Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

How four films — and one TV show — saved animation from the brink of extinction

The Secret of NIMH
The Secret of NIMH

I got much of the information for this blog post from the excellent and entertaining “The World History of Animation.” I highly recommend it. It’s a really informative and entertaining read.

Today, animation is a multi-billion dollar world industry via film, television and DVDs. After the mega-successes of Frozen (2014, $1.28 billion worldwide gross), Minions (2015, $1.16 billion gross) and Inside Out (2015, $857 million gross), animation on both the big screen and on television is a thriving mega-billion dollar industry. The industry has never been healthier and more vibrant and creative.

But, believe it or not, for a period in the 1980s, the entire industry nearly collapsed, utterly and totally. Four films — and one television show — helped bring this century-old art form back from the brink of the dead.

Beginning with a somewhat obscure movie:

1) The Secret of NIMH, 1982

I first saw the Secret of NIMH when I was perhaps six or seven. This movie came out in 1982 at the absolute nadir of the animation industry; in the industry, it’s actually known as the “Dark Ages.” It actually flopped at the box office, but slowly became a cult favourite, much like other early ’80s kids’ movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. It’s now considered a deeply beloved classic and I believe one of the most important animated films ever made.

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A child has pneumonia in The Secret of NIMH

This was an especially bleak period for animation. Disney was the only major studio putting out animation and its last so-called “classic” animated film was in 1967 with The Jungle Book. Disney’s big golden era was from 1937-1967, but the magic started wearing off, mostly because of increasingly weak scripts and mediocre animation. Disney put out a series of flops and forgettable films such as Robin Hood, The Rescuers and the Fox and the Hound. Hardly Snow White or Dumbo or Pinocchio. After Star Wars and Superman, animation just didn’t “wow” kids anymore.

One of the biggest factors in the disintegration of American animation was Hanna-Barbera. Hanna-Barbera is well-known for creating a lot of famous characters on television, from Fred Flintstone to Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss, Scooby Doo, etc. Hanna-Barbera managed to completely dominate the television animation market, mostly with its Saturday morning lineup. Two other studios — Rankin-Bass (ThunderCats) and Filmation (Masters of the Universe) — tried to compete with and mostly copy Hanna-Barbera’s destructive and lazy business model (Rankin-Bass to its credit actually tried to do some decent animation in TV specials, but the studio also put out a lot of lousy Saturday morning fare.). One of the reasons Hanna-Barbera became so influential is that Warner Brothers, which made a lot of classic cartoons and famous characters from the 1930s to the 1960s, completely bowed out of animation in 1969. When Warner Brothers dropped out, that opened the door for Hanna-Barbera to wreak havoc, and boy that awful studio did.

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Goober and the Ghost Chasers, one of several annoying Scooby Doo clones put out by Hanna-Barbera.

Hanna-Barbera actually started out in the late 50s and 1960s making decent cartoons and memorable characters people recognise to this day. Probably due mostly to its ridiculous monopoly, Hanna-Barbera cartoons really started to deteriorate around 1970. Basically, the whole point of Hanna-Barbera cartoons was simply to sell sugary cereal — nothing more. The Hanna-Barbera shows became incredibly lazy and derivative — with a total of SIX shows copied DIRECTLY from Scooby Doo– Josie and the Pussycats,  The Funky Phantom, Speed Buggy, Goober and the Ghost Chasers, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids and Jabberjaw. Seriously, these six Hanna-Barbera shows are all exactly alike. Dumb, lame, lazy, cookie-cutter copycats of Scooby Doo with fake, annoying teenagers and some annoying goofy animal character, be it a Great Dane or a shark or a talking car, solving the same lame mysteries in every show. Again, quality wasn’t emphasised in the slightest by Hanna-Barbera, the whole point was quantity — and to do it cheaply as possible and to sell Cocoa Puffs and Trix. The cereal companies really powered these shows.

Scripts were tedious, written by committee and repeated from other H-B shows. The animation became lazier, too, featuring static background and static characters simply standing still while their mouths moved. Often times, the same exact backgrounds showed up in a bunch of different Hanna-Barbera shows. The pay and working conditions were terrible. Animators often made less than $20,000 a year. Creativity was completely stifled. The work was dull and repetitive and most animators, especially the good ones, quit in frustration or disgust. Hanna-Barbera was the biggest employer in the animation world for a time and when you combine it with the equally awful work from Filmation, the industry simply collapsed — and dragged Disney down with it.

Disney for some reason likewise lost its creative edge, probably beginning way back after Sleeping Beauty (1959). It had one more big hit with The Jungle Book in 1967, but then Disney fell into the same morass of forgettable work as Hanna-Barbera  began to dominate the industry. Disney severely cut back its animation department in the 1970s and many of those animators ended up at H-B or Filmation.

