All posts by Pepe Lepew

Good news everyone … teen smoking AND vaping both drop

Great news again.

For the first time in five years, not only did teen smoking drop this past year, but the teen vaping rate also dropped … and by quite a bit.

This is according to figures released last week by the Centers for Disease Control.

Teen vaping use had increased dramatically from 2011 to 2015 (from less than 2 percent to 16 percent in just four years). Why? Kids were seeing lots of advertising in teen magazines and on TV making e-cigs look cool and hip … and harmless. In the long run, despite an initial investment, they’re cheaper than cigarettes. And most of all, they used to be really easy to buy — and still are pretty easy to buy online.

From 2015 to 2016, teen vaping actually dropped a bunch, from 16 percent to 11.3 percent. That’s roughly a 30 percent decrease.

Meanwhile, teen smoking dropped to an all-time low of 8 percent (high school students). Man, when I first started this blog over on blogspot 10-12 years ago, the teen smoking rate was still 22.5 percent. It frustrated the crap out of me because year after year, it refused to drop.

Amazingly, 19 years ago, it was over 35 percent! (Thanks, Joe Camel). Now, it’s down to 8. That is roughly a 72 percent decrease in 19 years. And the combined teen smoking/vaping/chewing rate (essentially any tobacco product) is down to 20.2 percent.

Preteen girl tries e-cigarette with her friend

the past couple of years have been frustrating, as well. While it was great to see the the smoking rate among teens dropping dramatically, the teen vaping rate was increasing during that time just as dramatically. What that meant is that roughly the same percentage of kids were still getting addicted to nicotine, but that they had just discovered a new delivery system.

Matt Myers, from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids responds: “This is unimaginable, extraordinary progress. This is a change of a cosmic nature that has the potential to dramatically impact lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other problems.”

Robin Koval with the Truth Initiative said these latest numbers might be showing that smoking its on its way out for good. Cigarette smoking has really dropped dramatically just in the past five years for a variety of reason — the popularity of vaping, cigarette taxes, the stigma of smoking and smoking bans being the main reasons.

I want to make it clear, I don’t have a problem with adults vaping, especially if it’s helping them quit smoking. I do have a problem with teenagers getting hooked on nicotine to begin with via vaping. And I really have a problem with some of the reckless advertising being done by vaping brands. It’s still nicotine and it’s still one of the most addictive substances on the planet.

Anti-tobacco advocates had a variety of theories behind the dramatic dropoff in teen vaping (one advocate suggested that the experimental allure of e-cigs has worn off). I have a theory that I think more vendors are cracking down on selling vaping products with an ID … and more states are not allowing vaping products to be sold to teens or even to people under 21. This Washington Post article points out that the feds sent out more than 4,000 warning letters to retailers cautioning them against selling e-cigs to minors.

Anyway, it’s looking good for the moment, though the FDA has delayed implementing regulations over e-cigs … and who knows what the Trump administration is going to do on this issue. I have zero trust in them.

 

 

 

 

 

My long-overdue eulogy for Ted

This is a post I started a half-dozen times over the past three years and I could never get through it. I would set it aside and then revisit it a few weeks or months later and then I still wouldn’t be able to finish.

Because it was just too hard for me to finish.

It’s a post about Ted, a longtime editor and  publisher I worked for for eight years in the 1990s.

It was eight memorable years working for one of the most interesting and eccentric people you’ll ever meet in this business. I never got a chance to say goodbye to Ted. I found out from a former coworker three years ago that he had died of lung cancer at 72.

I was reminded of that this week. It has been almost exactly three years since he died.

I don’t know if Ted ever smoked. He was from the generation in which virtually everyone smoked, but I never saw him once light up a cigarette. Perhaps he smoked long ago. But, ultimately, I don’t believe it matters. No one deserves lung cancer. I watched my dad die of it 38 years ago and despite his four pack-a-day habit, he didn’t deserve that. And 15 percent of the people who die from it never smoked a single cigarette, anyway, so … so what. So, I’m not here to lecture about smoking.

Anyway, it was under Ted that I first became a sports editor. Ted had a vast amount of knowledge and interest in sports. He played basketball at Lafayette University (and my publisher at the time played basketball for the University of Texas. Wow, did I ever feel like a schmoe around those two.). He local sports for 20 years. He was a huge Mariners and Seahawks fan. I had a lot of fun taunting him with how bad the Mariners’ bullpen was in the late 1990s:

“Hey, did you see that eighth inning last night?”

