping industry because the costs to go through this process would be so onerous. The FDA itself estimates that between 30 percent to 70 percent of e-cig businesses may be forced to go out of business due to the new regulations.

Full Frontal visited a vaping conference and did have a good time poking fun at vapers. For instance, Samantha Bee sends a correspondent to the conference rather than go herself because she doesn’t want to be around vapers, then the correspondent immediately runs out the door as soon as she encounters e-cigarette steam blown in her face. However, the show was fair to e-cigs and did acknowledge that some studies have shown that vaping is far less dangerous than smoking.

full frontal 2

One thing I honestly learned from the segment is that there is a pretty distinct actual honest-to-goodness “vaping culture,” that at least according to the show, has a counter-culture edge. Sort of like cigar culture only with lots of piercings, I suppose. I never realized this culture existed, though, as I thought about it, some of the e-cig proponents I’ve dealt with online are almost messianic in their defence of e-cigarettes.

One thing the Full Frontal segment did get wrong, however, (and they got this like … really wrong), was that suggesting that Big Tobacco has “struggled to compete” in the e-cigarette market. That’s really not true. Vuse E-Cigs (35 percent market share, Blu E-Cigs (23 percent) and MarkTen (16 percent), the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 e-cig brands on the market, are actually wholly-owned subsidiaries of RJ Reynolds, Imperial Tobacco Group and Altria (Philip Morris). In fact, these three brands represent a combined 74 percent of the e-cig market. Seventy-four percent is hardly “struggling to compete.”

Yeah, maybe Big Tobacco wants to crush all the smaller makers through FDA regulations (Though, Altria has expressed its opposition to the FDA regulations), but if that’s the case, the real story is the tobacco industry is already deeply entrenched in and dominating the e-cig industry. Will these regulations help Big Tobacco dominate it even more? Full Frontal didn’t even mention that Big Tobacco owns the three most dominant e-cigarette brands and I really think the show either missed or ignored that dynamic between Big Tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Stephen King, “11/22/63” and smoking

11-22-63
Scene from “11/22/63”

Hello, my first update in a while. Just been busy with real life.

First of all, I just started reading a book called “11/22/63” by Stephen King. It’s about a guy that is able to go back in time from 2011 to 1958 and it’s also a television series on Hulu.

What I found interesting about this book so far  (I’m about 200 pages into it and it’s an 850-page behemoth) is that the main character, Jake Epping, talks a lot about smoking  — how all the people in 1958 seem to smoke and how much the 1950s stinks as a result (that and the lack of air pollution standards). I thought it was a really interesting touch in the book. I still remember how you could smell cigarette smoke everywhere, and I do mean just about everywhere, when I was a kid. At home, in virtually every restaurant much less bar, in most workplaces, in the car, in hotels and motels. It was literally an omnipresent odour — one that I obviously don’t miss. And I think a lot of people today really take it for granted how it was absolutely everywhere. I can’t even imagine how jarring it would be to go back to 1958 and literally smell it constantly.

I looked for images from the series and couldn’t find a single image of people smoking; I did see one brief scene of smoking in this trailer. Also of note, one of the main characters in “11/22/63” is someone dying of lung cancer.

Out of curiosity, I Googled “Stephen King + smoking” just to see if he had publicly stated an opinion about smoking. He’s an opinionated guy who speaks out a lot about politics.

stephen_king_smoking
Stephen King

I didn’t realize this, but apparently King battled severe drinking and drug problems in the 1980s. He has talked about this publicly. He also used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, but he says he has cut down to three a day. Cigarettes are the one vice that he still allows himself. Here is an interview from the Paris Review:

Do you still smoke cigarettes?

KING

Three a day, and never when I write. But when there’s only three, they taste pretty good. My doctor says, You know, if you’re going to have three you might as well have thirty, but I don’t. I kicked booze, Valium, cocaine. Those were all the things that I was hooked on. The only thing that I could not kick was cigarettes. Usually I have one in the morning, one at night, one in the afternoon. I do enjoy my cigarettes. And I shouldn’t. I know, I know. Smoking, bad! Health, good! But I sure do like to kick back with a good book and a cigarette. I was thinking this the other night. I came back from the ball game; the Red Sox won. And I was lying on the bed reading The Quiet American by Graham Greene. It’s a terrific, terrific book. I’m smoking a cigarette, and I’m thinking, Who’s got it better than me?