And along came Don Bluth and The Secret of NIMH to help save the day. Don Bluth was the lead animator at Disney through much of the ’70s. He quit the company in frustration with its cost-cutting ways and started up his own studio, bringing 11 Disney animators with him. Their first feature film was The Secret of NIMH, a very dark and frightening movie involving a child with pneumonia, animal experimentation, death and torture (Believe it or not, The Secret of NIMH was rated “G.” It was tame by today’s standards, but very grim for a G movie in 1982.) Disney refused to make The Secret of NIMH because of its dark content, but Bluth jumped at the story.

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Yes, the Secret of NIMH was rated “G.”

The Secret of NIMH actually lost money at the box office, mostly because United Artists did a terrible job of marketing it. The studio had no confidence in animated films and it wasn’t sure how to handle such a dark kids’ movie. However, Disney executives were blown away by it and it definitely got their attention. They saw that Bluth was a genius and that he and his team knew what they were doing. In some ways, the Secret of NIMH is slightly overrated (the movie is full of plot holes), but the movie to this day has a charm that has stood the test of time. It is a genuine classic that has deservedly gained a big cult following over the decades. It cannot be overstated how influential this little movie was.

Bluth followed this film with An American Tail, Land Before Time and All Dogs Go To Heaven, all of which made huge sums of money and scared the bejeesus out of Disney. Disney put out a couple of forgettable movies in the 1980s, called The Black Cauldron (a somewhat dark movie kind of stealing from The Secret of NIMH) and The Great Mouse Detective. Bluth’s movies out-grossed Disney’s … by a bunch. The Black Cauldron (1985), while an interesting attempt by Disney to do something different, had a number of production and script problems and ended up a weird and  pretty charmless ripoff of Ralph Bakshi’s “Wizards.” (1976). The Black Cauldron was such a flop critically and financially, Disney nearly shut down its animation department for good.

Bluth was a trailblazer often overlooked today. He made several more movies, but never matched the success he found in the 1980s. He made millions and more importantly in the long run, he woke up a sleeping giant at Disney. Disney roared back with an incredible vengeance in the late 1980s.

2) Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1987

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Who Framed Roger Rabbit was Disney’s first huge hit in decades

The period after 1987 became known as “Disney’s Renaissance” or the “Renaissance Era” of animation in general. It is truly remarkable how this studio came back from the dead. Literally. After the the Black Cauldron debacle, Disney chairman Michael Eisner put Walt Disney’s nephew in charge of the animation department (Roy Disney Jr.). Roy Jr. was determined to return the Disney animation studio to its glory days. At the time, Disney was making most of its box office off Touchstone Films. Not only did he arguably save Disney, but he may have saved animation in America.

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The first major film made under Roy Disney’s stewardship was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which was a half-animation, half-live action film. However, the animation and characters were goofy, funny as heck and were a hit with kids and adults alike. This was the first clue in a long time to studios that adults liked animation, too. The movie was an homage to great cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s and included a lot of animated characters from the past. Hollywood discovered, whether it meant to or not, that people were really nostalgic for those old cartoons. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was both a technical and commercial success. The movie grossed $330 million — a LOT for 1987 — and won three Academy Awards for technical achievement, including an award for best visual effects. Disney was back and was just getting started.

But, first, perhaps one of the most important and influential films ever made.

3) Akira, 1988

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Akira … one of the tamer scenes

This is simply put, to this day, 28 years later, one of the most amazing, mind-blowing, genuinely awe-inspiring films ever made. It’s like Japan’s Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey rolled into one.

Akira is a grueling, 130-minute-long monster that completely blew world audiences away. No one had seen anything like it before (and honestly, I’m not sure anyone has seen anything like it since. A lot of 1980s anime is pretty dated, but it’s amazing how well Akira stands up to the test of time.). It became a cult hit in America, despite a very poor original English dub (A vastly superior English dub was added 20 years later, thankfully.). It was also a big hit in Europe.

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Akira,

A bit of background on Japanese animation. While the American animation industry was dying, Japan’s animation industry was rolling right along in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. In the 1960s, there were hit series such as Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer and Astro Boy. Into the 70s, the hits continued with Lupin III and Captain Harlock.

Famed animator Hiyao Miyazaki had some big hits in Japan with Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind, and the Castle in the Sky, but after a cheap and half-hearted cut and English dub of Nausicaa, he refused to have his films released in America for roughly a decade. People in the West didn’t really start seeing his movies until the 1990s.

