All posts by Pepe Lepew

Great parody of really kind of weird Ray Liotta Chantix ad

OK, I immediately took an interest in this Ray Liotta Chantix ad that you see constantly on ESPN and during football games, just because of my interest in tobacco control.

It’s actually not a bad commercial. Ray sounds very sincere in his endorsement for this product and/or service. However, he just looks … weird. I really think he’s just had too much work done, like Kenny Rogers.

And for some reason, everything Ray is doing while endorsing Chantix is in slow motion. Playing with his dog. Slow motion. Drinking coffee. Slow motion. He even appears to give a Nazi salute … in slow motion. (Im sure Ray isn’t a Nazi … don’t beat me up Ray, I’ve seen  “Something Wild.” You tIt gives a certain gravitas to Ray … and Chantix. “Now, that I’m not going to die of smoking, I’m taking things slow and enjoying life…”

I also have to crack up because this is the same guy who does Vodka ads. “OK, I quit smoking, but I didn’t quit vodka, because I’m not some kind of pussy, OK?”

So, here’s the original Ray Liotta commercial, in all of his Botox glory

Here’s the parody

Here’s another parody, with scenes from Goodfellas

You have to laugh at it.

More mixed bags for e-cigs … study suggests e-cigs increase risk of stroke

It’s been such a mixed week for e-cigs, with one study showing e-cigs are more successful than nicotine patches and gum for helping people quit, yet the American Lung Association ripping the FDA as a “failure” for doing nothing to stem the tide of teen vaping.

Well, this week another study came out that e-cigarettes, while perhaps safer than cigarettes, are still not completely harmless.

In what is admittadly a pretty limited study, a new survey by the American Stroke Association shows that e-cig use is associated with a higher risk of strokes and heart attacks.

From an NPR story:

“There’s a certain notion that e-cigarettes are harmless,” says Dr. Paul Ndunda, the study’s author and an assistant professor at the School of Medicine at the University of Kansas in Wichita. “But this study and previous other studies show that while they’re less harmful than normal cigarettes, their use still comes with risks.”

This study relied on a behavioral factor survey from the CDC and looked at 66,000 e-cig users. It found a 71 percent higher risk of stroke, 59 percent higher risk of heart attack and 40 percent higher risk of heart disease.

(OK, I’m going to be honest here … while I’m sure these figures are accurate, my first question is how many of these e-cig users are smokers and former smokers … the increased risk of stroke and heart disease could be from the smoking more than the e-cigs.)

The study does get into this to a degree, to be fair.

From NPR:

Ndunda found e-cigarette users are twice as likely to also smoke conventional cigarettes, compared with people who don’t use e-cigarettes.

To see the health effects of e-cigarette use alone, Ndunda and his colleague Dr. Tabitha Muutu compared people who had only used e-cigarettes — not conventional cigarettes — to nonsmokers.

“Even in that group there was a 29 percent higher risk of stroke and a 25 percent higher risk of heart attack,” Ndunda says. Taken together, these two analyses point to an additive effect of e-cigarette and conventional cigarette use.

So, Ndunda admits in the aritlce that the study has its limitations because there’s so many factors at play here — e-cigs, mixing e-cigs and cigarettes, and my point, the pre-existing damage experienced by former smokers from their decades of cigarette use.

Anyway, this survey strongly suggests it’s probably a really, really bad idea to mix e-cigs and cigarettes together. That if you’re going to use e-cigs, you really have to quit cigarettes to actually have any health benefit.

And now for the other side of the coin … Harsh Lung Association report says FDA efforts to stop teen vaping a complete “failure”

In what NBC News is calling a “scathing” report, the American Lung Association rips the Food and Drug Administration for failing to take any action to stem the epidemic of teen vaping.

One of the proposals from the Lung Association is to raise the legal age of buying e-cig products to 21 and getting rid of fruity e-cig flavourings.

