Category Archives: Uncategorized

FDA considers cutting nicotine in cigarettes; tobacco stocks nosedive

What an amazing coincidence.

I’m not sure what to make of this story and I’m still digesting it. The biggest issue I have is I trust nothing to come out of the Trump administration.

The FDA today stated it’s planning regulations to cut the level of nicotine in cigarettes to “non-addictive levels.”

The best news about this? Tobacco stocks absolutely tanked after the FDA announcement. That tells me the industry and stockholders are nervous about the idea of cigarettes with non-addictive levels of nicotine.

It sounds great on the surface, but again, this is a Trump appointee making this announcement and this is an administration that is downright hostile to the scientific community.  So, colour me initially skeptical. Sure enough, the new FDA director, Scott Gottlieb, actually was involved in the vaping industry. So, are these new rules designed to push smokers from tobacco to vaping? (Not the worst thing in the world, but again … yet again, sure enough, the new FDA chief appears to possibly have a hidden agenda. I trust no one in this administration.).

A Gottlieb quote:

“[An] overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes—the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said in a statement. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use.” The center of this effort, he says, must be a shared vision for “a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources.”

Anyway, the FDA is suggesting somehow phasing this in over several years.

One of the arguments I’ve heard against lowering the level of nicotine — and I have no idea if there’s scientific validity to this argument — is that if you cut the level of nicotine in a cigarette, that will end up forcing people to smoke more cigarettes to get the same level of nicotine.

Is that how it would work in real life? I don’t know. Could be hogwash. But, I do see some common sense in that argument.

What was kind of fun is Altria’s stocks dropped 17 percent after the announcement was made, while British American Tobacco’s stock dropped 13 percent. Investors were immediately panicked about the whole thing.

Interestingly, if the rules are designed to push smokers toward vaping, guess who controls 75 percent of the vaping market? Yup — Altria, BAT and R.J. Reynolds.

What an amazing coincidence. The same people selling the disease are also primarily selling the cure.

Anyway, the FDA was looking at imposing new regulations on the vaping industry that many in the industry claimed would push out the smaller companies and just allow Big Tobacco to have an even bigger stranglehold on the market. Those regulations are now being put off until 2022. Again, kind of an amazing coincidence.

By the way, in reading comments to this news, I see there’s still a lot of misinformation about nicotine. Nicotine is not a benign substance, it increases a person’s blood pressure and can be fatal in large doses. But, it also isn’t the substance that causes lung cancer. That’s the 4,000 other chemicals such as benzene, arsenic, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, Polonium-210 and others.

But, nicotine is the substance that physically addicts the smoker so they can’t quit. So, it definitely has a role to play in making cigarettes so deadly.

Anyway, still chewing it all over. It certainly took me completely by surprise.

 

 

Haruko’s 2017 Hall of Fame update

I’m going to focus on who I think helped their Hall of Fame case in 2016 and who I think didn’t and who I think stayed in about the same position.

I’m going to ignore a few people who are kind of Hall of Fame no-brainers — Albert Pujols and Mike Trout mainly. I’m also mostly going to ignore younger players like Jose Altuve and focus on guys who have been around for a while. Many of these guys are currently on the borderline of the Hall, I think. Probably less than half the people I talk about will actually make the Hall of Fame, but I think they have the potential to possibly get there by the time their careers are over. I’m also ignoring guys that have PED suspensions like Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colon and Alex Rodriguez because that’s still kind of a non-starter for the Hall of Fame.

Keep in mind that when I talk about some of these players that I’m not sure that many people really considered Adrian Beltre a serious Hall of Famer just five years ago. He’s stayed healthy and had five outstanding seasons in his mid- and late-30s and is now an almost certain Hall of Famer. Some guys in their mid- to late-30s find new life and can really bolster their chances. Some guys fade pretty quickly when they hit 35. You never know.

And, as usual, I’m sure I will miss some people.

First, I will start with position players.

Position players who helped their Hall of Fame cases.

Carlos Beltran

Career numbers

.281, 2,617 hits, 421 HRs, 1,536 RBIs

2016

.295, 29 HRs, 93 RBIs

Beltran had his best season in several years in 2016. To be honest, I have a hard time thinking of Beltran as a Hall of Famer. He got fourth place in the MVP vote one year, but that’s the one and only time he finished in the top 8 of the MVP vote. But, at the same time, his cumulative numbers are getting pretty impressive, a bit surprising considering how many games he’s missed to injury. He turns 40 this year. If he plays a couple more years, and there’s no reason to think he won’t, averages over 100 games a year and ends up with 2,800 hits, 450-plus home runs and over 1,700 RBIs, that’s getting really hard to ignore for the Hall of Fame. If he never played another game, I think he would fall a bit short. One thing that will really hurt him for the Hall of Fame is what I call the “Fred McGriff Syndrome.” Beltran has bounced around his entire career; he’s played for a total of seven teams and he’s never stayed anywhere more than seven years. When you don’t really identify a guy with one or two teams, I think that hurts at Hall of Fame balloting time. If McGriff had played his entire career with the Yankees or Red Sox, he’d be in the Hall of Fame with the numbers he put up. I really believe that.

