All posts by Pepe Lepew

Thoughts on Rush Limbaugh …

Thoughts on Rush Limbaugh…

This is not new news. Rush Limbaugh died in February 2021 during my hiatus.

Obviously, he was a racist, promoted racism, did his share to bring toxicity to the airwaves and to today’s political discourse. So, there were a lot of reasons to hate him.

I’m not a fan of pissing on the dead, but really, Rush Limbaugh did a lot of damage in the world. Among the awful things about him was the misinformation and lies he repeated about smoking.

Rush’s infamous Fuck You smoking protrait

Limbaugh was a heavy cigar smoker much of his life and not coincidentally died of lung cancer. He also spread the lie that not only did secondhand smoke not cause cancer, neither did smoking itself.

According to Snopes, this is a real quote from Rush Limbaugh:

“There is no conclusive proof that nicotine is addictive. And the same thing with cigarettes causing emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease…”

I always suspected that Rush knew 90 percent of what he spouted was pure bullshit. But, he spouted it because he knew his audience loved it. Rush loved to light up a cigar for the cameras and blow cigar smoke into the lens as a clear “Fuck you” to the libs.

Well, lung cancer had the last laugh. Lung cancer had the ultimate “Fuck you” to Rush. There was no deathbed confession of his wrongs, no public statement of “My God, what have I done…?” Good for him. He’s dead. And frankly, the world is a better place without him. I’m not going to lie. And I’m not going to play nice about it.

Menthol cigarettes finally banned

Menthol Cigarettes finally banned

First of all, with a new presidential administration in place with Joe Biden, big changes are happening with oversight toward the tobacco industry. The big thing that happened last week is menthol cigarettes were FINALLY banned by the Food and Drug Administration last week.

Also to be banned are surgary cigars like Swisher Sweets.

The ban isn’t immediate. It has to go through a lengthy comment period and should take effect in about a year.

This has been a point of controversy for many years. The FDA some time ago banned candy- or sugar-flavoured cigarettes, but punted on menthols. Even though technically, menthol is a sweet, candy-like flavouring.

The biggest reason the FDA kicked the can down the road is that candy-flavoured cigarettes, while clearly directed at getting teens to take up smoking, were never that big a part of the cigarette market.

Menthols, on the other hand, are a HUGE part of the tobacco market. In fact, Newport cigarettes, a menthol brand, was once upon a time Lorrilard’s biggest brand. According to this CNN article, menthols make up 33 percent of the tobacco market in the U.S.

Weirdly enough, Kool cigarettes, another menthol brand were once my parents’ favourite brand. What makes it weird is to be honest, they could be kind of racist, and menthol cigarettes were heavily marketed toward Black people.

From the CNN article:

“Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally,” said Mitch Zeller with the FDA’s Office of Tobacco. “In the United States, compared to non-Hispanic White smokers, significantly fewer Black smokers support long-term quitting and Black smokers are more likely to die of tobacco-related disease than White smokers.”

Mentholated brands of tobacco products have been heavily marketed to racial minorities resulting in disproportionate use. More than 85% of mentholated brand users are Black, nearly 47% are Hispanic, 38% are Asian, nearly 29% are White, according to the CDC.

 

Why or how menthols found a market among Blacks, I’m not sure. Here is a pretty good article examining the history of menthol cigarettes and Black smokers.

The ban does not include menthol ecigs for now, but I see that as another issue to be debated another day anyway. Menthol isn’t marketed to KIDS the way bubble-gum and cherry flavoured ecigs have been.

Back from a hiatus

Back from a long hiatus

And hey, this is Marceline the Vampire Queen from Adventure Time wearing an anti-smoking T-shirt. I thought that was cute.

I haven’t updated the blog for a while. It seemed like COVID (As well as Donald Trump, police brutality, etc.)  kind of took over the collective consciousness there for a long time and I’ve been very, very busy with work. On my off time, I don’t always feel like writing.

Also, my mother passed away recently after a very long and painful battle against COPD. I will write more about that later when I’m ready to post about it. I’m not there yet. She is largely responsible for me starting this blog to begin with nearly 15 years ago.

Anyway, I’m feeling to urge to end my hiatus and begin posting again. A couple of major tobacco-related stories have happened recently, one just a few days ago that is a BIG deal, so on to that.

