All posts by Pepe Lepew

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.

Tobacco use dropping in India

Great news, cigarette smoking in India has dropped dramatically in just one year because of that country’s new tough stance against tobacco.

According to this story from the Daily News and Analysis of India, the smoking rate among men has dropped from 57 percent in 2006 to 44.8 percent in 2016. That’s still a really high smoking rate, but that represents a 21 percent drop in 10 years.

Among women, the smoking rate has dropped from 10.8 percent to 6.8 percent during that same time period.

From the Daily News and Analysis:

“The NFHS 4 results offer some hope. I attribute this reduction to mainly to gutka ban and partly to increased awareness,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncologist, Tata Memorial Hospital. The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), the fourth in the NFHS series, provides information on population, health and nutrition for India and each State and Union territory.

“The reduction in consumption is due to the tobacco control laws that the Government is implementing over the years and steps taken like 85 percent graphic health warnings, Smoke Free Rules and Gutka Ban,” Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive Voluntary Health Association of India, said.

“The government needs to implement evidence based tobacco control policies to reduce further tobacco consumption as (1 million) people die due to tobacco use every year (in India). There is also an urgent need for higher tobacco taxes, as taxes in India are very low particularly the beedis and hope in the new GST regime, this will be addressed,” Mukhopadhyay said.

An Indian anti-smoking ad

While the Indian smoking rate for men is still astonishingly high, the drop in smoking in India is important because as smoking rates have utterly collapsed in the West, Big Tobacco is looking increasingly at overseas markets to make up for the shrinking markets in North America and Europe. India with its 1 billion-plus people is absolutely in the crosshairs as the biggest potential market in the world (since China’s market is 99 percent state controlled).

FDA reaches agreement with Natural American Spirit

The FDA and Natural American Spirit cigarettes have been locked in a legal battle for a couple of years now over the brand’s advertising that its tobacco is “natural” and “additive-free.”

The FDA  reached an agreement (secretly, apparently) with American Spirit that allows the brand (owned by Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company which is not an independent company, it’s actually a wholly-owned subsidiary of RJ Reynolds) to keep “Natural” in its name, but that it must stop all advertising that its tobacco is “additive-free”. The FDA way back in August 2015 gave American Spirit a cease and desist order on its advertising. RJ Reynolds filed an appeal and for more than a year, I’ve continued seeing American Spirit ads in my Sports Illustrated, still touting “natural!” and “additive-free.”

The agreement was reached in January, but was disclosed this month as part of a discovery process in other litigation involving Natural American Spirit.

Not everyone is happy with the settlement. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids put out a statement that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. From the CTFK website:

“This FDA/Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company agreement is a gift to the tobacco industry, permitting R.J. Reynolds to continue the highly misleading, and very possibly legally fraudulent, marketing and labeling of American Spirit cigarettes,” said Robin Koval, CEO & President, Truth Initiative. “Our research shows that a majority of Natural American Spirit smokers incorrectly believe that their cigarettes are safer than other cigarettes. The truth is that they are just as dangerous as any other cigarette. This agreement does little to address those widespread and highly dangerous misperceptions. The only way to protect consumers is for the FDA to immediately go back to the drawing board to ensure that R.J. Reynolds and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company can no longer mislead consumers about the safety of their product.”

Earlier this month, RJ Reynolds reached a settlement agreement that it will stop doing that. I’ll be keeping my eye on Natural American Spirit ads to see if they do! Their false advertising that somehow a “natural” tobacco is somehow safer (and there are people out there who believe this malarkey hook, line and sinker) his has been bugging me for a couple of years.

Tobacco and schizophrenia

An interesting study about the ties between smoking and schizophrenia.

Studies have shown for years that a really large percentage of people with diagnosed mental illnesses are smokers. According to one study, as many as 90 percent of schizophrenics are cigarette smokers. There may be a real tangible reason for that — that the nicotine really might be providing some relief from their symptoms.

