All posts by Pepe Lepew

Look for full-page anti-tobacco ads on Nov. 26th, 18 years in the making

This is a legal case going back to the previous century.

Waaaay back in 2006, a federal judge ordered Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds  to take out full-page newspaper ads admitting they lied for decades about the dangers of its products, and that ruling came as a result of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Justice Department in 1999.

Because of various appeals, etc., Big Tobacco has managed to avoid taking out these ads for years and years. This is actually something Big Tobacco excels at — keeping shit tied up in court for decades. But, now all their appeals have been exhausted and the reckoning day is here.

So, these ads, which will appear in major newspapers across the U.S. in Sunday papers on Nov. 26 will have been in the works for 18 years. You may also see some ads on TV because of the same court ruling.

R.J. Reynolds, father of Joe Camel, estimates the ads will cost them $20 million. A pretty small drop in the bucket for the billions in profits RJR and Philip Morris have made in the past 18 years.

(I will have to pick up a Seattle Times on Nov. 26 to see if one of these ads appears there)

The full-page ads will address these four topics:

  • The adverse health effects of smoking.
  • Addictiveness of smoking and nicotine.
  • Lack of significant health benefit from smoking “low tar,” “light,” “ultra light,” “mild” and “natural’ cigarettes.
  • Manipulation of cigarette design and composition to ensure optimum nicotine delivery.
  • Adverse health effect of exposure to secondhand smoke

The secondhand smoke one suprised me a bit, since this became an issue way after 1999 (and 2006 for that matter). I can’t wait to see the ad.

 

 

A pack of smokes in New York City now $13

The famous smoking billboard in New York City’s Times Square. From 1943.

New York City continues to build upon its reputation as the most tobacco-unfriendly city in America.

A pack of cigarettes in New York City will now cost $13 a pack under a “minimum price law” passed by the city council.

In addition, the council banned cigarette sales in all pharmacies and will cut the number of licenses for businesses to sell tobacco (mostly through attrition).

The banning of sales in pharmacies is a great idea, I think. San Francisco already did this and the pharmacy chain CVS banned cigarette sales. Meanwhile, other pharmacy chains like Walgreens are being lobbied to stop cigarette sales.

New York City also has among the highest cigarette tax in the nation — about $5.85 a pack … just for taxes.

New York already has a pretty low smoking rate — out of more than 7 million people, roughly 900,000 are smokers, about 12 percent, lower than the national average of about 16 percent.

I have mixed feelings about the $13 a pack law because I think by jacking up the price of cigarettes THAT high, two things will happen … it will encourage some people to quit but it will also add to what is already a major cigarette smuggling problem on the East Coast.

Virginia, only about a four-hour drive from New York City, has some of the lowest cigarette taxes in the nation at 30 cents a pack. So a pack of cigarettes in Virginia is already $5 a pack cheaper than New York City, even before this new law takes effect.

This inequity in tobacco taxes has created a huge cigarette smuggling businesses on the East Coast (North Carolina is also 45 cents a pack). It’s estimated that it’s a $15 billion a year industry. So, I fear that jacking up the price that much is just going to do that much more to create a black market for cigarettes.

And of course, if I was a pack a day smoker living in New York City, it would be worth it frankly to make a day trip to Virginia three or four times a year and buy a bunch of cartons of cigarettes. An average pack of cigarettes in Virginia is $5.50 — you’d be saving $7.50 a pack by going to Virginia. A carton is probably about $70 cheaper. Buy 10 cartons of cigarettes you’d have a stock of cigarettes to last over three months and you’d be saving as much as $700!

Honestly, I don’t see a thing stopping people from doing that.

I believe at a certain point, jacking up cigarette taxes reaches a plateau of diminishing returns. Yes, cigarette taxes should be higher in a lot of states, Virginia’s tax is insanely low, but jack it up too high, you encourage people to drive out to the nearest Indian reservation to buy smokes .. or Virginia. I think $2 a pack is a reasonable tax.

And Jesus, states need to get together to even out the inequity in their cigarette taxes, especially on the East Coast. Or the smuggling business is going to continue to thrive.

 

Advertising campaign: Big Tobacco targets the mentally ill

Here’s a really shocking statistic: It’s estimated that over 70 percent of schizophrenics smoke and thatover 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder smoke. The rate of smoking for people with PTSD and clinical depression is believed to be around 50 percent.

That’s while the smoking rate overall is roughly 16-17 percent.

Why the giant difference? Some have theorized that nicotine actually calms some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.

What’s especially cruel however, is that Big Tobacco very subtly markets its products to people with mental health conditions, and it has for decades, promoting cigarettes as “soothing,” and will help steady your nerves, etc.

A new Truth campaign (starring the rapper Logic) takes Big Tobacco to task for marketing to the mentally ill. This ad was unveiled at the recent Video Music Awards (no one will ever accuse the Truth Campaign of not having savvy).

This might be one of the reasons why the smoking rate is so high among the mentally ill — that Big Tobacco has long known of this phenonema and has been exploiting it for decades. Honestly, nothing is beneath them, literally nothing. According to Truth, Big Tobacco actually used to give away cartons of cigarettes in mental hospitals (60 years ago, Big Tobacco actually used to give away cigarettes at children’s playgrounds. I’m not making that up. Seriously.)