From the NBC News story:

“This year’s report finds a disturbing failure of the federal government and states to take action to prevent and reduce tobacco use in 2018, placing the health and lives of Americans at risk, including our youth,” the American Lung Association’s national president and CEO, Harold P. Wimmer, said in a statement.

Health

“The FDA’s failure to act has emboldened the tobacco industry, which has become increasingly aggressive in seeking to delay or oppose proven policies,” Wimmer said.

States need to raise their minimum age to purchase tobacco products to 21 and remove flavored e-cigarettes from the market, Erika Sward, national assistant vice president for advocacy for the American Lung Association, told NBC News.

“As a result of the failure by the federal and state governments to act, the tobacco industry is on a resurgence,” and therefore maneuvering “to addict our kids,” Sward said.

This final point is a really important to remember about the tobacco industry’s ties to e-cigs. The industry absolutely control the e-cig market, especially since Altria (formerly known as Philip Morris, makers of Marlboros) bought a stake in Juuls, the biggest e-cig brand on the market. Big Tobacco already owned Blu E-cigs, MarkTen and Vuse.

The industry sold people the disease — cigarettes. And is now selling people the cure — e-cigs. Pretty ingenious, huh?

So, cigarettes have become socially unacceptable, how is the tobacco industry recovering its costs? A wildly successful e-cig market and a 78 percent increase in teen vaping.

The report also grades states on their efforts toward tobacco control. The Lung Association doesn’t mince words. Most every state gets a failing grade. A handful get As, California gets a B.

The FDA is talking tough about e-cigs lately, but so far hasn’t taken any firm action. One proposal from the agency is to require that e-cigs be sold in areas cordoned off to teens, but no one has any idea how that could work. A proposal to restrict all sales to tobacco shops was dropped as quickly as it was raised.

It may be too little too late for the FDA to stem the epidemic of teen vaping. This epidemic grew and grew for four or five years before the FDA even acknowledged it.

Study: E-cigs more effective than patches, gum for quitting cigarettes

Three studies came out in one day about e-cigarettes, two very, very negative and the third one with positive news.

It sort of sums up the mixed bag that are e-cigs, and sums up the quandary about them.

First, the good news. A recent study by Queen Mary University in London, published by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that e-cigarettes are far more effective than nicotine gum or patches in getting people to quit cigarettes.

The study involved 886 smokers, half were given the option to quit using e-cigs and the other half were given the option to quit through patches, gum or other nicotine replacement therapies.

After one full year, 18 percent of the e-cig group was able to quit smoking, while just 9.9 percent of the patches and gum group quit.

Those percentages may not sound good, but it’s widely known that nicotine replacement treatments have a pretty high failure rate. Most smokers, it takes four or five tries or more to actually quit.

From a CNBC article:

Doctors have been wary of recommending people use e-cigarettes as a way to wean themselves off conventional cigarettes, citing both the lack of evidence showing they work and lack of data on the long-term health effects of using the products. The new study may quell some of those concerns. However, the study is also likely to receive some pushback because it was conducted in the United Kingdom, which has embraced and even encouraged e-cigarettes as an alternative for adult smokers.

Here’s another flaw with the study, I think. The point of patches and gum is to eventually wean people off of addictive nicotine. However, that’s not how very many people really use e-cigs. They remain addicted to the nicotine, and in my opinion, as long as they remain addicted, they remain at risk at falling back onto cigarettes.

From the same article:

“While e-cigarettes are ‘safer’ than traditional cigarettes, they are not without risks,” Boston University professors Belinda Borrelli and George O’Connor said in a statement.

They also pointed to the finding that at the one-year mark, 80 percent of people in the e-cigarette group were still using the devices. So while people stopped smoking cigarettes, they were still using e-cigarettes. The study’s authors also noted this finding, saying it “can be seen as problematic if e-cigarette use for a year signals ongoing long-term use, which may pose as-yet unknown health risks.”

Huge numbers of teens using the products — particularly one brand, Juul — have soured perceptions about e-cigarettes in the U.S. Even Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who has championed the devices as a way to help adult smokers, says the industry is at a tipping point.