But, first came Akira. Akira woke up Western audiences in both America and Europe to the amazing animation happening in Japan. This gore-soaked, ultra-violent, hard-R, cyberpunk classic  opened up a floodgate of interest in anime worldwide that is thriving to this day. After Akira, Miyazaki was convinced (By John Lasseter from Pixar) to allow his films to be released in America, and his Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service were big hits in America, especially on DVD and VHS. Then, Cowboy Bebop became a big hit on American television, followed by Fooly Cooly, Attack on Titan and many others. Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (which won an Academy Award for best animated film) and Howl’s Moving Castle continued the worldwide success of anime.

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Miyazaki’s “My Neighbour Totoro”

Today, anime is an incredibly influential and thriving industry worldwide. An interesting phenomenon about anime is it very heavily borrowed from Western films and animation, but then Western animators and filmmakers started copying anime (American or European cartoons such as Totally Spies, Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, My Little Ponies and even Batman all copied anime techniques). The Matrix is essentially a live-action anime film that borrows heavily from Akira. Two upcoming major motion pictures, The Ghost in the Machine and Attack on Titan, are based on animes. Simply put, anime is a heck of a lot more influential than a lot of people realise. And Akira really drove the genre to new heights.

Speaking of television animation.

4) The Simpsons, 1989    733328f7e9488393ff28bbdfefd03ce20615664280628f73f589d4de66bfb7bc

 

The Simpsons premiered as its own show in 1989. It’s hard to believe it’s been around for 27 years. And so, so much has grown from the Simpsons. The Simpsons took the formula from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to create prime time adult and kids’ entertainment on television. The Simpsons helped lead to so many other prime-time adult shows such as South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, The Venture Brothers, Metalocalypse, Rick & Morty, Archer, Robot Chicken, etc., etc. It turns out animation was a perfect venue for adult humour, parody, satire and social commentary.

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Rick and Morty

Meanwhile, the malevolent Hanna-Barbera studio finally went out of business (Ironically, H-B brands are now owned by Turner Broadcasting, which has produced a number of shows parodying, at times ruthlessly, these awful Hanna-Barbera cartoons. I wondered for years how Turner got away with that before learning Turner now owns H-B.), and Filmation and Rankin-Bass likewise evaporated. What jumped into the vacuum were a bunch of independently produced and syndicated cartoons, which could be made easily and cheaply by a small number of people via computer animation. However, being independent of big studios, with two or three networks dedicated to showing animated series, these cartoons for both kids and adults were and continue to be both funny and creative. There’s simply too many of these shows to name — Home Movies, Doug, SpongeBob Squarepants, The Wild Thornberrys, Adventure Time, Ren and Stimpy, etc., etc. I know I missed a few. The shows are countless. There’s several I’ve never seen. And most of them are quite cute and educational for kids. None of that half-arsed Scooby Doo copycat crap, anymore. The Simpsons helped lead the way for all of this. All of these shows owe The Simpsons a thank you.

And now, the movie that changed an industry for over a quarter-century.

5) The Little Mermaid, 1989

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The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid was the second all-animation feature put out by Disney after Roy Disney Jr. took over the animation department (the first was The Great Mouse Detective, which did OK financially but is pretty forgettable.). It was considered Disney’s best film in decades and was a smash hit, grossing over $200 million. I don’t think this is Disney’s best film, but it was easily its best one since Jungle Book. One thing interesting about The Little Mermaid is that Disney was definitely paying attention to anime, which still wasn’t really hitting its stride in the West, and copied many anime techniques in this film.

The Little Mermaid reminded Disney that animated movies once made a ton of money for the studio and could again. After The Little Mermaid came other giant smash hits for Disney — The Beauty and the Beast ($400 million gross), Aladdin ($504 million), the Lion King ($968 million). Disney’s big five animated films (including Roger Rabbit and The Little Mermaid) from 1987 to 1994 grossed a staggering $2.42 billion … and that’s in late 1980s and early 1990s dollars. The studio that had languished for 20 years was now a powerhouse.

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The Beauty and the Beast

After The Lion King, Disney purchased Pixar and became an even bigger behemoth. Pixar was a leader in a new art form — computer animation rather than hand-drawn. Today, nearly all American animation is computer animation (even animation that appears to be hand-drawn is actually created on computers today). Even Japan is abandoning hand-drawn animation for less-manpower-intensive computer art, though at a much slower rate. It’s sad to see a century-old art form fade away, but the fact is, computer animation is simply much, much more practical, and computer animation helped drive Hanna-Barbera and Filmation out of the industry. And much of it is gorgeous.