Speaking of COVID-19 studies: Young smokers fare poorly with COVID-19

A study from the University of California, San Francisco looked at 8,400 young people and suggested that smoking is a risk for complications from the virus, along with diabetes, asthma, obesity and other health conditions.

The numbers get pretty convoluted, but a UC San Francisco article sums it up. Essentially, it says that among nonsmokers, about 16 percent of young people are susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19. In the overall group which includes smokers, that number roughly doubles to 31.5 percent.

From the UC San Francisco website:

“Recent evidence indicates that smoking is associated with a higher likelihood of COVID-19 progression, including increased illness severity, ICU admission or death,” said Dr. Sally Adams of US San Francisco. “Smoking may have significant effects in young adults, who typically have low rates for most chronic diseases.”

“The risk of being medically vulnerable to severe disease is halved when smokers are removed from the sample,” said senior author Charles Irwin Jr., MD, of the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. “Efforts to reduce smoking and e-cigarette use among young adults would likely lower their vulnerability to severe disease.”

UC San Francisco is a major research center into tobacco studies.

This study contradicts an earlier study that seemed to suggest that nicotine somehow protected people’s lungs from COVID-19. That study was done very early during the pandemic and I was pretty skeptical of it from the get go.

One side effect of COVID-19: People quitting smoking in record numbers

An interesting story out of the UK: A study done by the University College London showed that more people in the UK quit in 2020 than at any time since 2007. That’s credited to concerns about smokers being more vulnerable to complications from the COVID-19 virus.

From a BBC article:

A team at University College London has been asking 1,000 people a month in England about their smoking habits since 2007 as part of the Smoking Toolkit Study.

In the year to June 2020, 7.6% of smokers taking part in the survey quit – almost a third higher than the average and the highest proportion since the survey began more than a decade ago.

On average, 5.9% of surveyed smokers quit per year since 2007.

Data isn’t complete and plenty of studies are going to be done on the connection between smoking and COVID-19 mortality. However, a lot of signs sure point to smokers doing worse responding to COVID-19 than nonsmokers.

From the BBC article:

Data from the Zoe Covid Symptom Tracker app suggested smokers were 14% more likely than non-smokers to develop the three “classic” symptoms of coronavirus infection – fever, persistent cough and shortness of breath.

The app, created by researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospitals and King’s College London, analysed data from more than 2.4 million UK participants.

Their analysis found smokers with a positive Covid-19 test were more than twice as likely as non-smokers with coronavirus to be hospitalised.

This aligns with research from the US which found hospitalised smokers with coronavirus were 1.8 times more likely to die.

And:

Public Health England’s guidance states: “There is strong evidence that smoking tobacco is generally associated with an increased risk of developing respiratory viral infections.

“Smoking causes damage to the lungs and airways and harms the immune system, reducing your ability to fight infection.”

That’s certainly true for me, as I had near-constant respiratory infections every winter from secondhand  smoke beginning when I was a kid and lasting well into my late 20s.

The debate over masking vs. the debate over smoking bans

I live in a state in which masks are mandated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The other day I went to the grocery store, and I estimated that at least 20 people in the store were not wearing masks. I noticed two distinct groups refusing to wear masks — people under 35 and women of all ages.

Interestingly enough, I’d say every single guy in the store over the age of 40 was wearing a mask. Not sure I saw one older guy without one. I saw a few older women not wearing masks.

Anyway, it’s been interesting to see and read the rhetoric against wearing masks and how much the rhetoric  sounds EXACTLY like something I’ve heard before.

Others have pointed out that the debate over wearing masks is a lot like the debates a couple of decades ago over seatbelt laws.

There’s even an article about it, from Business Insider:

Massachusetts radio personality Jerry Williams transformed his talk show into a crusade against seat belts, gathering 45,000 signatures in three months. He managed to get a referendum on the ballot to repeal the state’s new belt law.

“We don’t feel we should be forced to buckle up and have a police officer sent in by the state to make sure we’re buckled up,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in 1986.

“There was a libertarian streak among resistors,” Nader told Business Insider. “They took the stance that ‘you’re not going to tie the American people up in seat belts.'”

A similar ideology seems to be fueling pushback against face covering during the pandemic.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio was forced to rescind his face-mask order, he told ABC News, when he realized Ohioans “were not going to accept the government telling them what to do.”