That final paragraph about Juuls explains the condundrum about e-cigarettes. While they appear to have a very valid and genuine value in helping some people quit smoking, the down side is their use among teens has exploded in the past five years … and these are kids who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives. They’re not using e-cigs to get off cigarettes, they’re using them to get addicted to nicotine to begin with.

The FDA has started talking tough about e-cigs the past couple of months, even going so far as saying it might just outright ban e-cigs. If 18 percent of the people who try e-cigs to get off cigarettes are successful, I think that’d be a terrible step in the wrong direction.

But, they gotta stop the teen epidemic of vaping. If that means banning fruity e-cig flavours, so be it. I personally would like to see e-cig marketing more strictly regulated. I liked the idea the FDA came up with a few weeks ago (and quickly dropped, unfortunately), of only allowing e-cig sales in tobacco shops, where you have to show an ID just to walk into the door. The FDA came up with some odd idea of only allowing e-cig sales in adult areas … but still allowing them to be sold in convenience stores. How could that even work?

Anyway, an interesting study showing the other side of the e-cig debate and showing that it’s not a black and white issue.

FDA chief threatens to completely remove e-cigs from the market

The war between FDA chief Scott Gottlieb and the e-cig industry continues to escalate with Gottlieb last week threatening to just say “Fuck it” and completely take e-cigs off the market.

To wit, the Food and Drug Administration has come out harshly against the e-cig industry beginning about six months ago because of the skyrocketing increase in teen vaping rates.

So, the FDA came out with a series of rules regarding e-cigs, including some restrictions on fruity flavours and the requirement that e-cig products only be sold in areas open to adults. The FDA didn’t get into marketing of e-cig products.

These rules weren’t as strong as what *I* had hoped for, at the very least, I liked an idea that was floated to restrict e-cig sales strictly to tobacco shops, but that got dropped, likely because of pressure from the industry.

Anyway, Gottlieb said he has met with industry representatives and he remains unimpressed with their response so far.

This is a quote from a Gottlieb tweet:

I still believe e-cigarettes present an opportunity for adult smokers to transition off cigarettes and onto nicotine delivery products that may not have the same level of risks. However, if the youth use continues to rise, the entire category will face an existential threat

Also, from an NBC News article:


“I’ll tell you this. If the youth use continues to rise, and we see significant increases in use in 2019, on top of the dramatic rise in 2018, the entire category will face an existential threat,” Gottlieb told a meeting.
“It will be game over for these products until they can successfully traverse the regulatory process.”

Gottlieb said he has met repeatedly with the vape industry. “I find myself debating with tobacco makers and retailers the merits of selling fruity flavors in ways that remain easily accessible to kids,” he said.

Last November, Gottlieb said he was starting the process to limit sales of flavored e-cigarettes, as well as to ban menthol in combustible cigarettes.

“I have questions about whether they are living up to the very modest promises that they made,” he said. “It matters if the e-cig makers can’t honor even modest, voluntary commitments that they made to the FDA.”

I’m curious if the industry is taking these threats seriously? Juul very quickly shut down its social media presence, but it might be too little, too late to slow down teen vaping use … or to satisfy the FDA.

Gottlieb said the dramatic rise in e-cigs is sabotaging the success public health advocates have had in cutting the teen smoking rate.

From a Yahoo article:

“This progress is being undercut — even eclipsed — by the recent, dramatic rise in youth vaping. A few years ago, it would have been incredible to me that we’d be here, discussing the potential for drug therapy to help addicted youth vapers quit nicotine,” he said Friday.

Gottlieb cited statistics about the large use of e-cigarettes by young people, saying that between 2017 and 2018 there was a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use in high school students, and a 48 percent increase among middle schoolers. That means the total number of middle- and high-school students using e-cigarettes rose to 3.6 million — 1.5 million more than used the product the previous year. He added that more than a quarter (27.7 percent) of high-school-age e-cigarette users use the product regularly, and more than two-thirds (67.8 percent) are using flavored e-cigarettes. 