(Ted’s voice) “Oh, my God, I want to kill Bobby Ayala. I swear I hate him, I want him to just die …”

Ted once made the funniest joke I’ve ever heard. We were talking about the NFL or something and he blurted out, “I swear if Hitler played the Dallas Cowboys, I’d cheer for Hitler …” (Making this very funny was the fact that Ted was Jewish.). I literally fell out of my chair laughing.

I was hired there partly to build up the sports coverage on San Juan Island. Ted was one of the few people in this business that I could actually talk hockey with.

Back in those days, if you didn’t have cable, the only TV you would get was CBC in Vancouver, so lots of people there watched the Canadian hockey they’d show from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. every Saturday night (and seven nights a week during the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

In order to write this column, I need to be honest. Ted and I used to really butt heads a lot. I mean, a lot. Because Ted often had a way of doing things that went against everything I was taught in Journalism 101 that would leave me pulling my hair out. He tended to dedicate too much space in his stories talking about the officiating, he had a real blind spot for his own biases sometimes, etc.

One of the biggest fights I remember us getting into was when I covered a state semifinal baseball game, I wrote that an outfielder made a “Ron Swoboda-ish” diving catch to get the final out in the bottom of the seventh. We had an argument that went around in circles for hours because he wanted to change it to Ken Griffey-ish because he had never heard of Ron Swoboda (I did have the edge on him on baseball). I know this must sound petty, but we went around in circles over this for literally six to eight hours. I won that battle. “Ron Swoboda-ish” stayed, but our feathers were ruffled for days afterward.

So, his pet name for me was “the Claude Lemieux of reporters.”

For those who aren’t hockey fans, Claude Lemieux (no relation to Mario) was a pesky, dirty, cheap shot player from the 1990s, the kind of guy the NHL has mostly run out of the league today. That was about the worst insult he could think to throw at me. He thought it was funny to call me Claude Lemieux because he knew it got under my skin. I would just respond, “that doesn’t even make sense.”

But through all that fighting and hair-pulling, I couldn’t help but like the man. He was wickedly funny. He had some weaknesses, sure, we all do, but he also had strengths. Things I genuinely learned from. Ted had a unique ability to sniff out quirky, off-the-wall human-interest stories like no one else I’ve ever seen. For years, I had been nothing but a pure meat and potatoes reporter, in fact, at one paper I worked at, the paper was literally nothing but board meetings and all I did was sit in commission meetings for 40 hours a week. It was pretty damn boring.

So, this is something I’ve tried to take to heart — that these are the kinds of stories that make small-town newspapers valuable to their communities. Trust me, I’m nowhere near as good at it as he was. He simply found stories that no one else could. He did it by wandering through the streets of Eastsound on his way to lunch and listening. And that was the biggest thing I learned from Ted.

At the end, despite all of our battles, when I left, we embraced and all was forgiven. We kept in touch for a few years until Ted retired and moved to Hungary for a while to research his family background (much of his family was wiped out in the Holocaust). After he moved to Budapest, I completely lost track of him. He apparently moved back to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, but I didn’t realize that and I certainly was shocked to hear that he had become ill and quickly passed away.

That was a rough summer. A coworker of mine died of breast cancer and a good friend of mine died of complications from AIDS and then Ted, all in a period of about four weeks. He was a big part of my career and my life for eight years.

And the danger of drifting away … you don’t get to say goodbye.

Smoky Prague, Czech Republic go smokefree

A pub in Prague

I remember many, many years ago a friend of mine moved to Prague and when she came back she told me how incredibly smoky all the pubs and restaurants were there.

Eastern Europe has some of the heaviest smoking rates in all of Europe and some of the most lax smoking laws

Well, the Czech Republic finally joined most of the First World by finally banning smoking in bars and restaurants. According to the Washington Post, Slovakia is now the only EU member nation that does not have any national smoking ban.

Orange is weak or poorly enforced smokefree laws, red and brick are stronger smokefree laws. You can colour Austria red in 2018.

Violating the ban is a stiff fine — the equivalent of $190. Ouch!

From the Washington Post:

“Most Czechs approve the ban, but a group of lawmakers have challenged it at the Constitutional Court.

 

Jakub Storek, owner of the Cafe Liberal in Prague — a popular hangout among local smokers — said he opposed the ban.