It’s a pretty serious charge by the Truth Campaign; I’m sure Big Tobacco isn’t happy about it. And particularly unhappy to see these ads air during the VMAs.

Anyway, here is the ad from Truth:

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Reuters India investigation: Philip Morris definitely targeting young people

Interesting read here for my Indian readers on how India is threatening to crack down against Philip Morris International with some kind of “punitive action” for violating that country’s anti-tobacco laws prohibiting marketing cigarettes to minors.

The Indian Healthy Ministry sent a warning letter to PMI after a Reuters investigation this summer dug up secret memos from the company about how to market cigarettes to young adults, including using conveniently located advertising kiosks and through promotional giveaways. Reuters is making a big deal out of this and has even set up a website where you can peruse reams of Philip Morris International internal documents.

That investigation also found that PMI has a deeply entrenched strategy of trying to undermine what’s known as the Framework for Tobacco Control, a multi-nation treaty to try and curb tobacco’s influence in the developing world. That’s a whole another imbroglio I need to look into.

From the Reuters investigation:

… Indian government officials say Philip Morris is using methods that flout the nation’s tobacco-control regulations. These include tobacco shop displays as well as the free distribution of Marlboro – the world’s best-selling cigarette brand – at nightclubs and bars frequented by young people.

In internal documents, Philip Morris International is explicit about targeting the country’s youth. A key goal is “winning the hearts and minds of LA-24,” those between legal age, 18, and 24, according to one slide in a 2015 commercial review presentation.

As with the point-of-sale ads at kiosks, public health officials say that giving away cigarettes is a violation of India’s Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act and its accompanying rules.

Philip Morris’ marketing strategy for India, which relies heavily on kiosk advertising and social events, is laid out in hundreds of pages of internal documents reviewed by Reuters that cover the period from 2009 to 2016. In them, Philip Morris presents these promotions as key marketing activities. In recent years, they have helped to more than quadruple Marlboro’s market share in India, where the company is battling to expand its reach in the face of an entrenched local giant. Reuters is publishing a selection of those documents in a searchable repository, The Philip Morris Files.

The company’s goal is to make sure that “every adult Indian smoker should be able to buy Marlboro within walking distance,” according to another 2015 strategy document.

PMI has been told repeatedly to remove the outside advertising at these kiosks, but enforcement in India is weak. The giveaways take place at social events with women dressed colourfully in the brand colours of different kinds of Marlboros.

Pretty sleazy huh? PMI is clearly looking for every tiny little loophole in the laws it can find, it appears.

India is a HUGELY important market for Big Tobacco, because smoking rates in the West are in steep decline, while China strictly controls tobacco sales as a state enterprise. That leaves … ta da! … India with its 1.3 billion people as the biggest available new market in the world (along with the Philippines and Indonesia). Big Tobacco is literally drooling over these markets, and the Indian government has a big fight on their hands to keep PMI and other international companies at bay.

 

 

Baton Rouge joins New Orleans going smokefree

I don’t get the chance to post a lot of stories about smoking bans anymore, but lo and behold, another big city in the South has gone smokefree.

After seeing the success of New Orleans going smokefree a year ago, Louisiana’s second-biggest city, Baton Rouge, followed suit earlier this month, with a parish-wide smoking ban.

Louisiana already had a statewide smoking ban in restaurants, but now the two biggest cities in the state have banned smoking in all bars, casinos and restaurants.

Baton Rouge debated the issue for months before finally taking the plunge.

Reports are mixed about the smoking ban’s success in New Orleans. It remains popular with residents, with one poll showing 78 percent support, but Harrah’s Casino claims the ban cost the casino $35 million business (Honestly, I find that figure hard to believe. I really do. There are smokefree casinos all over the country doing just fine, so I suspect other economic factors are playing a role.).

So, with Baton Rouge jumping on board, there are few large cities left in the South without some level of smoking bans, though in many Southern cities, bans are just in restaurants. There aren’t any statewide bans in the Deep South and states have left the issue up to local communities.

 

 

 

 

 

What the hell? New American Spirit ad still has false advertising

This ad was in Sports Illustrated in July. What the hell? They were supposed to stop with this false advertising!

I thought the FDA and RJ Reynolds had reached an agreement to knock this stuff off — a new ad in my Sports Illustrated last month STILL advertising that Natural Spirit cigarettes are “100 percent additive free.”

I posted about this back in March. This was a settlement in response to FDA ruling that RJR had to drop its advertising that Natural American Spirit cigarettes were somehow more “natural” than other brands, when in fact, they simply are not. There’s simply little or no difference between this particular RJR brand and other cigarettes. It’s not safer in any, way, shape or form.

Reportedly, the FDA and RJR reached this agreement in January. From a March article about the agreement:

In the memorandum, Reynolds said it would “remove the phrase[s] ‘Additive Free’ … [and] ‘Natural’ from all Natural American Spirit cigarette product labels, labeling, advertising and promotional materials,” with the caveat that Santa Fe will still be permitted to use the term Natural in the Natural American Spirit brand name.