In California, an anti-lockdown protester held a sign comparing wearing masks to slavery, Newsweek reported.

Nader says he believes most modern-day mask slackers are fueled by obstinance, not a political agenda.

Nader at the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut, in 2015. Bradley E. Clift for The Washington Post via Getty Images

“It’s just an ornery personality trait by some people,” he said. “They’re not community people.”

There you go. They’re not community people. They don’t see themselves as a part of society, they see themselves as rugged individualists, fighting against the “state” or whatever.

I will fully admit that I was resistant to wearing a seatbelt until probably about the mid-90s. I even walked away from two rollover wrecks without wearing a seatbelt in either one of them. I finally caved after I got a couple of seatbelt tickets, and frankly it was no big deal and it was stupid of me to resist the idea.

The big argument against seatbelt laws is personal liberty. The big argument against it is that they save lives. As far as being part of a community, seatbelt laws are shown to reduce fatalities and major injuries, which is turn reduces insurance rates. So, we all save when everyone is wearing a seatbelt.

For several years from about 2005-2010, I can’t tell you how many arguments I had with idiots and Libertarians (sorry, really kind of the same thing) over “personal liberty”  and smoking bans. While some people have pointed out the similarity of the masking debate with seatbelts, I personally am immediately reminded of the same idiotic arguments against restaurant and bar smoking bans 10 to 15 years ago.

I banged my head, and banged my head and banged my head against the brick walls those people threw up over smoking bans I don’t know how many times.

 

Here’s where the “personal liberty” argument failed with smoking. A person’s personal liberty ends where it affects another person. It’s not only obnoxious and rude to inflict your secondhand smoke on others, it’s also been shown that it affects people’s health, especially people who are forced to work in a smoky environment. Your personal liberty ends as soon as that smoke comes out of your mouth.

Same thing with masking. Masking provides some protection for the mask-wearer, but they provide even more protection to others from the person wearing the mask. Simply put, they really do stop the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike smoking bans, I don’t totally get the resistance to wearing a mask. I really don’t. It just feels like something out of “Idiocracy.” It’s people taking the concept of “personal liberty” the extreme that they abandon all common sense. It reminds me of a Bors cartoon in which a woman makes fun of Donald Trump for putting ketchup on his burnt steak, so some Trump supporter has to burn a steak to the point where he has to cut it with a chainsaw and then put ketchup on it to “own the libs!” Not wearing a mask is somehow “showing the libs?” Showing them what? That you really don’t give a damn about others?

At least with the people fighting smoking bans, I could see some of their logic — that something was being taken away from them that they had always had: The ability to smoke while sitting at the bar. Nothing is being taken away from anyone by asking people to wear a damn mask when you go to the store.

Wear a damn mask. I tell people: “You want the economy to reopen, you want to be able to go to the bar or the restaurant? Then wear a mask, or else they’re going to forced to close everything down again.”

 

 

Mixed signals on smoking and COVID-19

I haven’t done an update for a while. I’ve been pretty busy, then like most people, my life has been upended by the effects of the COVID-19 virus and blogging took a backseat.

Then, in late April, our blog was hacked. By someone in China using our blog to sell guitars. Man, this blog has been through the ringer. I shut the first one down over doxxing, the second one got banned by WordPress, the third one I had to kill because the hosting company was terrible. And now this one got hacked.

So, we got the blog fixed and I decided an update was long overdue,  especially with lung health being front and centre in world news the past few weeks. So here goes. Good to be back!:

Mixed signals on smoking and COVID-19

I was fairly shocked to see a story out of France that according to a study, somehow smoking and or nicotine was shown to protect people against the COVID-19 virus. That just doesn’t make any sense. One of the highest-risk groups out there for COVID-19 are people with COPD.

From the New York Daily Post:

A French study suggests that smokers could be less at risk of catching the coronavirus — and researchers now want to test nicotine patches on patients and health care workers.

Despite their findings, the researchers at a major Paris hospital insisted they are not encouraging folks to take up smoking, which carries severe health risks — including if a smoker does become infected with COVID-19.

Instead, they are probing whether the nicotine in cigarettes specifically plays a part in stopping smokers from catching the illness — and therefore could help protect patients and frontline health workers.