Chances for Hall of Fame.

Probably about 50/50.

Adrian Beltre

Career numbers

.287, 2,942 hits, 445 home runs, 1,591 RBIs.

2016

.300, 32 HRs, 104 RBIs, Gold Glove

Beltre helped cement his Hall of Fame resume with an awesome year at the age of 37, in which he won his fifth Gold Glove. I can’t believe there’s still people who insist he isn’t a Hall of Famer — and there are, trust me. He should get to 3,000 hits in June and when he does, he will be  one of just nine guys in history with 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. If he can get to 500 home runs, he will be one of only six guys with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. All that and he’s been an outstanding defensive third basemen for 15 years.

Hall of Fame chances

Automatic, likely first ballot.

Robinson Cano

Career numbers

.307, 2,210 hits, 278 HRs, 1,086 RBIs.

2016

.298, 39 HRs, 103 RBIs

Cano had his best power year ever in 2016 at the age of 33. He will be only 34 this year and is just 790 hits short of 3,000. At the pace he’s going, he should get to 3,000 hits when he’s 38 or 39 years old. And he never misses games. One of his most incredible stats is that Cano has missed a total of 24 games since 2007. Cano has never had fewer than 155 hits in a season. It appears he will easily get to 350 HRs and could make it to 400, a lot for a second baseman. All that and two Gold Gloves.

Hall of Fame chances

Better than 50/50.

Miguel Cabrera

Career numbers

.321, 2,519 hits, 446 HRs, 1,553 RBIs

2016

.316, 38 HRs, 108 RBIs

Cabrera was probably a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, but he had experienced a pretty major dropoff in power in 2014 and 2015. If there was any doubt about his Hall of Fame chances, he erased that last season, putting up huge numbers. Cabrera will be just 34 this year and is only 481 hits short of 3,000. He could get to 3,000 hits before the age of 37. He will easily surpass 500 HRs (sometime in 2018, likely) and could get to 600 (and could crack 2,000 RBIs). Add to that two MVPs and four batting titles.

Hall of Fame chances

First ballot slam dunk.

Joey Votto

Career numbers

.313, .425 OBP (12th all-time), .961 OPS (18th all-time), 221 HRs, MVP

2016

.326, 29 HRs, 97 RBIs, 101 runs, 108 walks

Joey Votto has his second straight outstanding season in 2016.  He is quietly putting up amazing numbers that I believe deserve to get serious Hall of Fame consideration. However, because he walks a lot and has lost nearly 200 games in his career to injuries, he hasn’t compiled numbers and this will likely hurt him at Hall of Fame time. Did you know Votto has the 12th-highest on-base percentage of all-time? He also has the 18th highest OPS … ever. That’s why I think he deserves some attention for the Hall of Fame. Votto has an MVP and has finished in the top seven of the MVP vote five times. Still, he only has 1,407 hits and 730 RBIs at the age of 33, which is a negative on his resume. If he can continue putting up the kind of seasons he has most of his career for perhaps another five years and make it to at least 2,000 hits (not easy when you walk over 100 times a year) and 350 HRs, I think he’s got a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame chances

Hard to predict, deserves to be 50/50, I think

David Ortiz

Career numbers

.286, 541 HRs, 1,768 RBIs, .931 OPS, WS MVP, ALCS MVP, .455 in World Series

2016

.315, 38 HRs, 127 RBIs, 1.021 OPS (are you kidding me?)

There’s no doubt Ortiz is a polarising figure because of the suspicions that he juiced. Without getting into the juicing accusations (based primarily on a New York Times article about a positive test for an unknown substance before baseball had sanctions for positive tests), I’m just going to look at his raw numbers. Based on numbers and nothing else, Ortiz should be the first pure DH to go into the Hall of Fame. He had a monster year at the age of 40, leading the AL in OPS at the age of 40, which is unheard of. He ended up 17th all-time in home runs and 22nd all-time in RBIs. Add to that a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP and a .455 batting average in 14 World Series games. It will be hard to predict how Ortiz will do when his time comes up for a Hall vote because of the PED suspicions, but his cumulative numbers are so impressive that I think it quells the “DHs don’t belong in the Hall” nonsense. Bagwell and Piazza going into the Hall of Fame helps Ortiz’s chances because of the PED suspicions surrounding them.