“It’s hard to predict the impact at the moment,” he said. “But I guess it would be different clients coming here in the future.”

Stepan Ourecky said he would still come, but may light up outside the cafe.

“Or perhaps, I will smoke less,” the 18-year old student said.”

Only a few countries in Europe still allow indoor smoking. Portugal has weak smokefree laws and another is Austria, which is going completely smokefree in 2018. Most of the other non-smokefree countries are in the former Yugoslavia.

New drugs making progress against lung cancer

Lung cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer. At one time 90 percent of the people who developed lung cancer died from the disease. The number is better now, but the death rate for lung cancer is still one of the highest for any form of cancer.

The five-year survival rate today for lung cancer is still only about 17.7 percent and more than half the people who are diagnosed die within a year. However, early detection is key. Lung cancer is a bitch about metastasing to other parts of the body. If it can be caught early while still localized in the lung, the five-year survival rate jumps to 55 percent.

They haven’t found a cure, of course, but no drugs are making big progress on lung cancer, as well as prostate and breast cancers.

One of the main drugs used against a certain kind of lung cancer (that younger people and nonsmokers tend to get) is Xalkori, makde by Pfizer. This new drug is called Alecensa, made by Roche.

The AP did a big story on this last week. From the story:

“Roche’s Alecensa stopped cancer growth for 15 months longer than Pfizer’s Xalkori did in a study of 303 people with advanced lung cancer and a mutation in a gene called ALK. About 5 percent of lung cancer patients — 12,500 in the U.S. each year — have an ALK mutation, especially younger people and nonsmokers who get the disease.

Alecensa kept cancer from worsening for 26 months versus 11 months for Xalkori. It also penetrates the brain better: Only 9 percent of those on it had their lung cancer spread to the brain during the first year of treatment versus 41 percent of those on Xalkori. Serious side effects and deaths were less common with Alecensa.

The federal Food and Drug Administration approved it in December 2015 for ALK-related lung cancers that worsened despite trying Xalkori. The new study tested it as initial treatment and is aimed at getting full approval for that.

Xalkori is around $10,000 a month and Alecensa about $12,500.”

So, this drug extends the life of lung cancer patients by two years on the average.

Look at the price tag, though. Imagine trying to pay for that without medical coverage.

Obviously not a cure, but maybe making a dent in that terrible survival rate. Incredible with the advances in treating cancer, especially childhood leukemia, that they have made so little progress in treating lung cancer. I think that is partly because of the stigma that continues to surround lung cancer compared to other kinds of cancer.

Another promising front is immunotherapy with drugs such as Keytruda (this is an esperimental drug taken by Jimmy Carter when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few years ago and he’s still kicking). I’ve written about this before.

From a Medscape article:

The overall response rate (ORR) of 45% reported for pembrolizumab (Keytruda) first-line is unprecedented, Dr Soria said. Together with the superior progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS), as well as the better tolerability, when compared with chemotherapy, these findings indicate that pembrolizumab is now “the new gorilla” in the treatment of (non-small cell lung cancer), and probably a new standard of care, he said.

There was also good news on the breast cancer and prostate cancer fronts. A new drug called Zytiga delayed cancer growth for 18 months for men with advanced prostate cancer, while a drug called Lynparza helped delay breast cancer growth for seven months.

Chris Cornell 1964-2017

Wow, I am in absolute, unadultured “punch in the gut” shock  and have been since midnight last night when I first heard Chris Cornell had killed himself.

He was an amazing talent, both as a vocalist and lyricist. His songs were powerful, obscure, thought-provoking. He was a high-school dropout but a genius.

The reason I think his death hit me so hard is that I basically blew off music for many years. Other than Stevie Ray Vaughan and U2’s “The Joshua Tree,” the 80s to me were mostly a lost decade. I mostly listened to Led Zeppelin, the Who or old blues through that whole decade. It was a genuinely depressing Death Valley of Bad Journey, Bad Foreigner, Overrated Bruce Springsteen and Astonishingly Bad Flock of Seagulls. There hadn’t been anything worth listening to for me since Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.”

Then, when I was living in Mammoth Lakes, through our cable service, there was a secret way to pick up radio stations. And one of those radio stations was a Fresno State college station. I started hearing this band called Nirvana on that stations MONTHS before anyone else outside of Seattle. and I loved them.