Pixar’s first big hit for Disney was Toy Story in 1995, which grossed $360 million. Meanwhile, Disney continued to put out big, critically acclaimed hits through traditional animation, such as Hercules and Mulan. Pixar showed it wasn’t a one-hit wonder with Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Both the computer and hand-drawn units at Pixar and Disney were raking in billions every year from box office and DVD sales and rentals. Disney and Pixar’s formula relied on strong spare-no-expense animation, attention to detail and perhaps most importantly, likable characters and good, well-written and thought-out scripts. Kids liked the movies and parents liked taking their kids to these movies. It’s like people actually figured out after the Death Valley of the 1970s and 1980s, “if we put out a quality product, people will actually pay for it!” So unlike the decades of painfully awful, cheap, charmless drek from Hanna-Barbera, Filmation and even Disney. The art form became both a financial juggernaut and a showcase for artistic talent.

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Toy Story was Pixar’s first big hit

While Disney and Pixar were off to the races, Dreamworks Animation actually provided some fairly serious competition. Dreamworks had a number of pretty big hits itself, from Shrek to Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda and The Croods. Some of Dreamworks’ movies are good, too, but Dreamworks seems a little more geared as a pure money-making machine, relying a little more heavily on franchises than Pixar and Disney, making multiple sequels to most of its hits. Meanwhile, Universal Animation came out with the adorable Despicable Me and Minions (which grossed $1.1 billion in 2015). Even stop-animation cartoons, long a neglected art form, made a big comeback with hits such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Coraline and Wallace & Gromit.

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Frozen grossed an incredible $1.28 billion at the box office

The Renaissance Era is over for animation and has now entered what is considered the Millennium Era. Billion-dollar grossing animated films are not unusual today. In 2015, Western animated films grossed over $3 billion at the box office worldwide. By comparison, Western animated movies in 1985 (not counting reissues) grossed about $80 million total. The industry’s revenues had grown 40-fold in 30 years.

It’s hard to believe this thriving art form was all but dead in the West in the 1980s.

FDA finally issues ruling on e-cigarettes

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At long last, after TWO years of deliberations, the Food and Drug Administration earlier this week FINALLY issued a ruling on e-cigarette (and tobacco) regulation.

Unfortunately, this came at a time when I was really busy, plus I wanted to take a few days to digest the news.

My initial reaction to the news was disappointment that the FDA will do nothing to control e-cigarette marketing, online sales or candy flavourings. The biggest obvious change is the sale of e-cig products to minors will be banned. However, over 40 states already ban e-cig sales to minors, so this ruling is a bit cosmetic.

However, then I started reading comments from the e-cigarette industry absolutely FREAKING OUT over these regs, and I started thinking, “wow, if the e-cigarette industry is so pissed off, the regs can’t be that bad.”

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It turns out the FDA ruling is pretty complex, and I’m personally still sifting through it to see what it means, and I fully expect to be writing more posts about this over the next several weeks and months. I saw several headlines that screamed, “E-cigarettes virtually banned.” Here’s what they’re talking about and what turns out might be the biggest effect of this ruling: The FDA will require that all tobacco products (which under the FDA definition includes e-cigs even though they don’t actually contain tobacco — they do contain nicotine) that hit the market since 2007 must be individually approved by the FDA. E-cigs were basically non-existent before 2007, so this affects nearly all e-cig products.

From a USA Today article:

               That means nearly every e-cigarette on the market — and every different flavor and nicotine level — would require a separate application for federal approval. Each application could cost $1 million or more, says Jeff Stier, an e-cigarette advocate with the National Center for Public Policy Research and industry officials.

One million dolalrs each for every flavour? Holy cow, on the face of it, that would cripple the industry. Sure enough, industry leaders are incensed.

From a CNN story:

Ray Story, the founder and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, called the ruling “a complete disaster.” Since 2009, his association has advocated for a change in the law that would require age verification and restrict sales to minors.

“No children should have access to these products. Just like with alcohol, these are adult products,” he said.

What he takes issue with is the FDA requirement for approval on the products, down to the batteries. He said the rule “essentially bans the product across the land.”

Also, from a USA Today commentary, titled the “FDA went too far”:

 E-cigarette shouldn’t be sold to minors, and government should restrict advertising so they aren’t marketed to kids. But the FDA’s drastic overstep today will require e-cigarettes not already on the market by February 2007 to undergo a costly and onerous Premarket Tobacco Application process that holds e-cigarettes to a standard nearly impossible to prove, and one that well-established actual cigarettes don’t have to face.