Yet, here in AUGUST, there is still an ad in Sports Illustrated, eight months after the agreement with the big, fat words “Additive Free” in the ad. So, I’ve tried looking into it and I can’t find any information other than a lawsuit has been filed against RJR and the FDA over the agreement.

Was the agreement supposed to take effect in 2018? Is RJR simply ignoring the settlement? I have no idea. But, it pissed me off.

And Jesus, it pisses me off that Sports Illustrated keeps taking tobacco advertising, too.

 

 

FDA considers cutting nicotine in cigarettes; tobacco stocks nosedive

What an amazing coincidence.

I’m not sure what to make of this story and I’m still digesting it. The biggest issue I have is I trust nothing to come out of the Trump administration.

The FDA today stated it’s planning regulations to cut the level of nicotine in cigarettes to “non-addictive levels.”

The best news about this? Tobacco stocks absolutely tanked after the FDA announcement. That tells me the industry and stockholders are nervous about the idea of cigarettes with non-addictive levels of nicotine.

It sounds great on the surface, but again, this is a Trump appointee making this announcement and this is an administration that is downright hostile to the scientific community.  So, colour me initially skeptical. Sure enough, the new FDA director, Scott Gottlieb, actually was involved in the vaping industry. So, are these new rules designed to push smokers from tobacco to vaping? (Not the worst thing in the world, but again … yet again, sure enough, the new FDA chief appears to possibly have a hidden agenda. I trust no one in this administration.).

A Gottlieb quote:

“[An] overwhelming amount of death and disease attributable to tobacco is caused by addiction to cigarettes—the only legal consumer product that, when used as intended, will kill half of all long-term users,” Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said in a statement. “Unless we change course, 5.6 million young people alive today will die prematurely later in life from tobacco use.” The center of this effort, he says, must be a shared vision for “a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources.”

Anyway, the FDA is suggesting somehow phasing this in over several years.

One of the arguments I’ve heard against lowering the level of nicotine — and I have no idea if there’s scientific validity to this argument — is that if you cut the level of nicotine in a cigarette, that will end up forcing people to smoke more cigarettes to get the same level of nicotine.

Is that how it would work in real life? I don’t know. Could be hogwash. But, I do see some common sense in that argument.

What was kind of fun is Altria’s stocks dropped 17 percent after the announcement was made, while British American Tobacco’s stock dropped 13 percent. Investors were immediately panicked about the whole thing.

Interestingly, if the rules are designed to push smokers toward vaping, guess who controls 75 percent of the vaping market? Yup — Altria, BAT and R.J. Reynolds.

What an amazing coincidence. The same people selling the disease are also primarily selling the cure.

Anyway, the FDA was looking at imposing new regulations on the vaping industry that many in the industry claimed would push out the smaller companies and just allow Big Tobacco to have an even bigger stranglehold on the market. Those regulations are now being put off until 2022. Again, kind of an amazing coincidence.

By the way, in reading comments to this news, I see there’s still a lot of misinformation about nicotine. Nicotine is not a benign substance, it increases a person’s blood pressure and can be fatal in large doses. But, it also isn’t the substance that causes lung cancer. That’s the 4,000 other chemicals such as benzene, arsenic, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, Polonium-210 and others.

But, nicotine is the substance that physically addicts the smoker so they can’t quit. So, it definitely has a role to play in making cigarettes so deadly.

Anyway, still chewing it all over. It certainly took me completely by surprise.

 

 

Tobacco use in India drops from 34 to 28 percent

Good news from India (and I’m hoping I have some readers from India who will be interested to read this.)

According to figures from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, the rate of adult tobacco use in India has dropped from 34.6 percent to 28.6 percent from 2009-10 to 2016-17.

That’s roughly a 17 percent drop in seven years. That translates into 81 bakh fewer tobacco users in India in seven years (8.1 million).

That includes smokeless tobacco, bidis, cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Perhaps one big reason, according to the Financial Express, an Indian website, is the average cost of smokeless tobacco, bidis and cigarettes has gone up since 2009.

From the Financial Express:

The expenditure on cigarette has tripled and that on bidi and smokeless tobacco has doubled since GATS-1, the report pointed out.

Also, the Financial Express explains what the Global Adult Tobacco Survey is:

The GATS is a global standard for systematically monitoring adult tobacco use and tracking key tobacco control indicators. It was a household survey of persons aged 15 and above and was conducted in all states and two Union Territories. The first round of GATS was conducted in 2009-10. The second round of GATS was conducted in 2016-2017 by Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. The survey was conducted under the stewardship of the Ministry of Health and technical assistance was provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This is really important news because Big Tobacco is relying heavily on increasing its presence in developing nations such as India and Indonesia (the smoking rate in Indonesia is insane). Smoking is dying out in the West because of better education about the dangers of tobacco, so Big Tobacco is pouring more of its resources during the past several years into India, Southeast Asia, Africa and South America, places that tend to have low cigarette taxes and lax rules on tobacco marketing. They would go after China, too, but the Chinese have been pretty aggressive about maintaining state control of its tobacco industry.

 

 

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.