Category Archives: cigarettes

How Big Tobacco has made cigarettes more deadly in the past 50 years

tobacco-2 The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids put out an interesting report last week about the various additives tobacco companies are putting into cigarettes today to make them more addictive and hence more deadly. According to this graphic from CTFK, there’s a number of things the tobacco industry has done over the past 50 years to make cigarettes more addictive. I’ve read all about how the tobacco industry has been known for manipulating the level of nicotine in cigarettes.  (Something the tobacco industry continues to deny) Anyway, here is an interesting infographic. The various ways the industry increases the intake of nicotine:

  • Increased Nicotine: Tobacco companies precisely control the delivery and amount of nicotine to create and sustain addiction.
  • Bronchodilators: These added chemicals expand the lungs’ airways, making it easier for tobacco smoke to pass into the lungs.
  • Levulinic Acid: Added organic acid salts, like levulinic acid, reduce the harshness of nicotine and make the smoke smoother and less irritating.
  • Menthol: Menthol cools and numbs the throat to reduce irritation and make the smoke feel smoother.
  • Sugars and Acetaldehyde: Added sugars make tobacco smoke easier to inhale and, when burned in cigarettes, form acetaldehyde, a cancer-causing chemical that enhances nicotine’s addictive effects.
  • Ammonia: Added ammonia compounds produce higher levels of “freebase” nicotine and increase the speed with which nicotine hits the brain.

“Most people would think that 50 years after we learned that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, cigarettes would be safer. What’s shocking about the report we issued today is that we’ve found that a smoker today has more than twice the risk of lung cancer than a smoker fifty years ago, as a direct result of design changes made by the industry,” Matt Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in an interview with ThinkProgress.

(One note about the Matt Myers quote. I would disagree with one aspect of his comment. A two- to three-pack-a-day smoker was not uncommon 50 years ago, and that’s almost unheard of today with the breadth of smoking bans, so smokers are not smoking nearly as much as they did 50 years ago. But, his point is taken.) Pretty chilling stuff. The industry has done everything in its power to try and make cigarettes more physically addictive to keep their customers until death do them part.

CVS Pharmacies to ban cigarette sales, other tobacco products

CVS

In the words of Joe Biden … this is a big fucking deal.

CVS Pharmacies, the second biggest drug store chain in the country, will no longer sell any tobacco products in its 7,600 stores across the country. This means CVS will lose $2 billion a year in sales revenues … 1.6 percent of its total revenues every year. That’s a serious decision to just walk away from $2 billion a year retail.

Larry J. Merlo, the president and chief executive officer of CVS Caremark, said “As the delivery of healthcare evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care,” He added. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

From the L.A. Times:

Making cigarettes available in pharmacies in essence ‘renormalizes’ the product by sending the subtle message that it cannot be all that unhealthy if it is available for purchase where medicines are sold,” the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Troyen Brennan, wrote in a new article in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. The article is co-authored by Dr. Steven Schroeder, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at UC San Francisco.

Walgreens is the largest drug store chain in the country. In response to the CVS decision, Walgreens issued a statement saying it is “reviewing” tobacco sales at its stores.

It is pretty bizarre that a drug store would be selling cigarettes, when that drug store is selling probably all kinds of drugs and treatments for COPD and various cancers caused by cigarette smoking.

A great move that I applaud.

NBC, CNN go all out on smoking this weekend

nbc front page

For the 50th anniversary of the Surgeon General’s watershed report on smoking and lung cancer, both NBC News and CNN had for a time last weekend smoking as their top stories. Imagine my excitement seeing cigarette smoking dominating the top of both websites with so many other stories going on — Ariel Sharon’s death, Bridgegate, West Virginia, etc.

(Hey, doesn’t that Bing window look like a cigarette?)

Anyway, NBC’s take on the issue was to look at, yes the smoking rate in the U.S. has been reduced greatly since 1964, from 43 percent to 19 percent, but can it ever be reduced to 0?

Several experts weighed in. One idea was to raise the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21. Another one, by Michael Fiore of the University of Wisconsin, is a two-pronged approach of “hard-hitting public policy. At the same time, we need the ready availability of treatments for smokers.”