               By the way, this commentary was actually written by Jeff Stier, who is from an organization called the National Center for Public Policy Research, which is described by Wikipedia as a “conservative think tank.” These are the same kind of “think tanks” that claimed for decades that there was no proof that smoking caused lung cancer or that secondhand smoke was completely harmless. If that wasn’t convincing enough … the National Center for Public Policy Research actually receives some of its funding from Big Tobacco and Big E-Cig (Which is rapidly becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Tobacco). So take this hyperbole with as many grains of salt as you please. I take it was  LOT of grains of salt.

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Now, it could be these industry folks are being hyperbolic as hell. I remember back in the day everyone thought the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement was going to be the death of Big Tobacco. But, I love that the e-cig industry is freaking out. GOOD. They deserve to freak out.

Here’s why. I walk a fine line with e-cigs. I get it that e-cigs genuinely help some people get off cigarettes. There’s mixed data about the effectiveness of e-cigs as a tool for smoking cessation. But, I’ve seen enough anecdotal information online about people praising them for helping to get them off cigarettes to believe that they have a genuine value.

However, here is the problem with e-cigs. It has been painfully clear to people actually paying attention that e-cigs are blatantly marketing their products to kids … using actors dressed up as race car drivers, using women’s panties, even using Santa Clause … to sell e-cigs. Jesus …even Santa Clause? Big Tobacco did this kind of stuff 60 years ago, heck they were still using race car imagery with Joe Camel as recently as 20 years ago.

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They’re using this hip, young, active, savvy, sexy imagery to addict teenagers to nicotine. For all of the benefits of e-cigs, and it appears there are some real benefits, it’s still a delivery system for nicotine. And nicotine is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. And people still don’t know what all is in e-cigarette steam. We know it contains formaldehyde and another chemical called diacetyl, which causes a disease known as “popcorn lung.”

From another very well-written USA Today editorial, this written by the USA Today editorial board of directors, appropriate titled “FDA takes e-cigs out of ‘wild West'”:

               Once before, the nation let an addictive product get by with little regulation. By the time the surgeon general first warned of cigarettes’ deadly dangers in 1964, about four in 10 Americans were already hooked. It has taken more than 50 years and a costly war on smoking to cut that adult rate in half and to bring teen smoking down to about 9%.

No wonder the government and public health advocates are wary of these new “vaping” products, which also contain nicotine, and some of which are made by the same companies that brought the nation Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man.

While advocates for e-cigarettes talk about their potential upside in the future — getting smokers to quit —  they seldom acknowledge the facts on the ground right now: E-cig use among teenagers is exploding. Last year, 16% of high school students used e-cigarettes at least once in the past month, making the devices more popular than traditional cigarettes among teens, according to a national survey by the federal government. That’s up from 1.5% in 2011 — an astounding rise.

Promoters argue that teens are switching to a safer product. Great if true. But some earlier data show that many teens who use e-cigarettes have not smoked traditional cigarettes before. Exactly how many fit that description now is a key question that researchers need to sort out.

Industry players also underscore that their products are only for adults. Their advertising says otherwise: The women who vape are sexy and glamorous, the men rugged and rebellious, the very themes that attracted generations of teens to traditional cigarettes. In stores, e-cigarettes are sold above ice cream freezers, next to candy and in flavors that include Cherry Crush and Gummy Bear. About 85% of youths who had used e-cigs in the past 30 days used ones that were flavored.

Game. Set. Match. Thank you, USA Today.

These rules will not go into effect immediately. I was initially deeply disappointed in the lack of regs over e-cig marketing (I believe the FDA was wary of going here because of fears over First Amendment lawsuits, and guess what, if the FDA loses a First Amendment lawsuit over e-cigs, that might affect the federal government’s ability to regulate marketing of cigarettes.). I don’t get as worked up about the candy flavouring because so many adult users have told me they like the sweet flavours, too, but I know a lot of anti-tobacco advocates hate that e-cigs are allowed to have sugary flavours.

But, this subtle little language about requiring all e-cig products to be approved by the FDA might reel in this out-of-control industry, which is selling a drug and is selling an addictive drug … to kids … with a wink and a nod … “Moi? Not us!”

Now, there is apparently legislation in Congress to push up this 2007 date and grandfather current e-cig products so they wouldn’t require individual review by the FDA. Golly wonder whose lobbyists might be behind that? I hope Obama and any other future Democratic president vetoes any such legislation that reaches his or her desk. The e-cig industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, about 40 percent of which is actually owned by Big Tobacco. It can damn well pony up to have its products approved fair and square.

I will be posting more on this, I promise, as the story develops.

 

 

 

Research: Smoking by pregnant mothers alters babies’ DNA

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Wow, this is a big deal. Research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics shows that if pregnant women smoke, it can alter the DNA of their unborn children.