Cigarettes, all those addictive substances are part of the bad side of what we do. I think it’s part of that obsessive deal that makes you a writer in the first place, that makes you want to write it all down. Booze, cigarettes, dope.

How four films — and one TV show — saved animation from the brink of extinction

The Secret of NIMH
The Secret of NIMH

I got much of the information for this blog post from the excellent and entertaining “The World History of Animation.” I highly recommend it. It’s a really informative and entertaining read.

Today, animation is a multi-billion dollar world industry via film, television and DVDs. After the mega-successes of Frozen (2014, $1.28 billion worldwide gross), Minions (2015, $1.16 billion gross) and Inside Out (2015, $857 million gross), animation on both the big screen and on television is a thriving mega-billion dollar industry. The industry has never been healthier and more vibrant and creative.

But, believe it or not, for a period in the 1980s, the entire industry nearly collapsed, utterly and totally. Four films — and one television show — helped bring this century-old art form back from the brink of the dead.

Beginning with a somewhat obscure movie:

1) The Secret of NIMH, 1982

I first saw the Secret of NIMH when I was perhaps six or seven. This movie came out in 1982 at the absolute nadir of the animation industry; in the industry, it’s actually known as the “Dark Ages.” It actually flopped at the box office, but slowly became a cult favourite, much like other early ’80s kids’ movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It’s now considered a deeply beloved classic and I believe one of the most important animated films ever made.

nimh
A child has pneumonia in The Secret of NIMH

This was an especially bleak period for animation. Disney was the only major studio putting out animation and its last so-called “classic” animated film was in 1967 with The Jungle Book. Disney’s big golden era was from 1937-1967, but the magic started wearing off, mostly because of increasingly weak scripts and mediocre animation. Disney put out a series of flops and forgettable films such as Robin Hood, The Rescuers and the Fox and the Hound. Hardly Snow White or Dumbo or Pinocchio. After Star Wars and Superman, animation just didn’t “wow” kids anymore.

One of the biggest factors in the disintegration of American animation was Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera is well-known for creating a lot of famous characters on television, from Fred Flintstone to Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Scooby Doo, etc. Hanna-Barbera managed to completely dominate the television animation market, mostly with its Saturday morning lineup. Two other studios — Rankin-Bass (ThunderCats) and Filmation (Masters of the Universe) — tried to compete with and mostly copy Hanna-Barbera’s destructive and lazy business model (Rankin-Bass to its credit actually tried to do some decent animation in TV specials, but the studio also put out a lot of lousy Saturday morning fare.). One of the reasons Hanna-Barbera became so influential is that Warner Brothers, which made a lot of classic cartoons and famous characters from the 1930s to the 1960s, completely bowed out of animation in 1969. When Warner Brothers dropped out, that opened the door for Hanna-Barbera to wreak havoc, and boy that awful studio did.

fictional-locations-goober-ghost-chasers-team
Goober and the Ghost Chasers, one of several annoying Scooby Doo clones put out by Hanna-Barbera.

Hanna-Barbera actually started out in the late 50s and 1960s making decent cartoons and memorable characters people recognise to this day. Probably due mostly to its ridiculous monopoly, Hanna-Barbera cartoons really started to deteriorate around 1970. Basically, the whole point of Hanna-Barbera cartoons was simply to sell sugary cereal — nothing more. The Hanna-Barbera shows became incredibly lazy and derivative — with a total of SIX shows copied DIRECTLY from Scooby Doo– Josie and the Pussycats,  The Funky Phantom, Speed Buggy, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids and Jabberjaw. Seriously, these six Hanna-Barbera shows are all exactly alike. Dumb, lame, lazy, cookie-cutter copycats of Scooby Doo with fake, annoying teenagers and some annoying goofy animal character, be it a Great Dane or a shark or a talking car, solving the same lame mysteries in every show. Again, quality wasn’t emphasised in the slightest by Hanna-Barbera, the whole point was quantity — and to do it cheaply as possible and to sell Cocoa Puffs and Trix. The cereal companies really powered these shows.

Scripts were tedious, written by committee and repeated from other H-B shows. The animation became lazier, too, featuring static background and static characters simply standing still while their mouths moved. Often times, the same exact backgrounds showed up in a bunch of different Hanna-Barbera shows. The pay and working conditions were terrible. Animators often made less than $20,000 a year. Creativity was completely stifled. The work was dull and repetitive and most animators, especially the good ones, quit in frustration or disgust. Hanna-Barbera was the biggest employer in the animation world for a time and when you combine it with the equally awful work from Filmation, the industry simply collapsed — and dragged Disney down with it.

