Category Archives: smoking

“Hail, Caesar!” — and the shame of smoking

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Finished watching “Hail, Caesar!” this week, a campy Coen brothers comedy that actually made some gentle, yet moving, statements about smoking.

The movie, which takes place in 1951, begins with a studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix played by Josh Brolin, in a confession booth giving his confession to a priest. His big sin? He had promised his wife that he would quit smoking and he lied to his wife that he had sneaked two (maybe three) cigarettes during the past 24 hours.

Brolin’s character is so wracked with guilt he actually breaks down crying confessing to the priest that he’s trying to quit smoking, but can’t.

Perhaps the scene was meant to be comedic, but honestly, I found it really touching, because I’ve talked to so many people who try desperately — and some people are legitimately desperate — to quit, but simply cannot break free of the nicotine. I’ve seen people almost on the verge of tears just talking about it. They hate smoking, they hate their addiction and they hate the fact that they cannot quit, no matter how hard they try.

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Josh Brolin breaks down crying because he can’t quit smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”

Later in the movie, Eddie asks to bum a cigarette from a cop with a look of abject self-loathing in his face. He hates how weak he is when it comes to cigarettes. I found this interesting, because as mentioned before, the film is set in 1951, pretty much the height of smoking in America. Smoking was portrayed making men appear either virile or sophisticated in all of the advertising — and Hollywood films — of the time. But, for this particular character, smoking made him feel weak — and a sinner. It to me showed a dramatic change in the culture of film. It was only 10-15 years ago that Hollywood was still portraying smokers as tough or macho — in PG-13 films. Those days are quickly fading, much like the studio system portrayed in “Hail, Caesar!” was shown to be in its final days. The portrayal of smoking in “Hail, Caeser!” reminded me of “Stranger Than Fiction,” a 2006 film that under pressure from productor Lindsay Doran, was forced to portray a chain-smoking character in a negative light (The character, played by Emma Thompson, spent much of the film coughing and spitting up sputum into a handkerchief.).

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I wondered a bit if this was a gimmick by the Coen Brothers to dodge an R rating. I have no idea. There’s a fair amount of smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”, but it wasn’t what I would call “pervasive” (“Pervasive” smoking in films can trigger an R rating, however, the MPAA has this funky rule that “historically accurate” smoking is OK. The year 1951 would obviously contain a lot of historically accurate smoking.).

Anyway, it was a cute movie with a cute take on smoking.

Study: Going cold turkey most effective way to quit cigarettes

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An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers say that data shows that quitting cigarettes — and nicotine — cold turkey is basically the most effective way to get off cigarettes.

The article doesn’t specifically talk about e-cigarettes, patches or nicotine gum, but says that trying to slowly wean oneself off nicotine, rather than just committing fully to a quit date and going through with it is not as effective.

From the article:

An article published March 14 in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests going “cold turkey” is linked to the highest level of long-term smoking cessation success—smokers in the study who quit abruptly were 25 percent more likely to stop smoking completely over the long term.

The study involved 697 adult smokers whose primary end goal was to become a nonsmoker; some would try to quit abruptly and the other half would try to stop smoking gradually. (Study participants were randomly assigned to one of the two groups.) After receiving counseling from a nurse, study participants in the abrupt cessation group selected a quit date. Participants in the gradual smoking cessation group arranged to reduce their smoking by 75 percent over the course of two weeks prior to the quit date they selected, also after counseling with a nurse. All study participants in both groups received nicotine therapies such as patches, lozenges and other products to help curb cigarette cravings.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

The researchers found that by the fourth week, 39.2 percent of gradual cessation group abstained from cigarettes versus 49 percent of those who went cold turkey. At six months, 15.5 percent of the participants in the gradual cessation group had completely stopped smoking compared with 22 percent of those who quit right away.

Previous research published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology suggests gradual cessation isn’t very effective because people who choose to slowly wean themselves off nicotine may be tempted to prolong smoking a little longer and drag out the process of quitting. Another study in Addiction finds that in order for gradual cessation programs to work, the motivation to quit actually really needs to exist; smokers who select this type of plan may not be completely committed to giving up cigarettes.

Twenty-two percent after six months sounds pretty grim, but having known so many people who have tried to quit smoking, I’m not surprised at that figure. It usually takes two, three, four or more attempts to quit to finally succeed. I think my brother made at least half a dozen attempts and failed repeatedly until he finally managed to quit (smokefree for about 18 months now).

