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California lawmakers propose ban on flavoured e-cig products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Altria now trying to buy into Juuls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Juuls, menthols and e-cigarettes, oh my — the FDA cracks down finally

Big update today because there’s a LOT to talk about.

Well, the FDA did it, they came down fairly hard on e-cigs. And not just e-cigs, but finally came down on menthol cigarettes and flavoured cigars like Swisher sweets.

I keep scratching my head and asking myself … wait, this is the Trump Administration? The incredibly anti-regulatory and pro-business Trump Administration imposing a whole bunch of new regulations on e-cigs and cigaretttes.

The FDA is making its move as new figures from the Centers for Disease Control show a 78 percent increase in the use of vaping among teenagers since 2011.

E-cig use by teens went up from 1.5 percent of teens in 2011 to 20.8 percent of teens in 2018, according the CDC. The industry has played coy and cutesy about

From an NBC story:

“These data shock my conscience: From 2017 to 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in current e-cigarette use among high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students,” said FDA administrator Scott Gottlieb.

We’re not telling the retail stores you can’t sell them,” Gottlieb said. “If the establishments want to continue to sell these fruity flavored products, they’re going to have to put into place measures that will make sure they are not going to get into the hands of kids,” Gottlieb told NBC News.

OK, this is a big story that kept getting bigger, so let’s start with e-cigs.

Restrictions on sales of e-cigs and e-cig flavours

The new e-cig policy is confusing and I’m still trying to parse it.

Tthe FDA’s proposal would limit the sale of these products in retail stores to closed-off areas that are inaccessible to minors.”

I’m not positive what these means, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen an “adults only” area in a minimart. So, I guess that means no more e-cig sales or fruity flavours on display on the counters of minimarts and convenience stores. This seems slightly watered down from the proposed rules that were leaked last week, which flat out said a ban on sales in minimarts and convenience stores.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children also wonders what “adults only” actually means.

From NBC News:

Anti-smoking advocates praised the moves, while questioning how easy it would be to enforce them. For one thing, vape products are sold in a variety of outlets, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “It’s a loophole big enough for a truck to go through,” Myers told NBC News.

“(Gottlieb) doesn’t define age-restricted, in-person locations. For this to have any effect, that has got to be a very vigorous definition.”

Gottlieb told NBC that measures might include a curtained-off section where vapes are sold. Online sales will need age verification protocols, he said.

The FDA is also imposing new rules on online sales of e-cig products, requiring better age verification measures from companies (Right now, literally all a kid has to do is click on “Are you 21?” Seriously, that’s all they have to do.)

Maybe this ultimately accomplishes the same thing as a flat-out ban, but it remains to be seen. The FDA might have totally wimped out here.

Juul feels the heat

Juuls have quickly grabbed up 70 percent of the e-cigarette market and this company came to realize it was seriouly in the crosshairs because its products are very popular with teens.

Juul announced a number of steps this week to try and restrict sales to minors, I’m sure realizing that if it didn’t take actions, the FDA might do worse.

Juul said it is voluntarily restricting the sales of some fruity flavours only to businesses that invest in technology to verify the age of customers, such as scanning IDs.

Juul also completely shut down all of its social media accounts — Instagram, Facebook and others. Though, now that Juul has 70 percent of the market, some people would argue that this is too little, too late.

From a New York Times article

Caroline Renzulli, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, called Juul’s announcement too little too late. “Juul’s social media marketing fueled its popularity with kids,” she said. “Now that it has captured 75 percent of the e-cigarette market, Juul no longer needs to do social media marketing because its young customers are doing it for them.”

Maura Healey, the attorney general for Massachusetts, echoed that sentiment. “Unfortunately, much of the damage has already been done,” she said. “Our investigation into Juul’s practices, including if it was knowingly selling and marketing its products to young people, will continue.”

Myers agrees:

“Juul is smart enough to try to use FDA actions to falsely create an impression of it as a caring, responsible company,” he said.

Juul now dominates the e-cigarette market with its small, sleek, pod-based product that delivers a far heftier dose of addictive nicotine than other vape devices.

“Having used social media to gain market dominance among young people, Juul can step back now because it no longer needs to pay for social media. Its young, addicted customers are doing it for them. It’s stunning to me,” Myers said.

“It is so completely out of the Big Tobacco playbook it is unbelievable,” he added.

Juul defends itself, using lame corporate-speak.

From an Associated Press article:

Its products are meant to help adult smokers quit regular cigarettes, CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.