About the same time, a friend of mine gave me a tape of a band called Primus. I didn’t take to them as quickly as I did Nirvana, they were much more of an acquired test. But, I did find them strangely compelling despite Les Claypool’s weird vocals. The more I listened to them, the more I became a fan of their incredible musicanship.

About that same time, Pearl Jam started hitting it big. Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was one of the first CDs I ever bought. I liked it, a lot at first.

So, with Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Primus under my belt and this burgeoning music scene exploding out of the Seattle, I moved to the Pacific Northwest. At that time, all three bands literally erupted into megastardom. Finally, after 10 years of feeling like I was wandering through the musical wilderness, listening mostly to my older brothers’ music, I felt like I had music *I* could relate to. Angry, alienated, disconnected people railing against the wind.

My Soundgarden, Audioslave collection.

Around this time, a band called Alice N Chains came forward. They were OK, too many of their songs were about heroin and everyone in the 90s just HAD to do songs about heroin because, wow, people in the 60s didn’t find out the hard way how much it sucked.

Kind of following in the tailwind of all this musical revolution was a loud, yet weirdly quiet Seattle band with a really stupid name — Soundgarden.

I thought Soundgarden was all right at first, but they weren’t Nirvana or Primus. I bought their CDs, listened to them, then went back to the ol’ reliables, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Like Primus, it took a while for Soundgarden to grow on me.

Soundgarden was a bit minimalist, no long guitar solos, a heavy reliance on big riffs, a muddy sound at times. They sounded very Zeppelin. But, they had Chris Cornell, an absolutely unbelievable singer. Literally, some of his vocals on Badmotorfinger are superhuman. He did things on that album that couldn’t be done, no one had done, not even Robert Plant.

Back in the early 90s, I worked at a paper in Oregon and Soundgarden had a big hit with “Black Hole Sun,” (actually not one of my favourite Soundgarden songs). We used to laugh that there were a bunch of characters in the videos of Black Hole Sun that seemed to exist in our newspaper office, including a giant Great Dane.

Over the years, I get very quickly bored with Pearl Jam. I came to realize their music, while better than 1980s drek, was painfully derivative, unoriginal and depressing. Even Nirvana, especially after Cobain’s suicide, was too depressing for me. Alice N Chains doesn’t do anything for me other than “The Rooster,” one of the best anti-war songs ever written. Primus, still a huge, huge fan.

So, quietly, over the years, I started listening to Soundgarden more and more and became a bigger and bigger fan. Of all the music from that exciting, chaotic period of the early 90s, Soundgarden and Primus are mostly the bands I listen to from that era.

Later, Chris joined Rage Against the Machine and created Audioslave, another band with an unfortunately lame name. RATM was another early 90s band I loved with an incredible guitarist, incredible drummer. Chris fit right in. It was great, it wasn’t Soundgarden, it wasn’t RATM, it was something new. Chris had mellowed; he no longer tried to blow our minds with his supersonic “Slaves and Bulldozers” vocals, he relied on his soul more.

Audioslave actually put out some pretty pop-like songs. I still loved them. To this day, “The Last Remaining Light” still gives me chills 15 years after I heard it for the first time. They were apparently intended as a “one off” to begin with, but had so much success, they put out three or four albums.

Chris was a bit of an enigma. He didn’t seek the spotlight, his songs were oblique. His songs had a lot of religious imagery, but he didn’t seem to be a religious man. Like the enigma he was in life, he remains at the moment an enigma in death.

So, that was a really important era for me, the first time I really felt music was directed at ME, not my older brothers, and Chris Cornell was a big part of it. I was really hurt by his death, it was a major punch in my gut. It wasn’t like Cobain. Everyone saw that coming, and when it happened, I wasn’t even sad, I was just pissed off at Cobain. That was different. Everyone saw it coming, had seen it coming for a year or two. Cornell came out of nowhere.

Someone pointed out that Eddie Vedder is the last one left from the “big four” of Seattle — Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice N Chains. Two suicides and a drug overdose that might as well have been suicide.

Depression is  a major bitch, as someone who has been on the periphery of it most of his life, it’s exasperating, drags everyone in its vicinity down, and it’s fucking impossible to understand it.

 

World Trade Organization rules in favour of Australia’s plain packaging laws for tobacco

Big Tobacco simply won’t quit. After years and years and years of getting their asses absolutely handed to them in court after court about Australia’s plain packaging laws … they lose yet again.