Disney for some reason likewise lost its creative edge, probably beginning way back after Sleeping Beauty (1959). It had one more big hit with The Jungle Book in 1967, but then Disney fell into the same morass of forgettable work as Hanna-Barbera  began to dominate the industry. Disney severely cut back its animation department in the 1970s and many of those animators ended up at H-B or Filmation.

And along came Don Bluth and The Secret of NIMH to help save the day. Don Bluth was the lead animator at Disney through much of the ’70s. He quit the company in frustration with its cost-cutting ways and started up his own studio, bringing 11 Disney animators with him. Their first feature film was The Secret of NIMH, a very dark and frightening movie involving a child with pneumonia, animal experimentation, death and torture (Believe it or not, The Secret of NIMH was rated “G.” It was tame by today’s standards, but very grim for a G movie in 1982.) Disney refused to make The Secret of NIMH because of its dark content, but Bluth jumped at the story.

4070_5
Yes, the Secret of NIMH was rated “G.”

The Secret of NIMH actually lost money at the box office, mostly because United Artists did a terrible job of marketing it. The studio had no confidence in animated films and it wasn’t sure how to handle such a dark kids’ movie. However, Disney executives were blown away by it and it definitely got their attention. They saw that Bluth was a genius and that he and his team knew what they were doing. In some ways, the Secret of NIMH is slightly overrated (the movie is full of plot holes), but the movie to this day has a charm that has stood the test of time. It is a genuine classic that has deservedly gained a big cult following over the decades. It cannot be overstated how influential this little movie was.

Bluth followed this film with An American Tail, Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, all of which made huge sums of money and scared the bejeesus out of Disney. Disney put out a couple of forgettable movies in the 1980s, called The Black Cauldron (a somewhat dark movie kind of stealing from The Secret of NIMH) and The Great Mouse Detective. Bluth’s movies out-grossed Disney’s … by a bunch. The Black Cauldron (1985), while an interesting attempt by Disney to do something different, had a number of production and script problems and ended up a weird and  pretty charmless ripoff of Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards.” (1976). The Black Cauldron was such a flop critically and financially, Disney nearly shut down its animation department for good.

Bluth was a trailblazer often overlooked today. He made several more movies, but never matched the success he found in the 1980s. He made millions and more importantly in the long run, he woke up a sleeping giant at Disney. Disney roared back with an incredible vengeance in the late 1980s.

2) Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1987

bob-hoskins-eddie-valiant-and-roger-rabbit
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was Disney’s first huge hit in decades

The period after 1987 became known as “Disney’s Renaissance” or the “Renaissance Era” of animation in general. It is truly remarkable how this studio came back from the dead. Literally. After the the Black Cauldron debacle, Disney chairman Michael Eisner put Walt Disney’s nephew in charge of the animation department (Roy Disney Jr.). Roy Jr. was determined to return the Disney animation studio to its glory days. At the time, Disney was making most of its box office off Touchstone Films. Not only did he arguably save Disney, but he may have saved animation in America.

bob-hoskins-who-framed-roger-rabbit-jessica-rabbit

The first major film made under Roy Disney’s stewardship was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was a half-animation, half-live action film. However, the animation and characters were goofy, funny as heck and were a hit with kids and adults alike. This was the first clue in a long time to studios that adults liked animation, too. The movie was an homage to great cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s and included a lot of animated characters from the past. Hollywood discovered, whether it meant to or not, that people were really nostalgic for those old cartoons. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was both a technical and commercial success. The movie grossed $330 million — a LOT for 1987 — and won three Academy Awards for technical achievement, including an award for best visual effects. Disney was back and was just getting started.

But, first, perhaps one of the most important and influential films ever made.

3) Akira, 1988

akira07
Akira … one of the tamer scenes

This is simply put, to this day, 28 years later, one of the most amazing, mind-blowing, genuinely awe-inspiring films ever made. It’s like Japan’s Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey rolled into one.

Akira is a grueling, 130-minute-long monster that completely blew world audiences away. No one had seen anything like it before (and honestly, I’m not sure anyone has seen anything like it since. A lot of 1980s anime is pretty dated, but it’s amazing how well Akira stands up to the test of time.). It became a cult hit in America, despite a very poor original English dub (A vastly superior English dub was added 20 years later, thankfully.). It was also a big hit in Europe.