“Youth use of e-cigarettes has become an epidemic,” Gottlieb said, adding, “It could be ‘game over’ for some [of] these products until they can successfully traverse the regulatory process. I think the stakes are that high.” Gottlieb also noted that e-cigarettes can be a helpful tool for adults trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, and said he hopes to avoid removing e-cigarettes from the market because of the good they can serve in that regard. 

Stay tuned. Gonna be a rocky year on this issue likely.

It’s official, Juul is now a subsidiary of Philip Morris, ie Altria

The tobacco industry will sell you the disease and now will sell you the cure.

This came out a couple of weeks ago and apparently this week it became official. Juul, those cutesey little e-cigs that plug into laptop computer and look just like a flash drive, came to completely dominate the e-cig industry incredibly quickly, eating up 75 percent of the market in less than two years.

Altria just invested $13.5 BILLION into Juul, taking ownership of 35 percent of the company.

Juuls sort of advertised themselves as an indie company against the tide of Big Tobacco. No more. Juul IS BIG TOBACCO now, baby. Altria, formerly known as Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro cigarettes.

Here’s the shit that actually pisses me off. From an AP story:

Juul will remain an independent company, but it gains access to Altria’s massive infrastructure and reach. Namely, Altria will help Juul secure space on store shelves beside traditional cigarettes. It will also help Juul reach smokers via cigarette pack inserts and mailings.

Yeah, fuck you, Juul. You’ve been one of the biggest guilty parties, if not THE biggest guilty party, in marketing e-cigs to kids. Now that you’ve got these teenagers hooked on nicotine, you get Altria’s [quote] “massive infrastructure and reach.”

Surgeon general labels teen vaping an “epidemic”

More harsh rhetoric toward e-cigarettes and the explosion of e-cig use by teenagers over the past seven years.

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams joined the head of the FDA this week in denouncing e-cigarettes, going so far as to call teenage e-cigarette use an “epidemic.”

From an NPR article:

“I am officially declaring e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic in the United States,” Adams said at a news conference. “Now is the time to take action. We need to protect our young people from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.”


“We have never seen use of any substance by America’s young people rise this rapidly,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at the briefing. “This is an unprecedented challenge.”

Officials at this press conference largely blamed Juul for the epidemic, though to be fair, the increase in teen vaping was already happening before Juuls hit the market about two years ago.

Less than 2 percent of teens were vaping in 2011. In 2018, that figure has increased to 21 percent.

At the same time, there’s been a big decrease in teens smoking, which is great.

Teens getting addicted to nicotine, not so great.

I debated with a few vaping advocates on this story. They keep harping on two really false and lame narratives.

One: Who cares if teens are vaping … would you rather they be doing crack or meth?

Well, no, of course, that’s just stupid. I’d rather they not do ANY addicting substances. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s not either they vape or they do meth. I’d rather they do NEITHER.

And the second lame point: “Well, e-cigs don’t have the toxins of cigarettes, and they’re much safer than cigarettes.”

Yes, probably. And I emphasize “probably,” big time. Because the jury is still out about that. No one is totally sure everything that is in e-cig vapour. Yes, e-cigs don’t contain the Polunium-210 and carbon monoxide and benzene that cigarette smoke does, but it still contains formaldehyde and most of all … nicotine, which is incredibly addictive. And studies have shown that a higher percentage of teens who vape eventually take up smoking to get their nicotine fixed filled, than teens who never vaped to begin with.

Anyway, I’m going to get into these weak-ass arguments in a little more in-depth in a later post about libertarian fake journalist and tobacco industry apologist stooge John Stossel (again … this isn’t my first go-around with Stossel, who seems to really have a thing about tobacco issues.).

Anyway, to try and combat the increase in teen vaping, the FDA has proposed putting limits on where e-cigarettes can be sold, ruling that they must be sold in an area closed off to minors. The FDA pulled up just short of flat out banning e-cigarette sales in minimarts and convenience stores, which was being proposed.