Big Tobacco, primarily in the form of Philip Morris International, Imperial Tobacco and Japan Tobacco, has been battling Australia for more than seven years over that country’s plain packaging rules. First, they sued in Australian courts and their case went all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, where they lost.

After they lost in the Australian courts, Big Tobacco, hiding behind Hong Kong and Ukraine and other countries, tried to claim that somehow Australia was violating trade treaties (lots here on John Oliver’s show) because international tobacco companies weren’t being allowed to market their products in Australia. That tact has taken several forms, the latest being litigation through the World Trade Organization, which…

… just this week leaked a draft ruling on the side of Australia. Meaning that Australia’s groundbreaking plain packaging laws, which allow no trademarked logos on cigarette packs and require gruesome images of tobacco-caused diseases, can move forward.

Australia was the first to require such plain packages, but several other countries such as France and the U.K. have followed suit, with the almost automatic litigation from tobacco companies.

This is the latest salvo in the industry’s battle against Australia, which is one of the most progressive nations in the world in battling tobacco. I doubt it will be the last.

From a Guardian article:

The news is a blow to the tobacco industry as such a ruling from the WTO has been widely anticipated as giving a green light for other countries to roll out similar laws.

Australia’s laws go much further than advertising bans and graphic health warnings enforced in many other countries.

The rules, introduced in 2010, ban logos and distinctive-coloured cigarette packaging in favour of drab olive packets that look more like military or prison issue, with brand names printed in small, standardised fonts.

Tobacco firms said their trademarks were being infringed, and Cuba, Honduras, Dominican Republic and Indonesia complained at the WTO that the rules constituted an illegal barrier to trade.

Although the WTO’s final ruling is not expected until July, a confidential draft said Australia’s laws were a legitimate public health measure, Bloomberg reported.

Of the biggest international cigarette companies, Imperial Brands’ profits are most exposed to markets that may implement plain packaging, said analysts at Jefferies.

A spokeswoman for British American declined to comment on the ruling until it was made public, but suggested the complainants would keep fighting.

“As there is a high likelihood of an appeal by some or all of the parties, it’s important to note that this panel report is not the final word on whether plain packaging is consistent with international law,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Japan Tobacco also declined to comment on the ruling, but said the fact that the draft had been leaked was disconcerting and a breach of WTO rules.

“Such breaches completely undermine the integrity of the process, which has not yet run its full course,” she said.

The plodding pace of WTO decision-making prompted Australia, which had the backing of the World Health Organisation, to complain that its challengers were deliberately stalling the proceedings, producing a “regulatory chilling” effect on other countries wishing to follow its example.

But since the challenge was made, many other countries began exploring similar legislation, a sign that they expected the WTO to rule in Australia’s favour.

Britain, France and Hungary have gone ahead with their own legislation, while Ireland, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Belgium are among those considering it.

Big Vape thwarted in attempt to water down FDA rules

Preteen girl tries e-cigarette with her friend

As I’ve written about in the past, the Food and Drug Administration passed regulations almost exactly a year ago on e-cigarettes. These regs will likely drive most small companies out of business and further help Big Tobacco consolidate their e-cig holdings (A lot of people have no idea Big Tobacco already controls about 75 percent of the e-cig market … interesting, huh?).

Anyway, Big Tobacco was attempting to weaken these admittedly fairly tame FDA regulations on e-cigs via the budget process. Big Tobacco was lobbying to have these regs apply only to existing e-cig products and to exempt large cigars (including large, candy-flavoured cigars).

These provisions were rejected in the budget, so the FDA’s regs on e-cigs from last year will remain in place … which surprises me a bit, to be honest. I fully expect Trump to try and gut FDA before all is said and done.

What’s interesting about this is a lot of e-cig advocates screamed bloody murder that Big Tobacco was behind these regs so they could drive out the smaller e-cig companies (the regulations require that each and every e-cig product, which includes each individual flavouring, undergo rigorous testing before receiving FDA approval, which is cost-prohibitive to a lot of small companies). Now, it seems Big Tobacco — yeah, keep driving this through your head, dammit — BIG TOBACCO is fighting e-cig regulations.

Do you get it, now? Big Tobacco IS e-cigs. They are not in competition. E-cigs have become a wholly owned subsidiary division of RJ Reynolds, Altria and British-American Tobacco. I’m gonna start calling it Big Vape.