Again, this study doesn’t talk about the effectiveness of gum, patches and e-cigs (smokers can ratchet down the nicotine intake with e-cigs), but I don’t doubt the results one bit. Ultimately, to quit, you simply have to get off the nicotine and stay off it, for weeks or months, before the cravings go away.  This is one reason, despite the reams and reams of anecdotal evidence I’ve read online about e-cigs, (which I actually  respect), that I remain skeptical of e-cigs’ effectiveness in getting people off cigarettes. Because e-cigs are not getting people off the nicotine.

Again, I believe there is no one right way to quit cigarettes — what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another person. Whatever it takes. But, it appears simply setting a date and going “cold turkey” is the most effective way, at least according to this study.

 

 

Study: Two-thirds of smokers will die from smoking-related illnesses

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I saw some reactions to this story to the effect of “Well, duh,” but actually I think it’s a pretty groundbreaking conclusion.

According to a study out of Australia, 67 percent of smokers will die from some disease caused by their smoking. I’ve long heard the term “the majority of smokers die from smoking,” but there was no real hard-and-fast study confirming that. Well, now we have one. And it’s more than a “majority.” It’s two out of three. That’s more than previously thought.

Keep in mind, lung cancer is not the only kind of disease smoking causes. There’s at least 13 cancers that are known to be caused by smoking. Then there’s COPD. And heart disease. And other vascular diseases.

What is now known, not known 20 or 30 years ago, is the risk factor between smoking and other deadly or debilitating diseases, including diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

From the article:

“We knew smoking was bad, but we now have direct, independent evidence that confirms the disturbing findings that have been emerging internationally,” said co-author Emily Banks, a researcher at the Australian National University.

 

Cigarettes are somehow anti-Christian?

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Haruko found this for me. On Raw Story, a bunch of creepy old  Christian cartoons. (It’s been years since I’ve had one of those creepy mini-comic books jammed into my front door, but I remember them.)

Among the comics included, some pretty weird one about how a guy is headed on a path to Hell because he is teaching other kids to smoke. He offers a cigarette to a kid and the kid responds, “I have given my life to Jesus and Jesus doesn’t want me smoking even one cigarette.”

I’m really curious in what Gospel that’s in … considering tobacco wasn’t even known in the Middle East 2,000 years ago.

The kid later says, “Lord Jesus, I know you are pleased with my decision.”

Well, considering that Jesus didn’t have a problem with wine .. I’m not following.

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I certainly agree that cigarettes are evil .. because they addict and kill people and destroy lives, but I’ve seen any sort of religious connotation to it.

Anyway, it was a weird cartoon with a weird message (from the 1960s by the look of it). In the end, get this, the guy who does evil as a kid doesn’t get any kind of redemption. He is run into by a drunken driver and his girlfriend killed … the message seems to be this is God punishing the guy for being evil his life. Wow, if that isn’t some effed-up perversion of what Christianity is supposed to be about, I don’t know what is.

England set to ban smoking in cars with kids

 

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Wow, just looking at this photo pisses me off

 

This is an issue I haven’t heard as much lately. It was starting to become a big deal in a lot of states two or three years ago.

England (not the United Kingdom, just England), is set to ban smoking in vehicles with children. So far, seven states (California, Oregon, Vermont, Arkansas, Utah, Louisiana, Maine) and Puerto Rico have all banned smoking in cars with kids (though I’m a little annoyed that the age limit in Arkansas is 6 and in Vermont it’s 8 — so it’s OK to subject 7- and 9-year-old kids to cigarette smoke in cars?

Most Canadian provinces and Australian states have also banned smoking in cars with kids, as well as a few other countries, including South Africa. A few U.S. cities have banned it, too.

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English MPs voted 367-107 recently to create the new law. It still needs to go through a few hoops to become law, which will likely happen in 2015. According to the Guardian article I linked to, that is a larger margin than the vote to impose a smoking ban on bars and restaurants in England.

According to the Guardian article:

The public appears to back the ban. In March, a YouGov poll for the anti-smoking group ASH found that 77% of adults, including 64% of those who smoke, supported the criminalisation of smoking in cars carrying anyone under 18.