Yes, I agree. Treatment should be available and covered by insurance, be it patches, Nicotine gum, or even Chantix or e-cigs (and I’m not wild about the last two, in fact, I’m not positive any health care officials consider e-cigs a “treatment.”)

NBC also cited a Harvard study stating that smoking has killed 17.7 million people in the U.S. between 1964 and 2012 (So, when I call it a “holocaust,” I am not screwing around — 17.7 million people is a holocaust.

Also mentioned in the NBC article. How to stop smoking? Stop it before people start, before nicotine’s incredible addictiveness takes hold. 88 percent of smokers begin smoking before they turned 18. Education, education, education, is the way to stop smoking.

Ah, the NBC article also talks about how the $180 billion from the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement is not being used properly to combat smoking. Instead that money is being used by states simply to help balance their general funds. States are receiving $8 billion a year from the settlement, but are only spending $640 million a year on tobacco control.

A good article from NBC News, that touches broadly on most of the major issues surrounding tobacco control.

 CNN story on smoking — Why do people still smoke?

I like CNN’s angle, too. CNN asks the question of when people know how bad smoking is for you, why do they still smoke? The answer, according to CNN, a “portrait of defiance.

CNN dug up a portrait site on smokers (Oh, man, I have to do a separate post on this site with the photog’s permission, hopefully). The photographer, Laura Noel, said that:

While shooting these portraits, she noticed the age difference among smokers. Young smokers, she said, enjoy it with a kind of practiced defiance. “You see a little more of the addiction when people get older.”

The CNN story makes a great point. The whole argument that smoking is a “personal choice” becomes complete bullshit when the smoker is no longer making the choice to smoke — the nicotine is in control. It stops being “choice” when addiction takes hold. (The tobacco industry long ago abandoned the battle trying to fight the evidence that smoking is deadly and has instead adopted a Libertarian coda that it’s personal choice. I’ve had two or three Libertarian trolls stink up this blog with their “personal choice” bullshit, too. And, oh by the way, of course, none of them were actual smokers. :roll:)

“Smokers typically start smoking as adolescents or young adults, with initial smoking occurring in social situations,” said Sherry McKee, the director of the Yale Behavioral Pharmacology Lab. “Most young smokers believe that they can easily quit at any time and nearly all believe that they won’t be long-term smokers.”

“Ultimately, they will lose their capacity to make a free choice to smoke,” said Jed Rose, the director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation in North Carolina. “Then 30 years later, that’s when we typically see them in our program desperately trying to quit, because now they can’t go a single day without (a cigarette).”

And one final point in the CNN story, something I actually learned. I never really thought of this, but it makes sense. The addiction to smoking is more than just the chemical components of nicotine, it has to do with the smoking behaviour.

“The chemicals in cigarettes work on the structures deep within a smoker’s brain, literally rewiring it so the habit becomes deeply ingrained,” said Rose.

With drugs like cocaine, there can be extreme discomfort from withdrawal in those first few days, but it goes away. “The behavior addiction of smoking may be far more compelling than just the short-term withdrawal symptoms of a hard drug,” he said.

That means smokers may be more addicted to the smoking behaviors than the nicotine.

“Every move a smoker makes: the lighting of the cigarette, the inhaling, all the feelings and sensations of it, the whole package becomes highly addictive,” Rose said.

 

CNN: Nine powerful stories of smokers’ last cigarettes

Awesome, poignant article by CNN.com.

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For the Great American Smokeout last week, CNN.com interviewed 9 former smokers about their final cigarette. Most every ex-smoker can remember their last cigarette, when they finally had had enough and quashed one out for the final time. Most smokers can remember their last cigarette because it usually takes three, four or even more tries to quit, and when the day comes that quitting finally works is a big event in their lives.

So, CNN collected some awesome quotes from these nine people, citing everything from existentialism to their families as reasons for quitting. Let me share some of them:

A fellow workmate made a profound statement to me: ‘You know, Bob, there is never a good day to quit smoking, is there?’ That hit me like a ton of bricks.

— Bob Miller, last cigarette: April 1, 2006

*****

Now, when I feel that urge, I think about two small faces, and how I’d answer them if they asked me why I was sick or why I was dying. I’d have no one to blame but myself.