Hall of Fame chances

It’s complicated

Ichiro

Career numbers

3,030 hits, .313 average, 10 Gold Gloves, 508 steals

2016

.291, cracked 3,000 hits

I don’t think there was a lot of doubt before last year that Ichiro was going to make the Hall of Fame, but since he cracked 3,000 hits (and 500 steals) in 2016, I think that removed any and all remaining doubt. He will go in first ballot.

Actually, I really felt like it was very much in doubt he was going to make it to 3,000 hits after hitting just .229 in 2015. He ended up with his highest batting average since 2010. Ichiro passed eight Hall of Famers in hits last season and now stands at 3,030 hits. He could end up 20th all-time in hits if he gets 85 more in 2017. And he started as a 27-year-old rookie. His stretch between 2001 and 2010 was simply incredible — he averaged 224 hits a year over a 10-year period and holds the record for most hits in a season at 262.

Hall of Fame chances

First ballot.

Dustin Pedroia

Career stats

.301, 1,683 hits, 133 HRs, four Gold Gloves, MVP, 56 career errors

2016

.318, 15 HRs, 74 RBIs, 105 runs, 201 hits

 

Ft. Myers, FL, February 17, 2013:
(Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox)

Pedroia had a really nice bounceback season in 2016. It was his first genuinely injury-free season since 2012. Pedroia is still just 33 and easily could play another five full years. He’s hit over .300 five times and over .290 eight times. I think he needs to get to at least 2,400 hits and perhaps 200 HRs (and keep his career average above .285) to get a shot at the Hall of Fame. If he can average 140 hits a year and 12 home runs a year for five years, that gets him close to 2,400 hits and 200 home runs. He’s a really underrated defensive second baseman, having made just 56 errors in nearly 1,400 games at second base. That’s unreal. He still has work to do for the Hall of Fame, but with a couple more years like last year hitting well over .300, he has a shot.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Less than 50/50.

Edwin Encarnacion

Career numbers

.266, 310 HRs, 942 RBIs

2016

.262, 42 HRs, 127 RBIs

Don’t laugh. I think he has a real shot at the Hall of Fame after another big year in 2016.  The biggest reason I include Encarnacion is his 310 HRs at the age of 33. He’s gotten more powerful as he’s gotten older and I expect he will DH soon, extending his career. He could easily get to 450 home runs and he has a legitimate shot at 500 … if he averages about 30 home runs a year until he turns 39 .. and power ages well. He has hit 193 home runs over the past five years (38.6 home runs a year) and has 550 RBIs over that same span (110 a year). I think Encarnacion probably has to get to 500 home runs to get in the Hall of Fame, or he’ll end up like Carlos Delgado or Fred McGriff, on the outside looking in.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50.

Ian Kinsler

Career stats

.277, 212 HRs, 211 stolen bases, 1,696 hits

2016

.288, 28 HRs, 83 RBIs, Gold Glove

I never thought of Kinsler as a potential Hall of Famer until someone pointed out to me just how good his career numbers are. He has an outside chance at the Hall. He had his best power year since 2011 last year and he has started hitting for average again the past two seasons after a few seasons hitting in the .250s. He also is a rare breed — a second baseman with more than 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases. Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg might be the only others who have ever done that. He also won his first Gold Glove last year. One thing that will hurt him, and I think it will hurt him a lot, is his fairly low career batting average — .277. Kinsler will turn 35 this year. If he can get to 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 250 steals, he might have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50.

Evan Longoria

Career stats

.271, 241 HRs, 806 RBIs

2016

.273, 36 HRs, 98 RBIs

Longoria had his best power year ever in 2016. I included Longoria because he is still just 31 years old and already has 241 home runs. He’s hit over 30 HRs four times and it’s conceivable if he averages 30 home runs a year over the next five years that he could have 390 home runs at the age of 35, well within range of 500. Longoria is hurt by a fairly low career batting average, some injury-plagued years and being stuck in Tampa Bay, where he doesn’t get much attention.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50