From a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Children (which is more strongly opposed to e-cig than I am) press release:

Tobacco companies waged an all-out effort to insert these provisions in the funding bill. The New York Times has reported that Altria drafted the first of these provisions and that it was endorsed by R.J. Reynolds. Altria and Reynolds gave $500,000 and $1 million respectively to President Trump’s inauguration, and tobacco interests spent more than $4.7 million in federal lobbying in the first quarter of 2017 alone.

The budget agreement also provides $205 million for the CDC’s tobacco prevention and cessation programs, rejecting a House proposal that slashed funding to only $100 million (compared to $210 million in FY2016). The CDC will be able to continue initiatives such as the Tips from Former Smokers media campaign that has been so cost effective at helping smokers quit, as well as its assistance to state tobacco prevention programs and quitlines that help smokers trying to quit.

While this agreement is an important step forward, the tobacco industry is certain to continue its attacks on FDA and CDC efforts to reduce tobacco use – and even expand them. Legislation introduced last week by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) would repeal the FDA’s current authority to regulate electronic cigarettes and essentially allow the e-cigarette industry to regulate itself. Tobacco interests have also filed multiple lawsuits against the FDA’s 2016 rule establishing oversight of e-cigarettes and cigars. Congress and the Trump Administration must continue to reject these harmful tobacco industry efforts.

I get it that e-cigs legitimately seem to help a lot of people quit cigarettes. My biggest gripe with e-cigs is the marketing toward kids, and the FDA regs do little or nothing to reel that in.

 

Philip Morris keeps trying to undermine California’s tobacco tax

Hello again from the Lounge, especially to all of our new readers from India.

Big Tobacco twice succeeded, spending tens of millions of dollars in the process, in having  cigarette tax increase measures beaten back in California. The industry also for many years had successfully lobbied the California State Legislature from increasing cigarette taxes. Well, in November 2016, Big Tobacco finally lost, as Californians passed a whopping $2 a pack increase by a large margin.

That jacked up California’s cigarette tax from 87 cents a pack — one of the lowest in the nation — to $2.87 a pack, one of the highest in the nation.

Big Tobacco REALLY cared about California, which at first I thought was a little weird because California had a pretty low smoking rate even before the tax increase. Then, I thought about it … while California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation, it also still has 38 million people, so 10 percent of say 30 million smoking-age residents of California, is still 3 million smokers, spending an average of say $1,000 a year on their habit, which adds up to $3 billion a year.

Then, I saw why Big Tobacco was willing to spend tens of millions to defeat tax increases in California, because everyone knows higher tobacco taxes are one of the most effective ways to encourage people to quit — and to encourage teens not to start to begin with. Big Tobacco  spent a staggering $71 million to try and defeat the 2016 measure. Their effort finally failed.

Well, Philip Morris is trying a new (actually, not so new) tact to undermine California’s cigarette tax increase … discount coupons to smokers in California.

Again, with $3 billion in revenue at stake, it’s worth Big Tobacco’s while to take a bit of a bath on discounts.

From a New York Times article:

“The hope is that by buffering the price shock, fewer people will quit,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C. San Francisco whose research focuses on tobacco.

 In 2014, the tobacco industry spent more than $5 billion — nearly two-thirds of its entire marketing budget — on discounts passed along to consumers, according to a government report.

At $2.87 a pack, the cigarette tax threatens to further erode (California’s) customer base. Reports have suggested that some smokers have already quit.

Cigarette taxes play a “huge” role in smoking rates, said Ilana Knopf, director of the Public Health and Tobacco Policy Center at Northeastern University Law School in Boston.

“And of course the industry knows that,” she said, “so they do whatever they can to counter those policies.”

In the short term, it might work a bit, but in the long run, Big Tobacco will have to give up on California, where the smoking rate will surely drop because people won’t want to pay $2.87 a pack.

Sacramento Bee editorial on tobacco taxes

This editorial printed this week suggests that the $1 billion a year expected to be generated from California’s cigarette tax could balance some of the cuts the state might see from Republicans in D.C. trying to cut federal funding for health care.

Indonesia, still the “Disneyland of smoking”

Yeah, a cigarette ad in Indonesia literally saying: “Don’t Quit”

Speaking of tobacco and emerging markets: The tobacco industry has poured a ton of its resources into Indonesia. This nation of 250 million people has one of the highest smoking rates in the world at about 40 percent (70 million-plus smokers, compared to about 40-45 million smokers in the U.S.).