A recent study in Nature Medicine suggests that nicotine is a form of self-medication and perhaps can calm some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

From this Raw Story article:

“An international team of scientists says it may be able to explain why so many schizophrenics are heavy smokers — the addictive nicotine in cigarettes is boosting an area of their brains that becomes sluggish due to their illness. The researchers also suggest a particular genetic mutation has been found to cause that sluggish activity, which can occur in other mental conditions as well. A study in Nature Medicine says the findings may guide future drug developments.

Read: Antibodies Linked to Schizophrenia Onset

The root of their experiment was something called hypofrontality, which is decreased activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex that leads to cognitive issues like troubles with memory and decision-making. By studying mice, the scientists from Institut Pasteur in Paris and from the University of Colorado at Boulder showed that the CHRNA5 genetic mutation, previously linked to a greater risk of schizophrenia, is also linked to that decreased function in the frontal lobe, the University of Colorado said in a statement. They also say nicotine reverses this problem, at least in the mice, because the addictive chemical acts on “receptors in regions of the brain key to healthy cognitive function.

The benefits of the findings extend beyond just schizophrenia — hypofrontality is an issue in other mental health issues like addiction and bipolar disorder.

“Basically the nicotine is compensating for a genetically determined impairment,” Jerry Stitzel, a researcher from Boulder said in his university’s statement.”

So, it’s possible that nicotine, as bad as it is for regular smokers, might actually have some benefits for the severely mentally ill. More research is needed.

The Lounge is back after a hiatus

Back after a hiatus

I’m back after a few months-long hiatus, mostly caused by moving to a new state and starting a new job, and frankly, being pretty down about politics in the U.S. since Nov. 9. I avoid partisan politics here, but I felt like for a while tobacco issues didn’t seem all that important compared to the train wreck we’re all headed for with the orange shitgibbon in the White House.

Anyway, I realized these issues still matter and they haven’t gone anywhere and I found myself wanting to start up writing about it again. I did a cursory search and found at least eight or nine tobacco-related stories from the past three months that interested me.

So, thanks for hanging in there. Real life gets in the way of blogging sometimes. I hadn’t abandoned the lounge, but it did feel like a bit of a vacation from it.

Anyway, there will be a bit of a deluge of posts here, so try to keep up. I’ve got some lost time to make up for.

MLB, union agree to phase in ban on chewing tobacco

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Babe Ruth selling chewing tobacco. Ruth, a lifelong chewer, died of throat cancer in his 50s.

As expected, Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association agreed to a ban on chewing tobacco in baseball, though it’s a bit of a wishy-washy ban because it only applies to incoming players. Basically, they’re going to phase it in.

This means expect to see chew around on the baseball field for the next 10 years, though you will gradually see less and less of it.

It’s a step in the right direction, I suppose, and perhaps the best that could be accomplished going up against a very powerful players’ union. Some tobacco control advocates likely won’t be that thrilled with it, but I would tell them, this is arguably the most powerful union in the country. Getting anything out of them is a win.

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Someone pointed out to me it’s very similar to how batting helmets were introduced into baseball. Existing players who didn’t like them didn’t have to wear them, but new players did (actually, hockey was the same way. You still saw a few old-timers not wearing helmets into the early 90s. The NHL finally made visors mandatory in 2013, but again, existing players who don’t want to wear them are grandfathered in, so you will slowly see visorless players disappear from the game.).

For Libertarians screaming “Freedom of choice!” think of it as a workplace ban. Name a workplace, any workplace, in which chewing tobacco is allowed in the building. Maybe warehouse workers, truck drivers and longshoreman can chew on the job. That’s about it. No one is telling ballplayers they can’t chew if they really want to deal with the gum disease and losing their teeth. They just can’t chew on the job, in the ballpark.

Chewing tobacco has been banned for years in the minor leagues and by the NCAA. In fact, according to this article, it’s not unheard of for players to be thrown out of NCAA games for chewing.

For some reason that no one can really explain, chewing tobacco is deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. According to this story, 47 percent of NCAA baseball players chew. 47 percent! Keep in mind less than 10 percent of adult males chew tobacco. It really is a baseball thing.

And dying of throat cancer is also a baseball thing — going all the way back to dipper Babe Ruth, who died of throat cancer.

The latest push to ban chew came after Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, a lifelong chewer, died in 2014 of salivary gland cancer. Gwynn advocated against chewing tobacco the last few months of his life, as has Curt Schilling (Yeah, I know he’s a butthead), who survived a pretty serious bout of oral cancer around the same time.

In addition to the MLB ban that will begin next year, several cities have banned chew in ballparks — Boston, New York, Chicago, L.A. and San Francisco (Oakland and San Diego are included in a statewide ban, too, but this ban doesn’t really have an enforcement tool attached).

 

Smoking rate now down to 15 percent; biggest single-year drop ever recorded

A story from National Public Radio that the smoking rate in the U.S. is now down to 15 percent, the lowest ever recorded.

This also gives me the opportunity to fire up my Excel and make a new smoking rate graph! This is especially cool because it is actually the 50th anniversary of the CDC keeping track of smoking rates. In those 50 years, the smoking rate has dropped by nearly two-thirds from 42.4 percent to 15.1 percent.

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The last time I wrote about this, almost exactly a year ago, that figure was at 16.8 percent. These numbers released this month by the Centers for Disease Research actually refer to the 2015 smoking rate; it takes several months to put out a report, so that figure could be even lower now.

This is also the biggest single-year drop in the smoking rate ever recorded by the CDC. The next closest was 2009 to 2010, when the smoking rate dropped from 20.6 percent to 19.3 percent.

The news gets better. The smoking rate for people aged 19-24 is just 13 percent. There’s virtually no future smokers after someone turns 24, so that 13 percent figure will just drop as those smokers grow older and wiser.

Another bit of good news — California just passed a $2 a pack cigarette tax increase, which could drop the smoking rate in California down by as much as 20 percent (studies have shown a $1 a pack increase in cigarette taxes drops the smoking rate by roughly 10 percent).

If the California smoking rate drops by 20 percent, that’s 500,000 to 600,000 smokers giving up the habit, and that will have a major effect on the national smoking rate. That all by itself is more than 1 percent of the smokers nationwide.

There’s myriad reasons for the drop in the smoking rate — higher cigarette taxes, indoor smoking bans, more awareness of the health risks, social disapproval of smoking and, to be honest, the rise of e-cigarettes.

From the graph up above, you can see there is actually a pretty frustrating era from 1990 to 2009 in which the drop in the smoking rate was excruciatingly slow — in fact, incredibly, one year (2008) it actually went UP. That’s the effect of Joe Camel and a big increase in tobacco advertising in the 1990s and an increase in smoking in PG-13 and PG movies and cuts to tobacco education in the 2000s, in my opinion.

In those 19 years, the smoking rate only dropped from 25.5 percent to 20.6 percent, an average of 0.26 percent a year. Since 2009, the smoking rate has dropped from 20.6 percent to 15.1 percent, a drop of 0.92 percent a year over the past six years. The rate has actually dropped more during the past six years than it did in the 19 years prior to that. I do think e-cigs have something substantial to do with that, as well as Hollywood stubbing out smoking in PG movies.

If FDA regulations of e-cigarettes go through, and I’m sure it will be tied up in court for a while, it will be interesting to see if there is any effect on the smoking rate, because these regulations are expected to all by wipe out all the small e-cigarette companies, which make up roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of the market. Big Tobacco itself owns the three best-selling e-cig brands — Vuse, Blu and MarkTen.

 

 

 

California voters raise cigarette tax by $2 a pack

 

sjm-tobacco-09xx-021Lost in all the hubbub over this election (and a reason why I waited a week and a half to post about it) was California voters approving a $2 a pack increase in their cigarette tax.

California will go from having one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country at $0.87 a pack to $2.87 a pack. Big Tobacco spent tens of millions to defeat prior attempts at raising California’s cigarette tax (in fact, a 2012 measure failed literally 49.9 percent to 50.1 percent), but this time it failed.

According to Salon, Big Tobacco spent $71 million to defeat the California measure, which was approved with 63 percent of the vote. California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country at about 10 percent, so why would Big Tobacco care? Because that’s 10 percent of 38 million people — basically about 3 million adults.

It’s estimated (and studies have backed this up) that raising the cigarette tax by $1 a pack cuts the smoking rate by about 10 percent. So a potential 20 percent cut in those 3 million smokers (that’s 600,000 smokers), each of them no longer spending roughly $1,000 a year on cigarettes? You can see why Big Tobacco cared.