A few years ago, I was a bit dubious about the idea of smoking bans in cars, it smelled a bit like too much government overreach, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with these laws. Look, if you’re too damned stupid to realize just how damaging it is to kids’ respiratory systems to subject them to cigarette smoke in a vehicle (even with the windows rolled down), maybe you need the embarrassment of being pulled over and paying a $75 fine for your sheer stupidity. To me, it’s no different from parents being pulled over for their kids not being in their seatbelts. Maybe for stupid people, a ticket and lecture from a cop is the only way for them to start giving it some thought. To me, smoking in cars with kids borders on genuine child abuse (I remember how much my eyes and throat and nose would burn on trips with my chain-smoking parents.).

It’s too bad that the momentum for these common-sense laws has stalled. The country’s lurched to the right, and no one likes new rules and regulations, especially a regulation essentially telling stupid parents how to act around their kids. I get that.

I bend over backward not to make smokers self-conscious with my views about tobacco; no matter how hard I try, a number of smokers get defensive with me. I get that, too. Smokers are social pariahs, they have to put up with dirty looks and people fake-coughing all the time.

However, that being said, the ONLY smokers I am down on are the stupid smokers who light up around kids, ESPECIALLY in cars. At least two or three times a year, I still see people smoking in cars with kids, usually with the windows rolled up. And it always leaves me livid when I see it.

 

Mother Jones jumps on tobacco on military bases story

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Mother Jones has an interesting take on a story I posted about a few weeks ago, when a proposal to ban tobacco sales on military bases fizzled.

Mother Jones writes:

Suppose you wanted to quit drinking, but all the AA meetings in your town were held in the back of a bar with $2 well drinks?

That’s basically the conundrum the US military faces when it comes to regulating tobacco. Smoking is a drain on the force, physically and financially, and over the years the brass has implemented all sorts of efforts to get soldiers and sailors to avoid it, with some success. But every time military officials make a move to stop offering cheap cigarettes to their personnel, they get shot down by the tobacco industry’s allies in Congress. In the latest skirmish, earlier this month, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee launched a preemptive strike to prevent the Navy from ending tobacco sales on Navy and Marine bases and ships.

One thing to remember, not only are tobacco products available on military bases and ships … they’re considerably cheaper than what you find in civilian retail outlets because when tobacco products are sold on military bases, the local and state taxes don’t apply. Seven times, advocates have attempted to have the prices on military bases raised to civilian levels and seven times, they’ve failed, thanks to Big Tobacco lobbying and Big Tobacco allies in Congress. Another study showed that the average civilian price of Marlboro Reds is $6.73 a pack, while on military bases, it’s $4.99 a pack, nearly 30 percent lower.

According to Mother Jones, 36 percent of men aged 45-54 in the military smoke, compared to 24 percent of nonmilitary men in that same age group.

All of this puffing amounts to a massive medical bill, not just for the men and women dying horrible deaths from cancer and heart disease and emphysema, but for the taxpayers, too. In his letter to the Navy, (Rep. Duncan) Hunter, R-Calif. (a proponent of tobacco sales on military bases), noted that banning tobacco sales would mean a loss of profits for the Military Exchange Command. In reality, cigarettes are a net loss for the military. For every dollar of profit from selling tobacco to personnel, according to data from a 1996 Inspector General’s report, the Pentagon spent more than nine dollars on healthcare and lost productivity.

 

When I became militant about cigarettes

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This image I saw from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids reminds me of a story. I pinpoint it to the day I became militant about smoking.

I grew up around smoking. I breathed six packs a day worth of secondhand smoke from my parents (dad — 4 packs a day, mom — 2 packs a day). I remember whining to them about how much their smoking was bothering me in the car, and I was told “just roll down the window.” They didn’t want to hear it. I remember how bad their smoke was in the RV all night when we went camping.

Well, sure enough, I had a ton of ear infections as a kid. Had to have surgery on my ears because of the ear infections, probably caused by my parents’ smoking. In my early teens I started getting bronchitis all the time. By the time I hit college age, any head cold would immediately migrate to my chest and it would turn into 6 weeks of coughing. Twice in my 20s, I came down with pneumonia (and one time pleurisy). Only at the age of 29 did I finally grow out of that annual cycle of bronchitis and 6-8 weeks every winter of nonstop coughing.

Anyway, this brings me to Vic’s Drive Inn in Friday Harbor, Wash. Vic’s was a smoking joint, and in fact, I never sat down in Vic’s as a result. The smoke was SO thick in that place that one time I walked in just to grab a pickup order and walked back to work and everyone made fun of me because I reeked of smoke. I was in the building for less than 10 minutes. It was so bad, I went home and changed.