And there are few if any restrictions on smoking, smoking advertising or packaging. In fact, you will find cigarette advertising literally right outside of schools in Indonesia.

Emerging markets — really big emerging markets like Indonesia, the Philippines, India and pretty much all of South America and Africa — are the international tobacco industry’s solution to remaining a financial juggernaut despite the plummeting smoking rate and stricter laws regulating tobacco in the West. In fact, Indonesia is on track with its lack of any semblance of regulation and its huge population to become the biggest tobacco market in the world.

Not even subtly using sex to sell cigarettes in Indonesia.

From the Southeast Asia Globe:

The end result is a looming public health disaster. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Indonesia has one of the highest male smoking rates in the world at 67% – and the number of women lighting up is rising fast as well, partly due to role models such as the popular, chain-smoking fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti breaking down gender norms. The impacts are already huge, with the WHO estimating that smoking claims about 425,000 Indonesian lives each year – nearly a quarter of the country’s annual deaths. Some media outlets have even begun referring to the country as ‘Tobaccoland’.

And Indonesia is a country with a depressing and well-publicized issue with childhood smoking.

From a Quartz Media article:

And it is no accident either, according to Mark Hurley, the Indonesian director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

 “These tactics are used by international giants like Philip Morris and Indonesian brands alike because tobacco companies rely on luring in youth to replace those who die or quit smoking,” he says. “It’s part of their deadly playbook.”

A survey conducted in 2016 found 85% of schools surveyed in five Indonesian cities were surrounded by tobacco advertisements. And according to Purnomo from the smokers’ rights group, their campaigns appear to be working.

Experts say the tobacco companies’ corporate social responsibility programs are merely a strategy to further entrench their products into society and do little social good. “Through their CSR activities, the Indonesian tobacco companies have precisely ignored the negative impacts of tobacco,” said a recent report from the Online Journal of Health Ethics.

It is tobacco’s entrenched status in Indonesian society that makes fighting tobacco so difficult for campaigners, who are often labelled agents of US pharma giants trying to bring down Indonesia’s sovereignty.

… Philip Morris International remains confident about Indonesia. The company’s 2016 investor day presentation (pdf) said Indonesia shows “favourable market demographics over the long term.” Another slide was titled, “Indonesia: Positives results from recent new launches.”

It seems the tobacco industry is counting on Jakartans like 19-year-old Ayu (who like many Indonesians goes by one name), who says she is too addicted to quit and will continue to smoke despite the harms.

“My friends all smoke, my colleagues all smoke. The whole damn city smokes,” she says. “How am I ever going to quit?”

Australian study shows plain packaging laws work

This is about the only Australian plain package I could find that WASN’T completely disgusting.

More great news … the smoking rate in Australia is also dropping, probably because of that country very tough plain packaging laws.

The smoking rate in Australia declined from 19.4 percent about three years before the plain packaging law to 17.2 percent three years after the plain packaging law. The new law, which was battled in the courts for years by Big Tobacco, was given credit for causing at least 25 percent of that decline.

Australia was the first country to impose a plain packaging law. That law got appealed in the courts by Big Tobacco and it went all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of the government. Then Big Tobacco went to the World Court, trying to have the law overturned by arguing it was somehow violating free trade agreements with other countries. That effort likewise fizzled.

A study done in Australia suggested that one of the things that kept smokers smoking was brand loyalty. With no more brand loyalty possible with the mandatory plain packages, one encouragement for smoking was reduced.

 

From Quartz Media (a pretty interesting mobile device news site):

In 2012, Australia became the first country in the world to make tobacco companies strip their branding off products, leaving nothing but drab packaging covered with graphic health warnings. A recent study shows that this too has encouraged smokers to quit by reducing their affinity with specific brands.

The researchers, psychologists at Australian National University and the University of Queensland, suggest that as smoking has become stigmatized, tobacco companies have increasingly relied on brand identity to reach customers. “Smokers are now viewed by many as unhealthy, unattractive, and even dirty,” the researchers write, but identifying with a particular brand “deflects the negative connotations” of being seen as a smoker and “may help to define the self with more positive content (e.g. ‘Winboro Woman’ can be sassy, independent and minty fresh).”

Since Australia has imposed plain packaging rules, other countries such as the UK, France and New Zealand have followed suit. A proposal to do the same in the U.S. was stopped by the courts on First Amendment grounds.