The Salon article claims this measure will cost Big Tobacco $250 million a year in lost sales (at least, that’s roughly a loss of 250,000 smokers). A drop in the bucket for Big Tobacco, but enough to get their attention.

Big Tobacco was able to defeat similar measures in Colorado and North Dakota, where health agencies didn’t have that much to spend against the industry. In California, health agencies spent $36 million to offset the industry’s $71 million.

From the Salon article:

Big Tobacco killed similar tax proposals in Colorado ($1.75 a pack; 46 percent yes) and North Dakota (44 cents; 45 percent) by outspending proponents by a factor of six.

The lesson: You don’t have to spend as much as the tobacco industry, but you need enough money to get your message out.

As an aside, California also approved legalizing pot, as did Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. The Salon article goes on at length about the danger of Big Tobacco moving into the pot industry, something I’ve written about extensively in the past and don’t need to rehash in this post.

 

Report: Smoking will kill more HIV patients who smoke than the virus itself

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Here’s a chilling report from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and a pretty stark reminder of just how dangerous smoking is.

According to a study involving a computer projection, smoking will actually kill more HIV patients than the virus itself, thanks to the fact that treatment today can effectively contain the HIV virus for years. In fact, a person with HIV has the same life expectancy as a person without it — if they receive treatment.

From an NBC News article:

Smoking is worse, they report in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. On average, smoking cuts six years from the life expectancy of an otherwise healthy 40-year-old with well-controlled HIV, they found.

“It is well known that smoking is bad for health, but we demonstrate in this study just how bad it is,” Reddy said in a statement.

“We actually quantify the risk, and I think providing those numbers to patients can help put their own risks from smoking in perspective. A person with HIV who consistently takes HIV medicines but smokes is much more likely to die of a smoking-related disease than of HIV itself.”

 

 

Not surprising — Southerners most likely to die from smoking-related cancers

Auto Racing: NASCAR Heinz Southern 500: Dick Trickle (84) smoking cigarette on track before race at Darlington Raceway.  Darlington, SC 9/3/1989 CREDIT: George Tiedemann (Photo by George Tiedemann /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X38788 TK3 R6 F13 )
Getty Images, obviously. A totally non-stereotypical depiction of Southern cigarette smoking.

This is a bit from the “Well … duh” department. A new study from the American Cancer Society shows that Southern states have the highest death rates from cancers caused by smoking.

Forty percent of the cancer deaths for men in Arkansas are smoking -related cancers, while 29 percent of the cancer deaths for women in Kentucky are for smoking-related cancers, according to the ACS.

Nationally, roughly about 29 percent of all cancer deaths are blamed on smoking-related cancers, primarily lung cancer.

The study also looked at other cancers thought to be linked to smoking, such as liver, throat, pancreas, colon and kidney, as well as leukemia.

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Lung cancer rates. Darker is deadlier.

Most of the 10 highest states for cancer death rates are in the South, while most of the 10 lowest are in the West, where smoking rates are low. The lowest state was Utah, with 22 percent of cancer deaths among men  attributable to smoking and 11 percent for women. Utah, mostly because smoking is a sin among Mormons, has the lowest smoking rate in the nation. California and Hawaii are the next two lowest, I believe.

What do almost all Southern states have in common? Low cigarettes taxes and virtually no statewide smoking bans (Only two or three Southern states even bother to ban smoking in restaurants, much less bars.). They also spend the least on tobacco education. And gee, what a coincidence, they tend to have the highest smoking rates (Kentucky and West Virginia keep trading back and forth over which state has the highest smoking rate).

The average cigarette tax in the South is 49 cents a pack, compared to about $1.80 a pack in the rest of the nation.

The South by far has a much higher lung cancer rate than the rest of the country. Add to that a high rate of diabetes (which probably has to do with the Southern diet, but smoking is a contributor to diabetes) and it’s simply not a very healthy part of the country.

I want to make clear I’m not making fun of the South here. Lung cancer is no laughing matter, no matter what part of the country it’s happening in.