Position players whose Hall of Fame stock remained about the same

Yadier Molina

Career stats

.285 average, eight Gold Gloves, 1,593 hits

2016

.307, 8 HRs, 58 RBIs, 38 doubles

A weird year for Molina. He hit over .300 for the fifth time (his first .300-plus year since 2013), which really helps his case, but for the first time since 2007, he didn’t win the Gold Glove (and he actually didn’t throw basestealers out very well last year). He had won eight Gold Gloves in a row. Molina probably needs to get to 2,000 hits to have a real crack at the Hall of Fame, and at the age of 34, he can probably do that in about another four years.  There aren’t many guys who have gotten 2,000 hits from the catcher position. Just three. Not even Gary Carter, Mike Piazza or Johnny Bench did it. Molina has 1,576 hits as a catcher, only 424 hits short, so if he does it, that will be a huge plus for him. Still, offensively, he’s a bit of a mixed bag — .285 for a catcher is pretty good, but his power numbers for the catcher position are pedestrian, just 108 home runs and 703 RBIs in his career. That could hurt him at Hall of Fame time. But, with eight and possibly more Gold Gloves on his resume and considered the best defensive catcher in the National League for a decade, he has a real shot.

Hall of Fame chances

About 50/50.

Position players whose Hall of Fame stock declined

Chase Utley

Career Statistics

.278. 250 HRs, 977 RBIs, 1,777 hits

2016

.252, 14 HRs, 52 RBIs, 115 strikeouts

Utley gets some Hall of Fame buzz; there are definitely people out there who believe he ought to be a Hall of Famer, mostly because of his stellar career WAR of 64.4. Utley to me is a classic example of why I don’t like the WAR stat. There are times it simply makes no sense. Why his career WAR is so high, I have no idea because honestly, he hasn’t been that great for a while now.Utley didn’t have a particularly good year in 2016  and he hasn’t had a particularly good year since … 2009. Over the past seven seasons, Utley’s average stats per year are .260 with 13 HRs and 56 RBIs a year. Those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers. Not even close. He has five absolutely outstanding years between 2005 and 2009, but he’s had a ton of injuries and six very sub-Hall of Fame years since (with one decent year in 2013). He likely won’t make it to 2,000 hits and unless he has a serious career renaissance beginning at the age of 38 this year, I don’t see him making the Hall. If Jeff Kent isn’t in with the numbers he put up at second base, then Utley won’t get in. I don’t care what his WAR is, I look at 14 seasons, and eight of them are not remotely close to Hall of Fame-worthy. He’s more the Hall of What Coulda Been.

Hall of Fame chances

I say slight, pfffft to WAR

Mark Teixeira

Career Stas

.268, 409 HRs, 1,298 RBIs

2016

.204, 15 HRs, 44 RBIs

I honestly think Teixeira could’ve made the Hall of Fame, because he had a pretty valid shot at 500 home runs and actually was having a really good year in 2015 until he broke his leg. But, after another awful year in 2016, Teixeira called it quits at the age of 36. I figured if he could stay healthy and play until he was 40 and get to 500 HRs, he might have a shot at the hall. I think his numbers fall far short for the Hall of Fame.

Chances for the Hall of Fame

Virtually zero

Jimmy Rollins

Career stats

.264, 2,455 hits, 231 HRs, 131 triples, 470 stolen bases, 511 doubles, 1,421 runs, MVP, four Gold Gloves

2016

.221, 2 HRs 8 RBIs

I only include Rollins because at one time, it looked like he was a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame. He had 2,175 hits at the age of 34, well within range of 3,000, and a LOT of runs, steals and home runs. But, over the past three seasons, he’s batted .233 and last year appeared in just 41 games. It appears his career is all but over at the age of 37. He’s compiled a lot of numbers — hits, home runs, stolen bases, triples, runs. But, Rollins has never hit for particularly good average, he’s never had even one .300 season and he hasn’t hit over .268 since 2008 (In fact, since 2008, his cumulative batting average is just .247). He’s a guy who’s played a ton of games and had a ton of at-bats so he compiled a lot of numbers, but overall, those numbers aren’t going to be good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Chances for the Hall of Fame

Virtually zero

Joe Mauer

Career stats

.308, MVP, 3-time batting champ, three Gold Gloves, 1,826 hits

2016

.261, 11 HRs, 49 RBIs

Mauer has had a weird career. I only include Mauer because he had a truly extraordinary Hall of Fame-calibre stretch between 2006-2013. In those eight years, he had three batting titles, hit over .300 six times and hit a cumulative .327. Since 2013, he’s hit .267, with little power.

Mauer after 2013 looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer, with an MVP and four top-8 MVP finishes. But, in the past three seasons, his numbers have nosedived, maybe too many injuries, I don’t know what is behind it. In 2016, he had his third straight season of hitting below .280. He’s still a .308 career hitter (down from a career batting average of .323 before 2014), but it appears his career is winding down at the age of 34.

Unless Mauer has a big resurgence for at least three or four years, and that’s looking unlikely, I think he comes up short for the Hall of Fame. His career numbers are looking really similar to Don Mattingly’s and Steve Garvey’s — two guys who were great the first half of their careers but pedestrian their second halves — only without power numbers to help his cause.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Slight

Pitchers who helped their case for the Hall of Fame

Max Scherzer

Career stats

125-69, 3.39 ERA, 2 Cy Youngs, 1,881 strikeouts, two 20-win seasons

2016

20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284 strikeouts, Cy Young award, 0.968 WHIP (First in NL)

Scherzer really helped his Hall of Fame resume this year. He won his second Cy Young and is only one of six pitchers now to win a Cy Young in both the American League and the National League. Only one non-steroids tainted pitcher has won two Cy Youngs and is not in the Hall of Fame — Brett Saberhagen, whose career was cut short by injuries. Scherzer had a spectacular season, leading the National League in wins (he had his second 20-win season), strikeouts, WHIP and innings pitched. He is averaging 256 strikeouts a season over the past five years and seems likely to pass 3,000 strikeouts. He has also averaged 17.3 wins a year over the past six years. He is still only 32 and barring arm injuries could get to 200 wins (prolly a Hall of Fame minimum) by the age of 37 or 38. He does have a potentially chronic hand/finger injury, which is worrisome.

Hall of Fame chances

About 50/50.

Justin Verlander

Career stats

173-106, 3.47 ERA, four strikeout titles, MVP,  Cy Young, two Cy Young second-place finishes,, 2,173 strikeouts

2016

16-9, 3.04 ERA, 254 strikeouts (first in AL), 2nd in Cy Young voting

Verlander’s numbers and career appeared to be in decline, but last year, he had a great bounceback season, which got him second place in the Cy Young vote (and many people will argue Verlander got robbed because a couple of writers didn’t even bother to even include him on their ballots). Verlander is 173-106 in his career and is still just 34 years old; 200 wins seems a certainty. He also now has five top-5 finishes in the Cy Young vote with one Cy Young award and is one of the few pitchers to ever win an MVP. He’s also at 2,173 strikeouts, with a shot at 3,000, and he’s led the AL four times in strikeouts. I think he needs to get to 200 wins and have perhaps another two or three pretty good seasons to make the Hall of Fame.

Chances for Hall of Fame

About 50/50.

CC Sabathia

Career stats

223-146, Cy Young, 2,726 strikeouts, 3.70 career ERA

2016

9-12, 3.91 ERA

Sabathia actually had a decent season; enough to show that he isn’t done yet as a pitcher after a lot of injuries and personal problems. I honestly thought last year could’ve been his final season. Sabathia had a losing record in 2016, but a respectable ERA, so he may have a few years left at the age of 36. Sabathia has 223 wins with 2,726 strikeouts. So, 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts are not out of the question. Even 270-280 wins is still possible. Some people scoff at the idea of Sabathia being a Hall of Famer, but they forget how good he was from 2001-2012. In those 12 seasons, he went 191-102, won a Cy Young and had five top-5 Cy Young finishes. His career ERA of 3.70 is a bit high. If Sabathia retired today, I doubt he makes the Hall.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Probably less than 50/50.

Clayton Kershaw

Career stats

126-60, three Cy Youngs, 2.37 career ERA , MVP, Fifth in Cy Young vote

2016

12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 strikeouts in 149 innings

Kershaw had his first major injury in 2016, he was likely on his way to his fourth Cy Young before he got hurt. Still, he had decent numbers and came in fifth in the Cy Young vote despite only pitching 21 games. So, 2016 didn’t hurt his case. Kershaw is likely a lock for the Hall of Fame already with three Cy Youngs, six top-5 Cy Young finishes, an MVP and the lowest career ERA since Walter Johnson. Kershaw’s career ERA of 2.37 is almost half a run better than the next modern-era Hall of Fame starter — Whitey Ford at 2.75. And he already has over 1,900 strikeouts … he is still only 29 years old.. He could really compile some impressive numbers if he can pitch another 10 years — 250+ wins and 3,000 strikeouts is a real possibility. On the bad side, Kershaw’s injury was a bad one — in his back. Hopefully, it won’t become a chronic issue. However, even if Kershaw retired after this year, I think he’d make the Hall of Fame with what he has already done.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Near certainty.

Madison Bumgarner

100-67, 2.99 career ERA, NLCS MVP, WS MVP

2016

15-9, 2.74 ERA, 251 strikeouts, Fourth in Cy Young vote

Bumgarner had another typical Bumgarner season in 2016, not what I would call spectacular, but pretty darn good.  It was Bumgarner’s third year in the top-6 of the Cy Young voting. Bumgarner also got to 100 wins last year and believe it or not, he is still only 27. He easily could have 140 wins before he turns 30. He is also 8-3 in the postseason with an NLCS MVP and a World Series MVP, which helps his case. He needs to do more, obviously, but is on a good Hall of Fame track with a  lot of wins for a guy who is still pretty young. It would help his case if he could win a Cy Young before he’s done.

Hall of Fame chances: About 50/50

Jon Lester

146-84, 3.44 ERA, three world championships, 4-1 in the World Series, three top-4 Cy Young votes

2016 season

19-5, 2.44 ERA, second in Cy Young vote

Lester had one of his best years ever in 2016. He’s won 15 or more games seven times and has three top-4 finishes in the Cy Young vote. He’s 33 years old and could get to 200 wins by the time he’s 36. I still consider him a longshot for the Hall of Fame, but I think after last year, he has a chance. He needs to have at least three or four more really good years to have a shot.

Hall of Fame chances: Less than 50/50

Pitchers who didn’t help their case

Zack Greinke

155-100, 3.42 ERA, Cy Young, second-place Cy Young finish

2016

13-7, 4.37 ERA

Greinke had a down year in 2016. His record of 13-7 was OK, but his 26 starts and high ERA weren’t. After an amazing year in 2015 (19-3, 1.66 ERA, second in the Cy Young), I felt he was a serious Hall of Fame candidate. He still is, but he can’t continue having seasons with an ERA way over 4.00. Greinke is still just 33 years old and could have 200 wins by the age of 35. He also won a Cy Young in Kansas City. Much like Lester, he needs to have at least three or four more really good seasons to have a shot.

Hall of Fame chances: Less than 50/50

Felix Hernandez

154-109, Cy Young, four top-4 Cy Young finishes, 2,264 strikeouts, 3.16 ERA

2016

11-8,  3.82 ERA

Felix had a bit of a lost year, with a major calf injury costing him a couple of months. At one point, he was 11-5 and still could’ve ended up with a decent season, but he lost his last three games and his ERA ballooned in Septmeber. He is still just 31 years old and seems a cinch to get to 200 wins (he could get there at the age of 33). In fact, he’s got a legitimate shot at 250 wins. The good news is his injury was in his calf, not his arm, so there is likely little danger of it becoming chronic. He needs to bounce back and regain his form from 2009-2015. Seattle now has some offence, too, so that should help his win total, which was killed earlier in his career by pitching for bad offensive teams. He also seems a cinch to get to 3,000 strikeouts and could get to 3,500, something only nine pitchers have done.

Chance for Hall of Fame: About 50/50

 

The Lounge is back after a hiatus

Back after a hiatus

I’m back after a few months-long hiatus, mostly caused by moving to a new state and starting a new job, and frankly, being pretty down about politics in the U.S. since Nov. 9. I avoid partisan politics here, but I felt like for a while tobacco issues didn’t seem all that important compared to the train wreck we’re all headed for with the orange shitgibbon in the White House.

Anyway, I realized these issues still matter and they haven’t gone anywhere and I found myself wanting to start up writing about it again. I did a cursory search and found at least eight or nine tobacco-related stories from the past three months that interested me.

So, thanks for hanging in there. Real life gets in the way of blogging sometimes. I hadn’t abandoned the lounge, but it did feel like a bit of a vacation from it.

Anyway, there will be a bit of a deluge of posts here, so try to keep up. I’ve got some lost time to make up for.

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

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

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

u-s-smoking-rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

From an NBC News article:

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

From a story:

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

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

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

 

Update on the Lounge

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I am going through a major life change right now, so haven’t been updating much and won’t be updating much for probably a couple of more weeks.

On another note, this week was the second anniversary of the Lounge with our current Web host, so thanks for them for good, consistent service. Our previous Web host was a nightmare, and don’t get me going on WordPress.

Anyway, thanks for hanging in there on the Realm! A couple of updates tonight, then will be off for probably two weeks.

 

 

 

 

NPR report: French teens continue smoking despite government crackdown

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Heard a radio report on NPR last week  about how efforts to curb teen smoking in France are flagging, because smoking is still considered hip and suave among French youths.

According to NPR, smoking remains wildly popular among teenagers in France. This despite a very aggressive anti-smoking campaign in France over the past several years. (Check the photo I included of a French anti-smoking ad. That image of a girl giving a blow job to a tobacco executive? That’s a real French anti-smoking ad. There’s another one with a teen boy.).