From an article by Medical Daily, reprinted by Raw Story. I’ll let it speak for itself:

“I think women already know that they shouldn’t smoke,”co-senior author Stephanie London told Medical Daily, noting that the new findings solidify evidence that smoking while pregnant does impact the fetus. “So it’s not like this ‘oh maybe it has some effect’ … we can physically see this evidence.”

The study, led by an international team of researchers, found that cigarette use during pregnancy resulted in some modifications in the fetus’ DNA. What’s more, these changes mirrored those seen in adult smokers.

“What surprised me most about the study is you see the same changes in a newborn from the mother smoking during pregnancy as you’d see  in an adult from their own smoking. Many of the same changes,” London said.

Researchers combed through data from 13 studies involving 6,685 newborns and their mothers from around the world. The mothers fell into one of the three categories: “sustained smokers” who continued to smoke daily throughout their pregnancies, and “non-smokers,” or those who smoked occasionally during their pregnancies. To examine the newborns’ DNA, researchers collected samples mainly from the blood in the umbilical cord after delivery.

The data showed that sustained smokers gave birth to children who had their DNA chemically modified in 6,073 places. Researchers said half of these locations were tied to specific genes related to the development of the lung and nervous system, smoking-related cancers, and birth defects such as having a cleft lip or palate. This means the offspring of mothers who smoked during pregnancy may be more likely to suffer health complications during their lifetime because smoking affects organ systems and developmental processes in newborns, London said.

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Real ad or fake? You tell me.

“I find it kind of amazing when we see these epigenetic signals in newborns, from in utero exposure, lighting up the same genes as an adult’s own cigarette smoking. There’s a lot of overlap,” said London, an epidemiologist and physician at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “This is a blood-borne exposure to smoking — the fetus isn’t breathing it, but many of the same things are going to be passing through the placenta.”

I read some of the comments on a couple of stories about this, with some smokers expressing skepticism about the results. Really? In this day and age? Smokers still in denial.

For me, the most shocking statement in this story wasn’t that smoking is thought to cause DNA damage in fetuses … it’s that in this day and age 12.3 percent of expectant mothers smoke. Holy Christ on a crutch .. that many pregnant women still smoke today? That sincerely blew me away.

Here’s the truth … it’s been known for some time that the chemicals in smoking, one of which is a radioactive isotope called Polonium-210,  tears apart the DNA in smokers’ lung cells, which is the No. 1 reason why some smokers get lung cancer.  So, why is it such a big leap for this people to believe some fairly extensive research showing potential DNA damage to fetuses? Especially when it’s been long known that smoking by pregnant women causes low birth rate and increases the risk of SIDS.

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Real ad or fake? You tell me.

It’s certainly a sea change from old attitudes about pregnancy and smoking. Believe it or not, there was really, actually a real honest to goodness cigarette ad in the 1950s featuring a pregnant woman buying tobacco. No, not this fake ad from Bioshock Buried at Sea. A real ad. I included both. See if you can tell which one is fake and which one is for real.

 

Chicago next city to ban chew at big league ballparks; California ban to take effect in 2017

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Wrigley Field

Chicago is the latest city to consider a ban on chewing tobacco at all sports facilities, and that includes Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park (I suppose Soldier Field, too). That also includes players, managers and coaches.

Chicago will be joining Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and the entire state of California (more on that below) in banning chew at ballparks. New York and Toronto are also considering bans on chew at big league parks and both the Mets and Yankees support the ban, so I don’t expect any roadbumps.

A Chicago City Council committee approved the ban last week, which will be voted on by the full Council sometime this week, possibly Wednesday. The ban would take effect immediately. That would bring the total of Major League ballparks with chewing tobacco bans to nine by 2017.

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Comiskey Park

Cities are pushing forward with these bans in large part because Major League Baseball is seriously dragging its feet in banning chew on the field and in the dugouts. Actually, to be fair, the league itself actually does want to impose a ban, but the Players’ Association are actually holding it up. It will likely require the association’s approval through the collective bargaining process.

The push for bans began after MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, a longtime chewer, died of pituitary gland cancer.  Longtime chewer Curt Schilling also had a recent public battle with oral cancer.

From a Chicago Tribune story:

“Smokeless tobacco destroys the mouth, and the younger you start, the more destruction that’s there and the longer you put cancer-causing chemicals in your mouth, the greater the risk,” Dr. Larry Williams of the Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine told aldermen. “Our young people are going to emulate what they see and what they watch. I commend you for this wonderful opportunity to get it off the TV screen.”

For some mystifying reason, chewing tobacco is deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. No one knows why. It just is. Like a damned tick. About 7 percent of adult males chew tobacco, but according to several surveys, about 30 percent of baseball players chew.