— Beth Woods, last cigarette, Aug. 5, 2008

*****

I remember a trip to the ER with a bad case of bronchitis. This was the first time that my husband had seen me that sick. The look of panic and helplessness convinced me that I had to stop.

— Lisa Gonsalves, last cigarette 2005

Gonsalves’ bronchitis was so severe, she had to have tubes inserted into her lungs to drain the fluid and her chest “cracked open” to clean out her lungs.

“I can’t say that I don’t crave it – especially when I am stressed out,” Gonsalves told CNN.com. “I do have to constantly remind myself of the pain and the feeling of drowning because I couldn’t breathe to keep me from running out and getting a pack. It is a very mental game I play every day but I get stronger and stronger every day without a cigarette.”

*****

When I smoked my last one, it was more of a release, rather than freaking out about how I was going to deal with it.

131120131006-tamasi-pizza-smoking-irpt-story-body

— John Turner, last cigarette 2011

*****

My wife got the news she was finally pregnant. The very moment she told me I crushed my pack of cigarettes up and threw them away.

— Martin C. Grube, last cigarette 1983.

*****

Then the story of Kara Wethington, who quit after her 66-year-old grandmother died.

“I loved smoking. The social aspect of it, the taste of it, the way it made me feel — everything about it was romantic to me.”

But the death of her grandmother was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” soon after Wethington herself was diagnosed with an aggressive form of strep throat, and she hasn’t looked back for 13 years.

“I’ve had smoking dreams that felt so intimately real that the line of reality and fantasy blurred out my memory. I know I didn’t smoke but sometimes those dreams feel really good and sometimes with real regret.”

(Interesting, I never heard of this dreaming of smoking before, but another ex-smoker said the same thing.

“It took me years to stop dreaming about having a cigarette and sometimes I would wake up and not be sure if I had smoked.”

— Linda Parker

Philip Morris profits down 8 percent in second quarter 2013

philip morris

Oh, happy day. Philip Morris (Altria), the No. 1 private cigarette manufacturer in the world, saw its profits drop a dramatic 8 percent in the second quarter of 2013, mostly due to lagging sales. Philip Morris shares dropped 2.5 percent as a result.

Here’s what is interesting. We all know the sales of cigarettes is down, so at first blush, this doesn’t seem to be a big surprise.

What IS a big surprise? The biggest reason for the drop in profits is the drop in sales of Philip Morris brands (mostly Marlboro) overseas.

One thing a lot of people may not realize is that while cigarette sales have been obviously dropping the U.S., the tobacco industry has weathered the storm just fine, mostly by expanding its overseas markets in burgeoning smoking regions such as India,  the Philippines and Africa. Philip Morris is blaming a sluggish economy overseas:

According to USAToday:

The cigarette maker reported earnings of $2.12 billion, or $1.30 per share, in the quarter ended June 30, down from $2.32 billion, or $1.36 per share, a year ago.

Excluding excise taxes, revenue fell 2.5% to $7.9 billion despite higher prices. Costs to make and sell cigarettes rose more than 1% to $2.7 billion.

Cigarette shipments fell about 4% to 228.9 billion cigarettes as it saw volume declines in all of its regions. Total Marlboro volumes fell nearly 6% to 72.4 billion cigarettes.

Philip Morris International said economic woes in the European Union and increased excise taxes drove shipments down nearly 6% during the quarter. Shipments fell 3.6% in the company’s region that encompasses Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Shipments also fell 2.4% in Latin America and Canada.

In Asia, one of its largest growth areas, the company said that cigarette volume fell 3.5%, hurt by a recent tax increase in the Philippines, which saw a 16.5% decline in shipments.

Smokers face tax increases, bans, health concerns and social stigma worldwide, but the effect of those on cigarette demand generally is less stark outside the United States. Philip Morris International has compensated for volume declines by raising prices and cutting costs.

Anytime the tobacco industry is hurting that is great news. Perhaps its a bad economy, but maybe smoking bans, higher taxes and lower smoker rates in other countries is having an effect, as well. Of course, Philip Morris would never admit THAT.