Akira-3-060915
Akira,

A bit of background on Japanese animation. While the American animation industry was dying, Japan’s animation industry was rolling right along in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In the 1960s, there were hit series such as Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer and Astro Boy. Into the 70s, the hits continued with Lupin III and Captain Harlock.

Famed animator Hiyao Miyazaki had some big hits in Japan with Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, and the Castle in the Sky, but after a cheap and half-hearted cut and English dub of Nausicaa, he refused to have his films released in America for roughly a decade. People in the West didn’t really start seeing his movies until the 1990s.

But, first came Akira. Akira woke up Western audiences in both America and Europe to the amazing animation happening in Japan. This gore-soaked, ultra-violent, hard-R, cyberpunk classic  opened up a floodgate of interest in anime worldwide that is thriving to this day. After Akira, Miyazaki was convinced (By John Lasseter from Pixar) to allow his films to be released in America, and his Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service were big hits in America, especially on DVD and VHS. Then, Cowboy Bebop became a big hit on American television, followed by Fooly Cooly, Attack on Titan and many others. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (which won an Academy Award for best animated film) and Howl’s Moving Castle continued the worldwide success of anime.

9137
Miyazaki’s “My Neighbour Totoro”

Today, anime is an incredibly influential and thriving industry worldwide. An interesting phenomenon about anime is it very heavily borrowed from Western films and animation, but then Western animators and filmmakers started copying anime (American or European cartoons such as Totally Spies, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, My Little Ponies and even Batman all copied anime techniques). The Matrix is essentially a live-action anime film that borrows heavily from Akira. Two upcoming major motion pictures, The Ghost in the Machine and Attack on Titan, are based on animes. Simply put, anime is a heck of a lot more influential than a lot of people realise. And Akira really drove the genre to new heights.

Speaking of television animation.

4) The Simpsons, 1989    733328f7e9488393ff28bbdfefd03ce20615664280628f73f589d4de66bfb7bc

 

The Simpsons premiered as its own show in 1989. It’s hard to believe it’s been around for 27 years. And so, so much has grown from the Simpsons. The Simpsons took the formula from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to create prime time adult and kids’ entertainment on television. The Simpsons helped lead to so many other prime-time adult shows such as South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, The Venture Brothers, Metalocalypse, Rick & Morty, Archer, Robot Chicken, etc., etc. It turns out animation was a perfect venue for adult humour, parody, satire and social commentary.

rick and morty
Rick and Morty

Meanwhile, the malevolent Hanna-Barbera studio finally went out of business (Ironically, H-B brands are now owned by Turner Broadcasting, which has produced a number of shows parodying, at times ruthlessly, these awful Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I wondered for years how Turner got away with that before learning Turner now owns H-B.), and Filmation and Rankin-Bass likewise evaporated. What jumped into the vacuum were a bunch of independently produced and syndicated cartoons, which could be made easily and cheaply by a small number of people via computer animation. However, being independent of big studios, with two or three networks dedicated to showing animated series, these cartoons for both kids and adults were and continue to be both funny and creative. There’s simply too many of these shows to name — Home Movies, Doug, SpongeBob Squarepants, The Wild Thornberrys, Adventure Time, Ren and Stimpy, etc., etc. I know I missed a few. The shows are countless. There’s several I’ve never seen. And most of them are quite cute and educational for kids. None of that half-arsed Scooby Doo copycat crap, anymore. The Simpsons helped lead the way for all of this. All of these shows owe The Simpsons a thank you.

And now, the movie that changed an industry for over a quarter-century.

5) The Little Mermaid, 1989

lmm4
The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid was the second all-animation feature put out by Disney after Roy Disney Jr. took over the animation department (the first was The Great Mouse Detective, which did OK financially but is pretty forgettable.). It was considered Disney’s best film in decades and was a smash hit, grossing over $200 million. I don’t think this is Disney’s best film, but it was easily its best one since Jungle Book. One thing interesting about The Little Mermaid is that Disney was definitely paying attention to anime, which still wasn’t really hitting its stride in the West, and copied many anime techniques in this film.