So, this one other time I walked into Vic’s, there was a fisherman sitting at a table (Friday Harbor was once a fishing town — no more, the fishing industry was in its dying throes at the time), puffing away on his cigarette with about a two-year-old boy sitting in his lap, coughing his head off and bawling. It just made me livid. The kid obviously had a respiratory infection, and there’s dad sitting 12 inches away literally blowing cigarette smoke in his face. Boy, I’m a big believer in not giving smokers shit, but I gave that guy a good glaring. What an asshole, I thought. What a self-centered idiot. It just brought back all my memories of those awful trips in the car and awful nights in the RV around a haze of cigarette smoke, and awful nights with burning eyes and a burning throat. I literally felt like punching the moron. I was really, really furious. I have never been so angry at a smoker.

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Vic’s — an icon in Friday Harbor, Washington

Instead, years later, I decided to blog about tobacco and to try and be a bit more constructive. Like I said, i will never forget that day, or that kid, or how amazingly stupid that guy was being. This would have been sometime in the mid-1990s.

(As an aside, Vic’s Drive Inn was sold a couple of years after that, and the new owners made it smokefree. I did a big article on it at the time. They said they lost a few customers, but gained a lot more than they lost. Washington went smokefree about 10 years ago and smoking restaurants went away.)

 

Elaine Benes lives — Being a smoker is bad for dating

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Elaine Benes broke up with Keith Hernandez over his smoking

This is absolutely not a surprise to me at all.

According to stats from the dating app Hinge, men who self-identify being a smoker are absolutely killing themselves for hooking up with someone.

According to newly released statistics from the the dating app Hinge, men who self-identify as smokers are rejected 89 percent of the time. In other words, they’re 61 percent more likely to be rejected than their smoke-free counterparts.

Similarly:

survey published in February from Match.com and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer found that 89 percent of people on Match.com preferred to date a non-smoker.

Remember, the old days when the tobacco companies promoted cigarettes as sexy and alluring. No more.  Smoking is a major turnoff for a lot of people — the smell, the secondhand smoke, etc.  Seinfeld was ahead of it’s time!

I love a couple of the comments on this story (I don’t comment on HuffPost anymore.)

I always thought some anti-tobacco ads should emphasize the butt breath people get from smoking. The stank in their hair, clothes, skin, saliva (yes, try kissing a smoker – ugh) is disgusting right along with the yellow fingers and teeth. I always chuckle when I see a smoker put on cologne or perfume – what’s the point? It’s like spraying Fabreeze on a turd.
 I am a smoker and have no complaints with your post. It is a horrible and useless habit.

 

Study: Large amount of secondhand smoke causes miscarriages, stillbirths in pregnant women

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A really eye-opening study done in Buffalo shows that pregnant women who inhale a lot of secondhand smoke have a higher incidence of stillbirths, ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages than women who do not.

It’s long been known that smoking is bad for pregnant women and their babies, but this is the first study I’ve seen showing how secondhand smoke is damaging to pregnant women and their babies. Really powerful study.

This story will sure to make the smokers’ rights’ crowd go nuts. I haven’t tangled with that crowd in a long time, but one of their loudest arguments — in complete defiance of absolute reams of studies stating otherwise — is that secondhand smoke is essentially harmless and all the studies stating otherwise were just “junk science.” A lot of people actually listened to these people 10-15 years ago, but they don’t have much of an audience anymore.

These people are just like global warming denialists and people who denied for decades that smoking causes lung cancer.  The study compared populations of women who were exposed to secondhand smoke before and during their pregnancies to women who were never exposed to secondhand smoke.

According to the conclusions:

For nonsmoking women exposed to the highest levels of secondhand smoke, the study reported a 17 percent higher risk of miscarriage, a 55 percent higher risk for stillbirth and a 61 percent higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, a complication when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.

Those risks approached the risks seen among women who smoked more than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime, the researchers said.

The highest level of lifetime secondhand smoke exposure was defined by childhood exposure for longer than 10 years, adult home exposure for more than 20 years and adult work exposure for more than 10 years.

Some of those numbers are pretty startling — a 55 percent increase in stillbirths. Christ, if you gotta smoke, go ahead and smoke, just don’t smoke around kids … or pregnant women. Please, just don’t.

“The significance of the study is that it shows that secondhand smoke is more harmful than previously thought, not just during pregnancy but over a woman’s lifetime,” said Vince Willmore, vice president for communications at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C.

“Hopefully, information like this will encourage people who smoke to be more sensitive about smoking in the house,” said Gary Giovino, chairman of the University at Buffalo’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior.