NPR report: French teens continue smoking despite government crackdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

Big Tobacco files litigation, raises $17 million to fight California tobacco tax

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Big Tobacco has already filed bullcrap litigation attempting to get a ballot measure removed from the November 2016 ballot that would raise the California cigarette tax by $2 a pack. And on top of that, the industry is planning to spend at least $17 million in order to defeat the measure.

Big Tobacco spent up to $40 million several years ago to defeat a $1 a pack cigarette tax increase. That measure was defeated in 2012 by an incredibly narrow margin —  50.2 percent to 49.8 percent. It lost by 24,000 votes out of 5.1 million votes cast.

Prop  56 would double that increase to $2.87 a pack. Right now, the state cigarette tax is only 87 cents a pack, which surprising to a lot of people, is one of the lowest state cigarette taxes in the U.S. Yup, tax-happy California is actually in the bottom third for cigarette taxes in the country. The $2.87 a pack tax would be one of the highest in the nation. New York has the highest at $4.35 a pack.

First, the industry filed a suit claiming that proponents of the measure have lied that the measure — Proposition 56 — would actually take money away from schools rather than provide a new big revenue stream for education (estimated to be $20 million a year). The industry is claiming that the title of the ballot measure contains inaccurate information and is therefore against the law.

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A hearing was held last week, not much must have happened because I can’t find any news stories about the result of the hearing. According to a letter written to the court by Tom Torlakson, head of Public Instruction for California, the tobacco industry states that “make no mistake, Proposition 56 will not take a dime away from education.” Torlakson calls Big Tobacco’s claims “false and misleading,” “preposterous” and “insulting.”

This LeftofCenter story, not particularly well-written honestly, talks about the measure’s effect on e-cigarettes and how this is one of the reasons Big Tobacco is opposed to it. This is an important point. Prop 56 would not only raise the tax on cigarettes, it would add a tax to vaping products, too. On the Crooks & Liars article about it, some commenters mistakenly state that Big Tobacco is threatened by or competing against the vaping industry. Not really, not as much as a lot of people think. The article is correct that this would hurt Big Tobacco by taxing vaping products. Big Tobacco actually controls 75 percent of the vaping industry. The top three vaping brands on the market are actually owned by RJ Reynolds, British-American Tobacco and Philip Morris. So, yeah, this tax is hitting Big Tobacco in two directions.

Big bucks to fight the tax measure

While this lawsuit apparently didn’t accomplish anything, Big Tobacco has put together a war chest of $17 million to advertise against Prop 56.

From Capitol Public Radio:

Proponents such as Jim Knox of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network say they’re preparing for an onslaught of opposition.

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“This is classic tobacco industry strategy and deception,” Knox said of the cash infusion. “They will spend tens of millions of dollars to confuse and deceive the voters about the deadly nature of their product, as they have been doing for decades.”

 

Expect the industry to hide behind a bunch of Libertarian anti-tax “choice” bullshit in its advertising. That’s Big Tobacco’s MO.

From the story:

Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for No on Prop 56, says her campaign wants to educate voters about the problems it sees with the cigarette tax. She said it sidesteps requirements that money from new taxes fund schools.

“The proponents claim the tax increase will help people quit smoking. But it really is a tax hike grab by the insurance companies and other wealthy special interests,” Miller said.

The good news is Prop 56 backers have raised $16.6 million themselves to promote the measure.

Polls show roughly two-thirds support for the proposed tax increase. However, the 2012 measure also had strong public support until the tobacco industry spent millions to defeat it.

Prop 56 and marijuana measure
expected to raise $2 billion

One of the arguments in favour of the proposed tax is that it along with a measure to legalize marijuana, would raise $2 billion annually for the state of California.

Currently, California brings in $800 million in tobacco taxes. A state agency has estimated that Prop 56 would generate another $1 billion to $1.4 billion a year for state coffers. While the tax would triple, the revenue would roughly double. That makes sense, because such a huge tax increase would likely drive down the smoking rate.

Additionally, the state is estimating another roughly $1 billion a year in tax revenue from legalizing marijuana. That’s based on revenue increases seen in Colorado and Washington from their marijuana measures (I suspect pot hasn’t been legal in Oregon long enough to get a lot of revenue information).

 

 

Jimmy Carter on the forefront of possible breakthrough in lung cancer drug

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Jimmy Carter was diagnosed about a year ago with advanced liver cancer that had metastasized into his brain and other organs. Usually, for a 90-year-old man, the prognosis is not good.

However, a year later, Carter is at the moment cancer-free and apparently has no plans of dying any time soon. Carter was given an experimental immunotherapy drug called Pembrolizumab (trade name Keytruda, which I’m going to use because it’s easier to spell), which worked wonders on his cancer.

Keytruda has also been shown to be effective in treating small-cell lung cancer, still one of the most difficult types of cancer to treat. Despite the dramatic drop in smoking rates the past 25 years, lung cancer remains the No. 1 cancer killer in the West.

Because Keytruda is working so well in treating lung cancer among 300 trial patients, the drug company Merck announced that it will no longer hold trials and will make Keytruda available to these lung cancer patients. According to Merck, Keytruda worked as well if not better than conventional chemotherapy and helped stopped the growth of lung cancer tumours.

From an NBC story:

The details are not available yet. “We look forward to sharing these data with the medical community and with regulatory authorities around the world,” said Dr. Roger Perlmutter, president, of Merck Research Laboratories.

Independent committees look at the details of the patients and how well they are doing in drug trials like these. It was one of these independent committees that recommended stopping the trial based on what they saw but that doesn’t necessarily mean they shared the details with the company or anyone else.

“I suspect the findings were significant enough that this will be a practice-changing finding,” Dr. Pasi Janne, lung cancer specialist at Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told NBC News.

Keytruda has not been approved yet for wide use by the Food and Drug Administration, but the process of getting its approval has begun. Keytruda has been OK’d for patience for whom standard chemotherapy has failed. Merck is seeking its approval as a first-line drug for lung cancer. The FDA has been known to give quick approval to these kind of immunotherapy cancer drugs.

From NBC News:

They treat cancer by stopping tumor cells from cloaking themselves against the normal, healthy immune system response.

They work on the principle that it’s not where cancer starts that matters, but the genetic mutation that causes the cancer. So a lung tumor in one patient may look like the melanoma in another.

Keytruda — known generically as pembrolizumab — targets the activity of genes called PD-1 (anti-programmed-death-receptor-1) and PD-L1. The interaction between the two genes lets some tumors escape detection and destruction by immune system cells.

PD-1 stops immune cells from attacking normal healthy cells by mistake. Tumor cells make PD-L1 turn on PD-1 when immune cells approach.

This trial only included patients whose tumors cells made a lot of PD-L1. That is only a portion of people with lung cancer – 25 percent in one recent trial.

Immunotherapy is a whole new way of treating cancer, including lung cancer,” said Janne, who was not involved in the study. “Having seen patients benefit who failed existing therapies, now doing well on these new therapies, is fantastic.”

Mike Pence: Cigarettes aren’t deadly … yes, he really said this

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In case you needed another reason not to vote for Donald Trump/Mike Pence. Pence, the governor or Indiana, once wrote an oped piece about how cigarette smoking is not dangerous.

I’m serious. He really did. I’m not talking secondhand smoke, either. Pence wrote his column about smoking … period. And this was 15 years ago — 2001 — not the 1960s.

Here’s an excerpt of the idiocy that Pence wrote:

Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer. This is not to say that smoking is good for you…. news flash: smoking is not good for you. If you are reading this article through the blue haze of cigarette smoke you should quit. The relevant question is, what is more harmful to the nation, second hand smoke or back handed big government disguised in do-gooder healthcare rhetoric.

… Those of you who find the tobacco deal acceptable should be warned as you sit, reading this magazine, sipping a cup of hot coffee with a hamburger on your mind for lunch. A government big enough to go after smokers is big enough to go after you.

Sigh … Mike, Mike, Mike.

First of all, it’s utter BS that 2 out of 3 smokers don’t die from a smoking-related illness. It’s actually about 2 out of 3 that DO die from their smoking — either through cancer, respiratory disease, heart disease or other illnesses. Not to mention the loss of quality in their lives from various diseases such as arthritis and diabetes now known to be linked to smoking.

Secondly, yeah, about 1 out 10 smokers gets lung cancer … but Pence neglected to mention that the ratio among non-smokers who get lung cancer is less than 1 out of 100 people. This is just stupid and lazy and massively debunked thinking by Pence: That because all smokers don’t get lung cancer, therefore smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. My parents used to argue this 40 years ago … before they got cancer.

So, never mind what the EPA, U.S. Surgeon General and countless physicians and scientists say … Pence says smoking doesn’t kill people … so there. If he had written this in the 60s or 70s, I might give him a pass that people just didn’t have all the information, but no, people KNOW today smoking kills. End of discussion. It’s like trying to argue that lead plumbing or asbestos insulation isn’t dangerous. It’s just … STUPID.

I would dearly love some interviewer to call this idiot on his words, but to my knowledge, no one has, and as long as Pence only gives interviews on Fox and CNN, I’m not holding my breath.

What such an oped shows me is Pence, regardless of his or my politics,  is simply not a bright guy (what a shock, he’s also a global warming denialist). I can’t believe in this day and age there’s still people trying to argue that smoking isn’t dangerous.