Strong language, for sure from the surgeon general. It’s going to be really interesting what will happen with the e-cigarette industry in the next two or three years.

Here’s a good article from the Verge about what Adams’ proclamation actually means. It means e-cigarettes are squarely in regulators’ sites:

From the Verge:

The Surgeon General’s power is more about influence, and less about enforcement: the real regulatory power over vaping comes from the Food and Drug Administration. So this advisory doesn’t have any legal force, Micah Berman, a professor of health services management and policy at The Ohio State University, tells The Verge in an email. “They are a tool used by the Surgeon General to call attention to an issue and to provide guidance to the public,” Berman says. “They are only issued rarely, when immediate action is called for — which is what makes them so noteworthy.”


That’s why it’s particularly significant that the Surgeon General is using the word “epidemic,” says Kathleen Hoke, a professor specializing in public health law at the University of Maryland: “Using the e-word, epidemic, takes it to a higher level. From a public health perspective, we try not to use that word unless it’s warranted — otherwise you have the boy cried wolf,” she says. But she says, according to these health officials, youth vaping has reached that level: “It’s broad, vast in its impacts, and of deep concern about its lasting effects.”




California lawmakers propose ban on flavoured e-cig products

Yeah, those are actually e-cigarette flavours, not actual candy. Nope, not marketing to kids at all!

The headline to this article is slightly misleading. They aren’t talking about just a ban on flavoured tobacco in California, they’re talking about a ban on flavoured tobacco and flavoured e-cigarette products. I still think it’s important to differentiate between the two.

This is all part of a recent crackdown on e-cigarettes and their fruity, sugary flavours. The e-cigarette industry isn’t really fooling anyone when they claim they aren’t marketing to kids when they make flavours like “Smurf grape” and bubble gum.

Juul has apparently agreed to stop sales of some of its sweet flavours. Candy-flavoured cigarettes were banned some time ago, but Swisher sweet cigars, a long-established product and menthol cigarettes were still allowed.

Now, the FDA is moving to ban all flavoured tobacco products and menthol cigarettes. That move could be tied up in courts for a while, because menthol cigarettes are BIG business (roughly about 10 percent of cigarette sales) and the tobacco industry simply isn’t going to go down without a fight.

The City of San Francisco banned the sale of flavoured e-cig products and several state legislators in California are proposing a similar statewide ban.

Here’s my attitude about the sweet flavours. If e-cigs are really designed to help get smokers off cigarettes, then the draw should be the nicotine, not the flavour of the steam. By having strawberry and lemon-lime and what have you flavours, this to me is pretty clearly just part of the e-cig’s craven tactic of making their products appealing to kids — who are not using e-cigs to get off cigarettes, they’re using e-cigs to get addicted to nicotine to begin with.

Anyway, I hope the bill passes and in California, it probably has a good chance to pass. The day of reckoning for the e-cig industry has arrived, I think.

Altria now trying to buy into Juuls

Well, this was as predictable as the day is long.

I wrote a few days ago about how Altria is expanding its business to marijuana. Altria, which already owns the e-cigarette brand MarkTen, is now making a move to buy into the biggest e-cigarette brand out there, Juul.

It’s interesting. A lot of people think e-cigarettes and cigarettes are somehow in competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. They’re really two sides of the same coin, doing a cutesy little dance around each other.

At one time, Big Tobacco controlled about 80 percent of the e-cigarette market. Altria had MarkTen, RJ Reynolds controlled Blu for a while, then Blu was sold to and controlled by Imperial Brands, a subsidiary of Philip Morris. Meanwhile, RJ Reynolds kept control of Vuse. Those three brands constituted about 80 percent of the e-cigarette market.

So, no, e-cigarettes were not competing with Big Tobacco. E-cigarettes WERE Big Tobacco. All those people usuing e-cigarettes to get off cigarettes. All those people using e-cig to say “F U” to the tobacco industry. Hey, you were giving your money to the same CEOs. Big Tobacco was selling you both the disease and the cure.

Then, along came Juul to overturn the apple cart. Juul is a relatively new player in the e-cigarette market and sometime around 2017, this company started dominating the e-cig industry, pushing down Big Tobacco’s share in the market. Juul’s share got up to 75 percent. They did this in about two years.

Now, Altria is following the Big Tobacco playbook. When you can’t beat them in the marketplace, simply buy them out. 

Juuls are incredibly convenient. They look exactly like a computer flash drive. They can charge up by plugging them into a laptop. And the flavour viles are little and easy to use.

Juuls are controversial with a lot of people in the tobacco control industry because the company, much like Blu, was pretty fucking brazen about marketing to teens. Juul relied heavily on social media to market itself and they got themselve in the crosshairs big time not only of the tobacco control community, but of the FDA. After the FDA started suggesting that it was cracking down on e-cigs because of the explosion of e-cig use by teenagers, Juul very quickly abandoned all of its social media accounts and announced that it would no longer sell many of its fruity and surgary flavours.

Along comes Altria to save the day. Altria, the parent company behind what used to be known as Philip Morris, is abandoning its failed MarkTen product.

According to this CNBC article, Altria is looking at buying a “significant” share of Juul. And again, we follow the same pattern as Blu and MarkTen and Vuse.

Now, this news came out around the same time as the FDA announced that it was cracking down on e-cigs, mostly by requiring that e-cigs be sold in areas closed off to minors, and Juul shut down its social media accounts. We all know Altria has a long, long history of playing cutesy with the “Marketing to teens? Moi? Never!” game that Juul and every other e-cig brand has copied from.

I see this as Altria evolving and trying to stay an active player in the nicotine addiction game, via e-cigs and international marekts. (And my concern about Altria getting involved in marijuana is over the company cooking up schemes to add nicotine to marijuana to make it more addictive). This is a multi-billion dollar corporation that has no plans of simply slinking off into the sunset.

I toldja! Big Tobacco looks to get into the pot business

The Marlboro Head

I toldja! I toldja!

I knew this would happen. In fact, to be honest, I’m surprised it took this long.

As marijuana becomes legal in more and more of the U.S., I knew sooner or later Big Tobacco would look to get into the game. 

Sure enough, a bunch of huge stories came out this week that Altria … the parent company of Philip Morris, makers of Marlboros, is investing $1.8 billion in Cronos, a Canadian marijuana company. And as we all know, marijuana was legalized across ALL of Canada a couple of months ago.

About 80 million people in the U.S. live in states where marijuana is now legal. Add that to the 36 million of so people in Canada … that’s a lot of legal marijuana users. And that number is just going to continue to grow as more and more states figure out that keeping pot illegal is not just stupid but also a waste of a BIG potential tax source.

So, tobacco sales in the U.S. have been in decline for decades. Big Tobacco is being forced to diversify … by pouring more energy in developing tobacco markets in the Third World, by investing in e-cigarettes (though the future of e-cigs is now in doubt with new FDA regulations being proposed) and now pot. It was totally predictable.

My biggest concern about Big Tobacco getting their beak wet in the pot industry is my fear that they’ll pull the same underhanded, amoral crap with pot that they’ve pulled with marijuana for decades. For instance, I could totally see Big Tobacco artificially adding nicotine into marijuana to make it physically addictive like cigarettes. (And then acting all “Moi? Not us!” before Congressional committees about it). Think of it. The pure, amoral genius of it. The most addictive substance in the world added … to marijuana. They would do it, too. They totally would.

One of the biggest worries about legalizing pot was allowing big corporations to take over the pot industry. I remember an article from a year or two ago worrying that the beer industry would get involved in pot. Honestly, that doesn’t scare me nearly as much as Altria or any tobacco company getting their paws on it. 

Something to keep an eye on.