The Little Mermaid reminded Disney that animated movies once made a ton of money for the studio and could again. After The Little Mermaid came other giant smash hits for Disney — The Beauty and the Beast ($400 million gross), Aladdin ($504 million), the Lion King ($968 million). Disney’s big five animated films (including Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid) from 1987 to 1994 grossed a staggering $2.42 billion … and that’s in late 1980s and early 1990s dollars. The studio that had languished for 20 years was now a powerhouse.

ever-just-as-sure-as-the-sun-will-rise
The Beauty and the Beast

After The Lion King, Disney purchased Pixar and became an even bigger behemoth. Pixar was a leader in a new art form — computer animation rather than hand-drawn. Today, nearly all American animation is computer animation (even animation that appears to be hand-drawn is actually created on computers today). Even Japan is abandoning hand-drawn animation for less-manpower-intensive computer art, though at a much slower rate. It’s sad to see a century-old art form fade away, but the fact is, computer animation is simply much, much more practical, and computer animation helped drive Hanna-Barbera and Filmation out of the industry. And much of it is gorgeous.

Pixar’s first big hit for Disney was Toy Story in 1995, which grossed $360 million. Meanwhile, Disney continued to put out big, critically acclaimed hits through traditional animation, such as Hercules and Mulan. Pixar showed it wasn’t a one-hit wonder with Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Both the computer and hand-drawn units at Pixar and Disney were raking in billions every year from box office and DVD sales and rentals. Disney and Pixar’s formula relied on strong spare-no-expense animation, attention to detail and perhaps most importantly, likable characters and good, well-written and thought-out scripts. Kids liked the movies and parents liked taking their kids to these movies. It’s like people actually figured out after the Death Valley of the 1970s and 1980s, “if we put out a quality product, people will actually pay for it!” So unlike the decades of painfully awful, cheap, charmless drek from Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and even Disney. The art form became both a financial juggernaut and a showcase for artistic talent.

Cf76SrrWcAAY0de
Toy Story was Pixar’s first big hit

While Disney and Pixar were off to the races, Dreamworks Animation actually provided some fairly serious competition. Dreamworks had a number of pretty big hits itself, from Shrek to Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and The Croods. Some of Dreamworks’ movies are good, too, but Dreamworks seems a little more geared as a pure money-making machine, relying a little more heavily on franchises than Pixar and Disney, making multiple sequels to most of its hits. Meanwhile, Universal Animation came out with the adorable Despicable Me and Minions (which grossed $1.1 billion in 2015). Even stop-animation cartoons, long a neglected art form, made a big comeback with hits such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Coraline and Wallace & Gromit.

e3ce1772-6912-4b7e-833c-fd7b7e6ab5c7
Frozen grossed an incredible $1.28 billion at the box office

The Renaissance Era is over for animation and has now entered what is considered the Millennium Era. Billion-dollar grossing animated films are not unusual today. In 2015, Western animated films grossed over $3 billion at the box office worldwide. By comparison, Western animated movies in 1985 (not counting reissues) grossed about $80 million total in 1985. The industry’s revenues had grown 40-fold in 30 years.

It’s hard to believe this thriving art form was all but dead in the West in the 1980s.

Tony Gwynn’s family files wrongful death lawsuit against Philip Morris

tony gwynn

Interesting story and the first time I’m aware of (I wouldn’t doubt it has happened before, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it) of family suing the tobacco industry because a loved one likely died of someone who died from a chewing habit, rather than a smoking habit,

Tony Gwynn’s family filed the suit in San Diego Superior Court against Altria (formerly Philip Morris). Gwynn died in 2014 at the age of 54 from salivary gland cancer after chewing tobacco for more than 30 years.

From USA Today:

According to the lawsuit, Gwynn became addicted to their products.

“The tobacco industry had a responsibility to disclose the risk they knew of to him,” Gwynn’s attorney David S. Casey told The Associated Press. “They did not. At the time he made a choice with them marketing to try tobacco at a time it was not disclosed that it was dangerous.”

I’ve no idea what the chances are for success in the California court system. In Florida, mostly because of the Engle decision about 10 years ago, a number of families have successfully sued and received multi-million-dollar judgements from tobacco companies for the deaths of their loved ones from smoking. There are more than 8,000 such lawsuits winding their ways through the courts in Florida.