Anyway, according to NPR, in spite of all the anti-smoking efforts, smoking remains deeply entrenched in French culture  About 40 percent of French teens smoke, according to NPR. That compares to less than 10 percent of American teens that now smoke (Smoking among teens in America has declined partly because of an aggressive Truth anti-smoking campaign and higher cigarette taxes,  and to a very large extent because of the meteoric rise of popularity of e-cigarettes among kids.).

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Real, honest-to-goodness French anti-smoking ad

France is implementing a number of measures to cut that smoking rate, including bans on menthol cigarettes and prohibiting sweet e-cigarette flavours. France will also soon mandate disgusting images of tobacco-related diseases on cigarette packs and  there have also been some very edgy anti-smoking ads there over the years and the government will crack down on tobacconists who don’t card underage customers. Apparently, in France, tobacco shop (cigarettes are primarly sold in tobacco shops in France) owners have not been carding kids buying cigarettes.

Interestingly, kids interviewed by NPR said the plain packages won’t stop them from smoking, but higher taxes probably would. Higher taxes in America have proven very effective in pricing kids out of the cigarette market. Teens simply can’t afford the $6 to $8 a pack cigarettes cost in most places.

One quote in the NPR piece made me kind of want to smack this kid (metaphorically smack her … I would never actually smack a kid around). From the story:

Smoking is often popular among girls, who see it as a rite of passage and a part of French culture, says Naomi Finel, 16.

“If you’re young and you walk in the streets and you’re in Paris, you will see people at cafes smoking and having a glass of wine,” she says. “And it’s like, ‘Good. They seem happy. They seem to enjoy their life.'”

Oh, honey, you little French nitwit. They won’t be enjoying their smokers’ hack in the morning. They won’t be enjoying their loss of lung capacity. They won’t be enjoying their arthritis, heart disease, COPD or cancer that their smoking will likely give them. Smoking is not about joie de vivre, smoking is death.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 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.

FDA finally issues ruling on e-cigarettes

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At long last, after TWO years of deliberations, the Food and Drug Administration earlier this week FINALLY issued a ruling on e-cigarette (and tobacco) regulation.

Unfortunately, this came at a time when I was really busy, plus I wanted to take a few days to digest the news.

My initial reaction to the news was disappointment that the FDA will do nothing to control e-cigarette marketing, online sales or candy flavourings. The biggest obvious change is the sale of e-cig products to minors will be banned. However, over 40 states already ban e-cig sales to minors, so this ruling is a bit cosmetic.

However, then I started reading comments from the e-cigarette industry absolutely FREAKING OUT over these regs, and I started thinking, “wow, if the e-cigarette industry is so pissed off, the regs can’t be that bad.”

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It turns out the FDA ruling is pretty complex, and I’m personally still sifting through it to see what it means, and I fully expect to be writing more posts about this over the next several weeks and months. I saw several headlines that screamed, “E-cigarettes virtually banned.” Here’s what they’re talking about and what turns out might be the biggest effect of this ruling: The FDA will require that all tobacco products (which under the FDA definition includes e-cigs even though they don’t actually contain tobacco — they do contain nicotine) that hit the market since 2007 must be individually approved by the FDA. E-cigs were basically non-existent before 2007, so this affects nearly all e-cig products.

From a USA Today article:

               That means nearly every e-cigarette on the market — and every different flavor and nicotine level — would require a separate application for federal approval. Each application could cost $1 million or more, says Jeff Stier, an e-cigarette advocate with the National Center for Public Policy Research and industry officials.

One million dolalrs each for every flavour? Holy cow, on the face of it, that would cripple the industry. Sure enough, industry leaders are incensed.

From a CNN story:

Ray Story, the founder and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, called the ruling “a complete disaster.” Since 2009, his association has advocated for a change in the law that would require age verification and restrict sales to minors.

“No children should have access to these products. Just like with alcohol, these are adult products,” he said.

What he takes issue with is the FDA requirement for approval on the products, down to the batteries. He said the rule “essentially bans the product across the land.”

Also, from a USA Today commentary, titled the “FDA went too far”:

 E-cigarette shouldn’t be sold to minors, and government should restrict advertising so they aren’t marketed to kids. But the FDA’s drastic overstep today will require e-cigarettes not already on the market by February 2007 to undergo a costly and onerous Premarket Tobacco Application process that holds e-cigarettes to a standard nearly impossible to prove, and one that well-established actual cigarettes don’t have to face.