Keanu Reeves does not approve of you smoking!

From the new movie “Generation Um”

Hah, I actually saw something like this about 10 years ago, in which a drunk chick threw a massive temper tantrum for being told a bar was a non-smoking establishment and she stomped out of the bar, after vandalising her table.

Reeves was also in “Constantine,” a few years back, probably the most blatantly anti-tobacco movie I’ve ever seen.

 

Russia “doomed” by smoking ban

Haven’t posted in a while. Have three interesting updates.

The first is a smoking ban in all places — Russia — one of the heaviest smoking countries in the world.  It’s not a particularly strict smoking ban — no smoking in hospitals, on public transit or in schools (nothing about restaurants or bars).

Not very strict, but a big deal in a country where a whopping 55 percent of men smoke daily (compared to about 25 percent in most Western countries).

Bans were also put in place by Russia on advertising and marketing of cigarettes. It affects this Soviet-era cartoon of a smoking wolf named Wolf the Hooligan, which can only be shown at night now because the main character chain smokes.

(Is this music from Speed Racer?)

With the ban, Russia joins most of Europe in having some sort of smoking bans (I believe some Balkan and Eastern Europe countries still have no bans).

As you know, I’m not that dogmatic about smoking bans, but I accept them as part of the changing world. I feel more strongly about the ban on marketing and advertising.

A great article from MSNBC on the latest country to have a smoking ban. Some people are happy, some are mad.

Federal judge finds graphic cigarette warnings unconstitutional

french cigarettesNot surprising since the same judge a few weeks ago slapped an injunction on these cigarette labels.

Washington Post story. New York Times story.

Judge Richard J. Leon ruled this week that graphic warnings on cigarette packs violate the First Amendment, because, essentially, they go too far in forcing tobacco companies to advertise something against their will that goes against their own self-interests (Basically, there is a judicial precedent that as part of the First Amendment you can’t be forced to say something you don’t want to say. The government can require written labels on cigarette packs, but graphic images go too far in provoking an emotional reaction against the tobacco companies’ own product, the judge ruled.)

“The government’s interest in advocating a message cannot and does not outweigh plaintiff’s First Amendment right to not be the government’s messenger,” Judge Leon wrote.

australia plain packaging

This is a bummer, but after the injunction, I wasn’t very optimistic. The Justice Department and Obama administration can appeal the decision (They’ve already appealed the injunction, which was imposed late last year. I guess that appeal is moot now). It would first go to a Circuit Court of Appeals, but I expect it would eventually go before the U.S. Supreme Court, and with the incredibly pro-corporate judges on the Supreme Court, I’m not optimistic this ruling would get overturned.

Again, a bummer. Most of the countries in the West require these graphic images on cigarette packs, but in the U.S., it appears the tobacco companies will squirm out of it. Unfortunately, for the moment, the First Amendment seems to be on the tobacco companies’ side.

 

Australian Senate passes plain cigarette package law

australia plain packaging

(Thanks to Classical Gas for the scoop on this story!)

Australia is attempting to force cigarette companies in that country to have utterly, entirely plain cigarette packages, with no artwork, no logos, no graphics whatsoever, except for graphic images of lung cancer and other diseases caused by cigarette smoking.

The Australian Senate passed a bill to require the plain packages. The Australian House is expected to approve the bill, as well, requiring plain packaging by next year. Tobacco companies are expected to file lawsuits. New Zealand is considering similar legislation.

In the U.S., these graphic warnings have been put on hold. A U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction stopping the FDA from requiring graphic warnings, saying they violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment rights by forcing them to advocate for something they didn’t want to advocate.

French cigaratte pack

Someone showed me a pack of French cigarettes the other day with a pretty gross graphic warning of a rotting mouth. Their point was smokers really aren’t going to pay attention. My attitude is the vast majority of smokers probably don’t care about the warnings — I mean if they’re smoking, they’re probably already addicted to the nicotine. But, maybe, maybe, maybe, just maybe, it will put an inkling in a few smokers’ minds that, “Wow, I really need to quit,” and maybe, maybe, maybe, it will discourage some kids from beginning. Who knows? I can hear the nanny-state argument on this one.