“We don’t want anyone who doesn’t smoke, or already use nicotine, to use Juul products,” Burns said. “We certainly don’t want youth using the product. It is bad for public health and it is bad for our mission.”

Menthol cigarettes, flavoured cigars BANNED

No if ands or but(t)s. Unlike some of the slightly milquetoast measures taken toward Juuls and e-cigs, menthol cigarettes will be simply BANNED. Sugary or candy-flavoured cigarettes were banned by the FDA a few years ago, but the agency allowed menthols to continue.

Well, no more, the FDA announced it will ban all sales of menthol cigarettes and sugary cigars like Swisher Sweets.

(As an aside, my parents smoked menthols, mostly Kool brand. Most menthol smokers are black.)

However, don’t expect menthols to disappear any time soon. The tobacco industry has vowed to fight the ban and it could be tied up in the courts for years.

From the NBC story:

Tobacco companies signaled they would fight efforts to ban menthol.

“We continue to believe that a total ban on menthol cigarettes or flavored cigars would be an extreme measure not supported by the science and evidence,” Altria, which makes a range of tobacco products, said in a statement. “We expect that establishing product standards on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will be a multi-year, deliberative process, and we will be fully engaged throughout.”

Several recent studies put e-cigs in a bad light

Close up of inhaling from an electronic cigarette.

Not one, not two, but three recent studies make it seem that e-cigs are not as benign as the c-cig industry (and e-cig professional shill Michael Siegel, who surprisingly has not offered a rebuttal yet … I’m sure he’s still collating) would have you believe.

One study states that e-cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease and cancer. Another study states that e-cigs increase cigarette use among teens. And the third suggests that e-cigs increase the risk of pneumonia.

I’m sure at some point Michael Siegel, professional e-cig shill, will explain in painfully excruciating and mind-numbing detail why every single one of these studies is bullshit.

Anyway … enough about him. Let’s go one by one on these studies.

The first study, from  New York University, suggests that vaping increases the risk of cancer and heart disease by damaging DNA.

From a Washington News Square article:

An NYU School of Medicine’s study, lead by Dr. Moon-Shong Tang, a professor at the Department of Environmental Medicine and Pathology, found evidence to suggest a link between e-cigarette smoking and increased risk of heart disease and cancer. According to the researchers, these risks may also apply to second hand smoke.

The study exposed laboratory mice to electronic cigarette vapor for 12 weeks. The dose and duration of nicotine exposure in the study, however, was equivalent to 10 years of light e-cigarette smoking in humans. The researchers used their tests to conclude that e-cigarettes can cause DNA damage and may reduce repair activity in the lungs, bladder and heart — all of which could increase the risk of cancer and heart diseases in smoker.

“For us, it’s unambiguous,” Tang said. “The only thing I can conclude is that vaping is harmful, not only to yourself but to bystanders as well, […] because it has the same effect as smoking, maybe less but they also breathe nicotine.”

Dr. Hyun-Wook Lee, an associate research scientist of Tang Lab at NYU Environmental Medicine, said the team is exploring the effects of aldehyde, a carcinogen substance present in e-cigarette vaping.

“Surprisingly, these aldehydes can all [be] involved in gene damage from the occasional smoking or e-cigarette smoking,”  Lee said.

The second study suggests that vaping gets teens hooked on nicotine and could lead to more teens smoking to get their nicotine fix.

From a New York Times article:

The (National Academy of Sciences) panel found evidence among studies it reviewed that vaping may prompt teenagers or young adults to try regular cigarettes, putting them at higher risk for addiction, but that any significant linkage between e-cigarettes and long-term smoking has not been established. It said it was unable to determine whether young people were just trying cigarettes or becoming habitual smokers.

“When it got down to answering the questions about what the impacts on health are, there is still a lot to be learned,” said David Eaton, of the University of Washington, who led the committee that reviewed existing research and issued the report. “E-cigarettes cannot be simply categorized as either beneficial or harmful.”

Adam Leventhal, a professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, and an author of the report, said his group did an exhaustive literature search, reviewing all studies on youths and e-cigarette use from around the world. Of those, 10 studies were deemed strong enough to address the question. But they did not show that using e-cigarettes caused teens to move on to tobacco, only that the use of e-cigarettes was associated with later smoking of at least one traditional cigarette. The report noted that more than 11 percent of all high school students — nearly 1.7 million youths — reported using e-cigarettes within the past month.

“The evidence was substantial that this association was consistent across a number of research methodologies, age ranges, locations, and research groups in and outside the U.S.,” Mr. Leventhal said.