The Engle state supreme court decision overturned a $140 billion class-action judgement against the tobacco industry, but the wording of the decision basically said smokers and their families have the right to sue the industry for damages, but they have to do it on an individual basis, not as a class-action suit. That opened the door to thousands of lawsuits in Florida against Big Tobacco, and so far, several dozen judgements have gone against the industry.

gwynn quote

From a San Diego Union-Tribune story, apparently Gwynn dipped 1 1/2 to 2 cans a day from 1977 to 2008. Oh, man, that’s an insane amount of chewing tobacco. That’s more than 17,500 cans of chewing tobacco.

From the U-T article:

Gwynn’s son, Tony Jr., said his father was used as a “billboard” to promote the product. His father, an eight-time batting champion, was often photographed with a chew in his mouth during his 20-year playing career.

He recalled visiting his father after his playing career ended, in the hospital when the Hall of Famer was being treated for cancer.

“I remember him saying that he wouldn’t want this to happen to anybody else, especially having seen what my mom and sister and the rest of our family was going through with him, you wouldn’t wish that upon anybody,” he said.

The suit says Gwynn was a perfect vehicle for promoting the products to the target audiences.

“They definitely used him as a billboard,” Tony Gwynn Jr. said of his father. “If you were a baseball fan and watched a lot of baseball, one of the things you remember really well is the outline of those Skoal cans or Copenhagen cans in the back of the (players’) pockets. Everybody knew what it was. You were virtually a walking billboard without having to pay them. They got free advertising.”

tony_gwynn_bandage.0_cinema_1050.0

Gwynn’s death prompted a push to ban chewing tobacco in Major League Baseball. MLB wants to ban it on the field, but is facing resistance from the Players’ Association. Expect it to be part of the negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.

Chewing tobacco has been banned in stadiums in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. Chew will be banned in all stadiums in California in 2017, including San Diego and Oakland. Toronto, Minnesota and Pittsburgh are also considering laws or ordinances to ban chewing tobacco in baseball stadiums in those cities.

One thing that could hurt the Gwynn family’s lawsuit. I seem to remember when Gwynn died, some doctors were quoted as saying salivary gland cancer isn’t caused by chewing tobacco. However, Gwynn himself said he never bought that and insisted that the cancer developed in the exact spot in his mouth where he always dipped.

Virginia GOP kills bill to stop child labour in tobacco fields

child labour

Disgusting, just disgusting. All I can express is rage over this one. I try not to get partisan on the Lounge, but I can’t ignore which party is behind this.

Members of the Virginia Republican Party today killed a bill that would have put an end to child labour in tobacco fields. This is an issue that has been featured by both NPR and the Daily Show. Believe it or not, there are migrant  kids as young a 12 years old working in tobacco fields in the South, sometimes for 12+ hours a day, and getting sick from constant exposure to the nicotine coming off the plants.

A bill in Virginia would have stopped the practise of underaged workers working directly with tobacco plants, but Republicans on a House committee effectively killed the bill by tabling it. They wouldn’t even allow a vote on it.

From an NBC News story:

A growing coalition is getting very vocal about the use of child workers on tobacco farms across Virginia. Virginia House Bill 1906 would have made it illegal for minors to work directly with tobacco plants or their dried leaves. The bill would have made an exception for children working, as part of a tradition, on family farms.

“One of the refrains we hear from kids who do this kind of work is, when they get the tobacco sickness, they say, ‘I felt like I was going to die,'” said Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards Coordinator, Child Labor Coalition for National Consumers League.

“The overwhelming majority of children interviewed reported experiencing symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning,” said 49th District Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D).

Some of the opponents (aka Republicans) of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch (see below) report are unfair to make at this point.

“My grandmother raised tobacco,” said 14th District Del. Daniel Marshall III (R). “I grew up in a tobacco family…My whole life I had been exposed to tobacco.”

Some of the opponents of the bill feel the conclusions made in the Human Rights Watch report are unfair to make at this point.

“My grandmother raised tobacco,” said 14th District Del. Daniel Marshall III (R). “I grew up in a tobacco family…My whole life I had been exposed to tobacco.”

Del. Marshall says he introduced the motion to defeat HB 1906 because he doesn’t like where it was going.

“Only thing they made were accusations, didn’t hear any facts,” Marshall said. “The other issue that I worried about is it tobacco this year What’s next year?”

Rep. Marshall — you’re a butthead. A serious butthead.  Maybe all that exposure to nicotine as a kid is what turned you into such a serious butthead.