Accounting for age and sex, the researchers found that the number of smokers among their patients was much lower than that in the general French population.

“Our cross-sectional study strongly suggests that those who smoke every day are much less likely to develop a symptomatic or severe infection with Sars-CoV-2 compared with the general population,” the researchers wrote.

That’s hard for me to believe, and sure enough other scientists are expressing their doubts about this study. There’s definitely contradictory evidence.

That study caused a huge rush in France and elsewhere on nicotine products such as gum and patches.

Other studies suggest smokers, even those without COPD or lung cancer, fare worse against COVID-19

From a USA Today article:

In an overview by the National Center for Biotechnology Information of five different studies suggesting that nicotine may aid in severe COVID-19 cases, it was found that “smoking is most likely associated with the negative progression and adverse outcomes of COVID-19.”

On April 21, Bloomberg News reported the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised its stance on COVID-19 and nicotine, saying nicotine could also increase the chances of catching the coronavirus. It was reported earlier in the month that smokers could have worse outcomes from the virus.

Here is a UC San Francisco study suggesting that smoking nearly doubles the rate of COVID-19 progression:

Smoking significantly worsens COVID-19, according to a new analysis by UC San Francisco of the association between smoking and progression of the infectious disease.

In a meta-analysis of studies that included 11,590 COVID patients, researchers found that among people with the virus, the risk of disease progression in those who currently smoke or previously smoked was nearly double that of non-smokers. They also found that when the disease worsens, current or former smokers had more acute or critical conditions or death. Overall, smoking was associated with almost a doubling of the risk of disease progressing.

That is almost completely contradictory from the French study.

Yet another study shows a link between serious complications from COVID-19 and smoking AND vaping.

From NBC News:

The research is new, but evidence suggests smoking may dramatically worsen COVID-19.

Now, almost two months later, researchers are still only beginning to investigate the link between vaping and serious complications from COVID-19. According to Dr. Nora Volkow, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there appears to be an association, and increasing evidence, of the dangers. Volkow strongly advises people who are vaping to stop. Back in March, the American Lung Association’s chief medical officer, Dr. Albert Rizzo, and the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation also issued warnings.

Researchers are still only beginning to investigate the link between vaping and serious complications from COVID-19.

It’s not just a domestic suggestion. The World Health Organization also recently released information from China, where the coronavirus originated, showing that people who have cardiovascular and respiratory conditions caused by smoking or water pipes are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms. In April, NIDA announced that SARS-Cov-2 — the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 —could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke

So, that French study while interesting appears at the moment to probably be some kind of outlier and that at the very least, the jury is definitely out on the link between smoking and COVID-19 complications.

 

 

 

 

 

Washington, Massachusetts ban flavoured vapes

While Trump and the federal government dithers, the staet of Washington has banned flavoured vapes and Massachusetts may not be far behind.

Washington made the decision via executive order in October, but it’s not necessarily permanent. The ban is just for 120 days, but Gov. Jay Inslee has requested a permanent ban via state legislation.

From a CNN.com article:

Matthew Myers, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, applauded Inslee and supported the call for a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in Washington state.

Massachusetts to temporarily ban the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products

“The time is now to end the youth e-cigarette epidemic, and Gov. Inslee’s call for prohibiting flavored e-cigarettes is exactly what we need,” Myers said in a written statement.

“The evidence is clear that flavored e-cigarettes have fueled this epidemic — 97% of youth e-cigarette users report using a flavored product in the past month and 70% cite flavors as the reason for their use. The recent spate of serious lung illnesses associated with e-cigarette use has added to the urgency of acting now to protect our kids and, indeed, the health of all Americans,” he said in the statement. “We look forward to working with Gov. Inslee and state lawmakers to pass this legislation and end the youth e-cigarette epidemic.”

Massachusetts may be next.

The state Senate of Massachusetts approved a ban on all flavoured e-cig products and a 75 percent excise tax on e-cigs. The state house earlier approved a similar bill.

The bill will be sent to a joint committee before being sent to Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican. Baker has not stated if he will approve it, but he did impose a temporary ban on e-cig sales after the rash of illnesses broke out earlier this year.

The state of Michigan and the city of San Francisco have already banned the sale of e-cig flavours. San Francisco’s ban is a ban on all e-cig sales, period.