This conclusion is at odds with the findings of the British Royal College of Physicians, which asserts that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking.

“Concerns about e-cigarettes helping to recruit a new generation of tobacco smokers through a gateway effect are, at least to date, unfounded,” the organization notes on its website.

More intriguing was the newest report’s finding of moderate evidence that youths who use e-cigarettes before trying tobacco are more likely to become more frequent and intense smokers.

To be fair, the study also states that vaping is safer than cigarettes. My view has always been … it doesn’t matter whether the delivery system is an e-cig or a cigarette, any addiction to nicotine by definition is a bad thing.

The third study, which just came out today from Queen Mary University in London, suggests a link between vaping and pneumonia. This occurs because vaping makes it easier for the bacteria that cause

From a Daily Mirror article:

Professor Aras Kadioglu, of Liverpool University, and his team then tested the effect of e-cigarette vapour in mice.

They found that inhaled exposure to e-cigarette vapour also increased levels of PAFR (a molecule) on airway lining cells and increased the number of pneumococcal bacteria in the respiratory tract after infection, making mice more susceptible to disease.

The team then studied PAFR levels in cells lining the nose of 17 people. Of these, 10 were regular users of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, one used nicotine-free e-cigarettes, and six were not vapers.

First, PAFR levels in the airways of all 17 volunteers were measured. Then, vapers were asked to take at least 10 puffs on their e-cigarettes over five minutes. One hour after vaping, PAFR levels on airway cells increased three-fold.

Prof Jonathan Grigg, of Queen Mary University of London, said: “Together, these results suggest that vaping makes the airways more vulnerable to bacteria sticking to airway lining cells.

“If this occurs when a vaper gets exposed to the pneumococcal bacterium, this could increase the risk of infection.”

He added: “Some people may be vaping because they think it is totally safe, or in an attempt to quit smoking, but this study adds to growing evidence that inhaling vapour has the potential to cause adverse health effects.

“By contrast, other aids to quitting such as patches or gum do not result in airway cells being exposed to high concentrations of potentially toxic compounds.”

I continue to be kind of ambivalent about e-cigs. They seem to genuinely help some people quit cigarettes, and while they don’t appear to be 100 percent benign and harmless, if they less harmful than cigarettes, than that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, it IS a bad thing that so many kids are getting addicted to nicotine via e-cigs and that e-cig companies are being incredibly blatant about marketing to teens.

Natural American Spirit finally drops “additive-free” from advertising

Natural American Spirit finally drops “additive-free” from advertising

Years of litigation have finally worked. Natural American Spirit has FINALLY changed its advertising.

For years, this RJ Reynolds subsidiary had gotten away with advertising its cigarettes as being “natural” and “additive free.” Natural American Spirit had agreed in a settlement early this year with the FDA to stop the deceptive advertising, yet I kept seeing ads in Sports Illustrated for “natural” and “additive free” Natural American Spirit cigarettes, somehow giving consumers the idea that their cigarettes were safer and more healthy … which they absolutely are not.

Apparently, the whole issue had to wind through the legal process because in last week’s Sports Iilustrated, I FINALLY saw that NAS had dropped the “natural” and “additive-free” from its advertising.

The new ad simply says: “Real. Simple. Different.” No “additive-free” BS. Though the ad later goes on to state that the only two ingredients are “tobacco and water.” (Never mind the fact that tobacco contains roughly 3,000 ingredients in of itself.)

It’s a minor victory. RJR really had to be dragged kicking and screaming just to make this small change in its advertising. Advocates wanted the name “Natural American Spirit” changed, but the settlement allows the brand to remain. Again, to reiterate, Natural American Spirit started out as a Native-owned cigarette company but several years ago it was purchased by RJ Reynolds and it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RJ Reynolds. A lot of people still believe this is a Native-owned brand. It isn’t.

Japan companies offer an extra week off for quitting smoking

OK, I know most companies offer a health insurance discount to their employees who don’t smoke or who quit. But, here’s a new one to me — an extra week off for being a nonsmoker.

The logic behind this is nonsmokers don’t take the smoking breaks that smokers do, so they’re entitled to more time off. I like the idea. Whatever it takes to encourage people to quit.

What’s especially novel about this is Japan is a very smoker-friendly culture. The country has a fairly high smoking rate, though it is apparently dropping. Japan is still 21st in the world in the highest rate of cigarettes smoked per capita. That’s way, way ahead of the U.S., Canada and most Western nations.

I’ve noticed this is Japanese anime, that they really love smoking in Japan, and still consider it very cool and hip.

 

 

 

 

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.