It’s amazing in this day and age that this is still going on. It blew me away when I found about it a year or two ago. From a Human Rights Watch video about the practise:

Child labor is common on tobacco farms in the United States, where children are exposed to nicotine, toxic pesticides, and other dangers. Child tobacco workers often get sick with vomiting, nausea, headaches, and dizziness while working, all symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning. Many work 50 to 60 hours a week without overtime pay, often in extreme heat. They may be exposed to pesticides that are known neurotoxins. Many also use dangerous tools and machinery, lift heavy loads, and climb to perilous heights to hang tobacco for drying.

The largest tobacco companies in the world purchase tobacco grown in the US to make popular cigarette brands like Marlboro, Newport, Camel, Pall Mall and others. These companies can’t legally sell cigarettes to children, but they are profiting from child labor. US law also fails these children, by allowing them to work at much younger ages, for longer hours, and under more hazardous conditions than children working in all other sectors. Children as young as 12 can work legally on tobacco farms and at even younger ages on small farms.
We all know that the tobacco industry is a big part of the economy in Virginia, and I’m sure contributes a ton of money to state Legislators, but somehow I think the industry could survive a rule that kids between 12 and 17 can’t work in tobacco fields. I mean, seriously, this is a new low, even for Southern Republicans. C’mon man, this is about basic humanity.
Here’s a comment from the Crooks & Liars article:

My half brother and sister worked picking tobacco.

Where they grew up, it was either working restaurants, or ‘picking’. It sucked, it was hard work, they worked you to the bone. They hated the job, but it paid more than working restaurants.

It sucked. Kinda like the idea of enlisting because it’s ‘better than’, something…

‘They’ have you. ‘They’ have it all figured out…

Kids ‘picking’ got sick. Some had to quit because it got too bad. YUCK…

Here is the Human Rights Watch video:

 

British High Court upholds graphic images on UK cigarette packs; law goes into effect in days

cigarette-packs-543173
Believe it or not, this is one of the tamer warnings going onto British cigarette packs.

A coalition of tobacco companies lost a major decision this week in Great Britain. The companies — Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco International — were challenging a law requiring the removal of all branding logos and fonts and plain packaging on all tobacco product as well as graphic warnings showing diseased gums and lungs, etc.

In a 386-page ruling, the High Court rules against the tobacco industry.

“It is wrong to view this issue purely in monetised terms alone,” the court ruled.

“There is a significant moral angle which is embedded in the regulations which is about saving children from a lifetime of addiction, and children and adults from premature death and related suffering and disease.”

1463703883041
Australia’s plain packaging law has been upheld by the Australian Supreme Court and by international courts.

Japan Tobacco International plans to file an appeal, but Philip Morris International announced that it will not.

From the Express:

Daniel Sciamma, UK managing director of JTI, said: “We will continue to challenge the legality of plain packaging. The fact remains that our branding has been eradicated and we maintain that this is unlawful.”

Tobacco companies fought a similar law in Australia, which was upheld by the Australian Supreme Court. However, companies have continued to fight the law in international courts, arguing that it violated trade treaties with other countries. So far, that fight has failed.

Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) chief executive Deborah Arnott said: “This landmark judgment is a crushing defeat for the tobacco industry and fully justifies the Government’s determination to go ahead with the introduction of standardised packaging.

“Millions of pounds have been spent on some of the country’s most expensive lawyers in the hope of blocking the policy.

“This disgraceful effort to privilege tobacco business interests over public health has rightly failed utterly.”

The tobacco industry has been able to fend off plain packaging laws in the U.S., however, as courts have ruled such laws violate the companies’ First Amendment rights.

Cigarette tax proposals in California, Missouri, West Virginia

la-me-pol-sac-tom-steyer-tobacco-tax-20160516

Good news, bad news on the cigarette tax front. First the good news:

California

Proponents of raising California’s cigarette tax from 87 cents a pack to $2.87 a pack say they have nearly twice as many signatures as needed to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. They were required to get 545,000 signatures and say they have gathered nearly 1 million.

You might be surprised to know California actually has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation. California has the 36th-highest cigarette tax in the nation and the average state cigarette tax of $1.60 a pack is nearly double California’s tax.

taxpoll

This is partly because even though California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation at about 13 percent (I believe Utah is the only state lower), the state represents about 11 percent of the population of the country, so even with a low smoking rate, California represents a huge chunk of the national tobacco market. Big Tobacco spent tens of millions fighting a cigarette tax ballot measures in 2006 and 2012 (a whopping $66 million in 2006 and at least $40 million in 2012). The industry ended up winning in 2012 by the narrowest of margins (literally 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent). Expect Altria and RJ Reynolds to again pour millions into California trying to defeat this measure. If I remember right, that proposed cigarette tax increase in 2012 was only $1 a pack, not two.