               By the way, this commentary was actually written by Jeff Stier, who is from an organization called the National Center for Public Policy Research, which is described by Wikipedia as a “conservative think tank.” These are the same kind of “think tanks” that claimed for decades that there was no proof that smoking caused lung cancer or that secondhand smoke was completely harmless. If that wasn’t convincing enough … the National Center for Public Policy Research actually receives some of its funding from Big Tobacco and Big E-Cig (Which is rapidly becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Tobacco). So take this hyperbole with as many grains of salt as you please. I take it was  LOT of grains of salt.

e-cigarette

Now, it could be these industry folks are being hyperbolic as hell. I remember back in the day everyone thought the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement was going to be the death of Big Tobacco. But, I love that the e-cig industry is freaking out. GOOD. They deserve to freak out.

Here’s why. I walk a fine line with e-cigs. I get it that e-cigs genuinely help some people get off cigarettes. There’s mixed data about the effectiveness of e-cigs as a tool for smoking cessation. But, I’ve seen enough anecdotal information online about people praising them for helping to get them off cigarettes to believe that they have a genuine value.

However, here is the problem with e-cigs. It has been painfully clear to people actually paying attention that e-cigs are blatantly marketing their products to kids … using actors dressed up as race car drivers, using women’s panties, even using Santa Clause … to sell e-cigs. Jesus …even Santa Clause? Big Tobacco did this kind of stuff 60 years ago, heck they were still using race car imagery with Joe Camel as recently as 20 years ago.

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They’re using this hip, young, active, savvy, sexy imagery to addict teenagers to nicotine. For all of the benefits of e-cigs, and it appears there are some real benefits, it’s still a delivery system for nicotine. And nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. And people still don’t know what all is in e-cigarette steam. We know it contains formaldehyde and another chemical called diacetyl, which causes a disease known as “popcorn lung.”

From another very well-written USA Today editorial, this written by the USA Today editorial board of directors, appropriate titled “FDA takes e-cigs out of ‘wild West'”:

               Once before, the nation let an addictive product get by with little regulation. By the time the surgeon general first warned of cigarettes’ deadly dangers in 1964, about four in 10 Americans were already hooked. It has taken more than 50 years and a costly war on smoking to cut that adult rate in half and to bring teen smoking down to about 9%.

No wonder the government and public health advocates are wary of these new “vaping” products, which also contain nicotine, and some of which are made by the same companies that brought the nation Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.

While advocates for e-cigarettes talk about their potential upside in the future — getting smokers to quit —  they seldom acknowledge the facts on the ground right now: E-cig use among teenagers is exploding. Last year, 16% of high school students used e-cigarettes at least once in the past month, making the devices more popular than traditional cigarettes among teens, according to a national survey by the federal government. That’s up from 1.5% in 2011 — an astounding rise.

Promoters argue that teens are switching to a safer product. Great if true. But some earlier data show that many teens who use e-cigarettes have not smoked traditional cigarettes before. Exactly how many fit that description now is a key question that researchers need to sort out.

Industry players also underscore that their products are only for adults. Their advertising says otherwise: The women who vape are sexy and glamorous, the men rugged and rebellious, the very themes that attracted generations of teens to traditional cigarettes. In stores, e-cigarettes are sold above ice cream freezers, next to candy and in flavors that include Cherry Crush and Gummy Bear. About 85% of youths who had used e-cigs in the past 30 days used ones that were flavored.

Game. Set. Match. Thank you, USA Today.

These rules will not go into effect immediately. I was initially deeply disappointed in the lack of regs over e-cig marketing (I believe the FDA was wary of going here because of fears over First Amendment lawsuits, and guess what, if the FDA loses a First Amendment lawsuit over e-cigs, that might affect the federal government’s ability to regulate marketing of cigarettes.). I don’t get as worked up about the candy flavouring because so many adult users have told me they like the sweet flavours, too, but I know a lot of anti-tobacco advocates hate that e-cigs are allowed to have sugary flavours.

But, this subtle little language about requiring all e-cig products to be approved by the FDA might reel in this out-of-control industry, which is selling a drug and is selling an addictive drug … to kids … with a wink and a nod … “Moi? Not us!”

Now, there is apparently legislation in Congress to push up this 2007 date and grandfather current e-cig products so they wouldn’t require individual review by the FDA. Golly wonder whose lobbyists might be behind that? I hope Obama and any other future Democratic president vetoes any such legislation that reaches his or her desk. The e-cig industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, about 40 percent of which is actually owned by Big Tobacco. It can damn well pony up to have its products approved fair and square.

I will be posting more on this, I promise, as the story develops.