The AMA calls for total ban on vaping

The American Medical Association this week called for not just a ban on vaping flavourings, but a total ban on vaping … period.

From a CBS News article:

The AMA cited the lack of evidence about the short- and long-term health impact of e-cigarettes and vaping products in making the call for a total ban. The doctors’ group said a separate health issue also prompted its action — the recent U.S. outbreak of lung illnesses linked to vaping. Most of those sickened said they vaped THC, the high-inducing ingredient in marijuana, not nicotine. Officials believe a thickening agent used in black market THC vaping products may be a culprit.

About 2,100 people have gotten sick; 42 have died.

“It’s simple, we must keep nicotine products out of the hands of young people.” Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA’s president, said in a statement.

The AMA has previously sought bans on e-cigarette flavors and ads. At the same time, some states, municipalities and corporations are seeking to limit the products, with Massachusetts lawmakers set to vote on Wednesday on a bill that would ban flavored tobacco. That measure is aimed at reducing vaping among teens, with researchers finding that 5 million children and teens are now using the products.

Yeah, I’m thinking the AMA position might be a bit overly strong. I’m all for banning or at least regulating ecig advertising and banning the sugary flavours. But a total ban would leave millions of vapors, many of whom legitimately use vaping to get off cigarettes, with no other option but to run back to cigarettes for their nicotine fix.

No ban on vaping flavours — quelle shock!

I totally did not see this coming: Trump backs off proposed ban on e-cig flavouring

I kid — I totally DID see it coming.

All along Trump has been acting like he’s somehow going to crack down on tobacco and the vaping industry and all along, he has been backing off. His original surgeon general, Scott Gottlieb, was actually surprisingly harsh toward both the tobacco and the vaping industry — and of course, he mysteriously resigned from his position to … “spend more time with my family.” (Seriously, that the was the reason he gave.).

So, I’ve been somewhat skeptical all along about all the noise the Trump Administration has been making about cracking down on vaping flavourings in light of the epidemic of teen vaping use and the 2,000 or so people sickened by vaping fluids.

SURE ENOUGH .. my instincts proved to be right. Trump never intended to go through with it.

As soon as the administration got pressure from lobbyists (ie, the tobacco industry, which controls about 90 percent of the vaping industry), they totally caved. There will be NO ban on vaping flavourings.

Honestly, I think the proposal was a bit of an overreaction to the 35 or so deaths from vaping. Not because those deaths aren’t a big deal. They are. But, because they were pretty much exclusively caused by vaping bootleg THC off the street.

What ISN’T an overreaction is the explosive growth in teen vaping — and absolutely I believe having bubble gum, Rice Krispie Treat and Mountain Dew flavourings for nicotine vaping is a factor.

According to CNN, the administration backed down because of fears it “would upset the base.”

From CNN:

A Trump campaign adviser told CNN’s Jim Acosta that Trump’s political aides, including campaign manager Brad Parscale, have warned him that such a ban may not be helpful with his base and that he should reconsider.

Trump was persuaded by advisers to back off the proposal during a November 4 flight to a political rally in Kentucky, the Times said. Following the conversation with advisers, the newspaper reported that Trump canceled the administration’s planned announcement that was scheduled for the next day.

The planned news conference, which would have included Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, was canceled and another meeting was proposed, according to the report.

Personally, I don’t buy that it was “all about the base.” There might be something to that, but honestly, I just don’t see this as a frontline issue with most people, not with impeachment hearings going on and children being thrown in cages at the border. I have a feeling this is really about lobbying.

This American Prospect investigative piece shows how much the tobacco industry has been fighting a ban on vaping flavours all the way back to the Obama Administration.

From the American Prospect:

Juul, already under federal civil and criminal investigation over marketing to children, saw its CEO step down. But the replacement, K.C. Crosthwaite, was formerly a top Altria executive. A second, former Altria regulatory affairs chief Joe Murillo, is also headed to Juul. The alleged antidote to Big Tobacco has transformed into an adjunct of Big Tobacco overnight. And Juul had already been running the Big Tobacco playbook, hiring a bipartisan all-star team of lobbyists, from former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley to former Trump administration adviser Johnny DeStefano.

This week, the Trump Administration is holding a meeting with industry representatives and public health officials. Guess which side gets listened to?