Chew is already banned at the high school, Minor League and NCAA levels.

There’s a pretty good question about how it will be enforced. Are cops really going to be on the field, handing out tickets to multi-millionaire ballplayers who are pretty used to doing whatever they want. The hope is that through peer pressure, players will do the right thing and put that crap away without resorting to that.

From the Tribune:

“It’s a good question as to how it will be enforced,” (U.S. Senator) Dick Durbin responded. “But I think when the word is out and about and the media can follow what players are doing, that there will be some attention paid to it, and I think that the fact that it is the law, and the fact that there will be peer pressure and observation of what is done, will finally lead us to change.”

Durbin acknowledged “there may be some rough patches at the startup, but ultimately I believe it’s going to be a success, and it’s going to be for the benefit of the ballplayers too.”

Durbin has been lobbying Chicago to impose a ban. His father died of lung cancer when he was a college sophomore.

California ban on chew at ballparks goes in effect in 2017

I can’t believe I totally missed this story. I am not omnipotent, I guess. This is from October of last year. I’m six months late on this story.

I was aware there was a bill in the works in the California State Legislature to ban chewing tobacco at all ballparks in the state, including Major League parks in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego. (San Francisco and L.A. have already done it, of course).

Well, the bill was actually signed into law in October 2015. However, it doesn’t take effect until 2017 and apparently doesn’t actually have an enforcement mechanism. Teams will be expected to police their players themselves.

From a Christian Science Monitor story:

Christian Zwicky, a former Southern California Babe Ruth League most valuable player who grew up watching the Los Angeles Dodgers play and says he never cared for seeing all that tobacco chewing and the spitting of tobacco juice that follows.

It didn’t influence him to take up the practice, the 22-year-old college student says, but he can see how it might have affected others.

“I understand the sentiment there,” said Zwicky who adds he’s not a big fan of government regulation but supports this law. “You don’t want these people that kids look up to using these products that could influence children in a negative way.”

Madison Bumgarner, a San Francisco Giants pitcher (and damned good one) and Giants manager Bruce Bochy, have both come out in support of the ban in San Francisco. And they’re both chewers. From the CSM:

Last year’s World Series MVP, San Francisco Giant’s pitching ace Madison Bumgarner, also chews tobacco but told The Associated Press earlier this year he planned to quit after San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt a ban. That one, like the statewide provision, also takes effect next year.

“I’ll be all right. I can quit,” Bumgarner said in August. “I quit every once in a while for a little while to make sure I can do it.”

“It’s a tough deal for some of these players who have grown up playing with it and there are so many triggers in the game,” San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy told the AP earlier this year.

“I certainly don’t endorse it,” said Bochy, an on-and-off-again user for decades. “With my two sons, the one thing I asked them is don’t ever start dipping.”

 

Going beyond cigarettes — starchy, sugary diet may raise risk of lung cancer

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A very interesting story that really surprises me.

According to a study from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, researchers interviewed 1,900 people who had just been diagnosed with lung cancer and compared that with 2,400 other people without cancer who were interviewed. They asked questions about lifestyle choices, including smoking, and diet.

What they found is that people with “high glycemic index ” diets (lots of sugar and starch) were more likely to be in the lung cancer group than people with low glycemic diets. The link was stronger among people who didn’t smoke, they found.

From an NBC News article:

How can this happen? Doctors aren’t sure, but there’s a theory that high-glycemic foods stimulate the body to make insulin, which in turn affects the growth of cells via compounds called insulin-like growth factors or IGF. Cancer is the uncontrolled proliferation of cells, so it might be that the high-glycemic foods are fueling the growth of tiny tumors.

“IGFs have been shown to play a critical role in regulating cell proliferation and differentiation in cancer and there is evidence to suggest that IGFs are elevated in lung cancer patients,” Wu’s team wrote.

It’s a suspect in several types of cancer.

“Previous studies have investigated the association between glycemic index, and the related measure glycemic load, and a variety of cancers including colorectal, stomach, pancreas, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, and thyroid but these studies are limited and results have been largely inconclusive,” the researchers wrote.

This study is not conclusive, either. For one thing, the researchers asked their volunteers to remember what they ate. For another, it’s an association. People who eat high-glycemic foods may also do something else that also raises their risk of cancer. And this particular study focused only on non-Hispanic white people.

It’s important to keep in mind that about 15 percent of the people who get lung cancer are people who never smoked, and about 20 percent of women who get lung cancer never smoked. Secondhand smoke might be a factor, but so is genetics likely and possibly diet, according to this survey.