And Big Tobacco will fight it, because study after study has shown that an increase in cigarette taxes has a tangible effect of driving down the smoking rate. It simply gives people more motivation to quit and  prices a lot of teens out of the cigarette market. California is roughly 10 percent of the cigarette market in the U.S. This freaks out the tobacco industry.

prop29_CA
Spending on Proposition 29, a 2012 measure that would have raised California’s cigarette tax by a $1 pack. The measure failed by a vote of 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

However, California has an ace up its sleeve this time. In addition to public health groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, the effort to raise the cigarette tax has some deep pockets of its own to combat Big Tobacco’s spending. Billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer is helping to bankroll the cigarette tax measure this time around. He’s already chipped in $1 million to fund the petition drive. Several other major groups are spending millions to back the measure.

If the measure passes, it would raise roughly $1 billion a year. That money is specifically earmarked in the ballot measure for MediCal and programs to reduce smoking. Latest polls show 67 percent support for the proposal, but there was a similar level of support in 2012 before the Big Tobacco anti-tax media blitz.

Missouri

Missouri cigarette tax graph_0
Missouri’s proposed cigarette tax increase is still dwarfed by New York’s tax.

Bad news in Missouri, where a state judge invalidated a ballot measure that would raise Missouri’s dead-last-in-the-nation cigarette tax of 17 cents a pack. The judge ruled that financial estimates of the ballot measure were “insufficient” and “unfair.”

This measure is extremely modest compared to California. Tax increase proponents are proposed a tax increase of only 60 cents a pack — to be phased in over three years — leaving Missouri with a cigarette tax of 77 cents a pack, which would still be one of the lowest in the nation.

From a KSL.com story:

The financial summary prepared by Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office estimates the measure would generate between $263 million and $374 million annually. That largely would go to early childhood education; smaller portions would go to early childhood health programs and anti-smoking programs for youth and pregnant women. The financial summary said the impact to local governments was unknown.

Green struck down the financial summary for two reasons: The estimate on state revenues failed to account for the fact that people may buy fewer cigarettes as the price rises, resulting in an “unreasonably high” revenue projection, and the summary should have noted the potential costs to local governments due to a possible decline in cigarette sales.

The financial summary appeared on the petitions people signed and also would appear on the ballot.

“I collected signatures myself. Nobody really ever asked about that” financial estimate, said Linda Rallo, executive director of Raise Your Hand for Kids. “They are more interested in seeing that we don’t adequately invest in early childhood education. … A lot of folks, too, think our cigarette tax is too low and would like to see that raised.”

An appeal of the decision is planned. A competing measure is being backed by the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Store Association. This would only raise the cigarette tax by 23 cents a pack — again gradually — and would raise about $100 million annually.

Missouri is one of the most tobacco-friendly states in the country. In addition to its ridiculously low cigarette tax, Missouri has no statewide smoking ban. It also, not coincidentally, has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation at 20.6 percent (compared to a national rate below 17 percent). Missouri also has the third-highest rate of lung cancer in the country.

West Virginia

lung cancer rates
West Virginia and Missouri, which have among the lowest cigarette taxes, also have among the highest lung cancer rates.

The West Virginia State Senate last week approved by a 17-16 vote to increase its cigarette tax by 45 cents a pack. Get this, most of the Republicans voted for the tax increase, while most of the Democrats voted against it. Why? Because the tax increase wasn’t big enough.

Like Missouri, West Virginia has a very low cigarette tax at only 55 cents a pack. Republicans are proposing making it an even $1 to help make up a $270 million budget deficit. The measure would raise an estimated $78 million a year. West Virginia may have to shut down its state government in July if a budget cannot be passed.

Democrats want to raise the tax by $1 a pack to $1.45, which would raise $115 million a year.

The proposed tax increase goes to the State House, where it faces a tough fight from a coalition of Republicans who oppose any tax increase and Democrats who want to see a bigger increase.

West Virginia has the highest smoking rate in the nation at 26.7 percent. Because of the high smoking rate and the coal industry, West Virginia also has the second-highest rate of lung cancer in the country.