I don’t really know what low glycemic versus high glycemic entails, so here is a list included in the article:

According to the American Diabetes Association, low-glycemic foods include:

  • 100 percent stone-ground whole wheat or pumpernickel bread
  • Oatmeal (rolled or steel-cut), oat bran, muesli
  • Pasta, converted rice, barley, bulgar
  • Sweet potato, corn, yam, lima/butter beans, peas, legumes and lentils
  • Most fruits, non-starchy vegetables and carrots

Medium glycemic index foods include:

  • Whole wheat, rye and pita bread
  • Quick oats
  • Brown, wild or basmati rice, couscous

High glycemic index foods include:

  • White bread, including bagels

  • Corn flakes, puffed rice, bran flakes, instant oatmeal

  • Shortgrain white rice, rice pasta, macaroni and cheese from mix

  • Russet potato, pumpkin

  • Pretzels, rice cakes, popcorn, saltine crackers

  • melons and pineapple

Oh, good, I do like baked potatoes, so that’s the only high glycemic food I each much of on this list.

 

“Catmageddon” — The Truth Campaign’s latest cute campaign

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You’ve probably no doubt by now seen the Truth Campaign’s newest Catmageddon commercial.

Basically, the point is — something that doesn’t get talked a lot, not even by me — that secondhand smoke is not only bad for smokers’ kids, it’s bad for their pets. No cats, no more cute cat videos on YouTube.

Several studies have shown that secondhand smoke can cause lung and other cancers in dogs, cats and other pets. According to the Truth Campaign ads, cats and dogs are twice as likely to develop cancer if their owners are smokers.

The Truth Campaign followed up the Catmageddon commercial with a commercial about secondhand smoke and dogs. The funniest commercial of them is all is about a bunch of cats that hold a wild party when their owner is away. That one is just on YouTube, I think. It’s too long of a commercial for TV.  I just had to post something just to get this longer commercial out there.

Just part of the Truth Campaign’s continuing creative take on trying to get the message across to young people about the dangers of smoking. It’s working; in fact it’s successful beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Teen smoking has plummeted from 30 percent in the 1990s to less than 10 percent today (the rise of e-cigarettes have a lot to do with that, too.)

Nicotine listed by experts as among the most addictive substances

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… but not as one of the most damaging drugs on Earth, a big oversight on their part.

This is a story from the Conversation, based on a survey done with substance abuse experts about the most addictive substances on Earth … and nicotine makes the cut.

It’s important to always keep this in mind about while tobacco is so evil … the sheer physical addictiveness of nicotine. I’ve often said that it’s arguably as addictive as heroin … I can’t imagine there’s really a way to measure such a thing. I just base this on anecdotal information I gather from smokers about how incredibly grueling and physically difficult it is to quit smoking. People tell me it just wracks their bodies trying to quit.

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I also believe, and some studies support this, that there is a genetic component to nicotine addiction, which could explain why some people are able to quit smoking while others simply … cannot … do … it. So, it’s not about willpower or that somehow some people are just stranger than others.

Anyway, the five most addictive substances mentioned int his article are:

  1. Heroin
  2. Alcohol
  3. Cocaine
  4. Barbiturates
  5. Nicotine

Now this story doesn’t talk about meth, which is another incredibly addictive drug, but it does mention that meth is closely related to cocaine, so I suppose the author is bundling them together.

One thing I don’t agree with this story: It states that heroin is the second-most damaging drug in the world in terms of damage to  users and society. Alcohol is listed as the most damaging with an estimated 3 million deaths caused worldwide in 2012. Cocaine is listed as the third-most damaging drug..

These experts claim that nicotine is the 12th most addictive drug on Earth — again, how that is measured, I don’t know. And I don’t have a clue what the other 11 substances would be; only four are mentioned in this story.

And they don’t even list it as the most damaging drugs, this is where I disagree … even though the current death toll from tobacco is 6 million people a year worldwide, double the death toll from the so-called No. 1 most damaging drug, alcohol. By 2030, an estimated 8 million people will die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

I won’t dismiss the staggering damage done by alcoholism, not only from alcohol-related diseases, but domestic violence, murders and DUI wrecks caused by drinking.  But, I would argue that nicotine does more damage to society than cocaine, heroin and barbiturates combined.  Here’s where I don’t agree with this story’s logic. In the U.S. at least, tobacco kills more people than alcohol, cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and other illegal drugs combined … like by a pretty sizable margin. Tobacco kills 440,000 people a year in the U.S., while alcohol kills about 110,000 people a year (and this includes DUIs) and Illegal drugs only kill about 20,000 people a year. So, we’re talking three times as many die as a result of tobacco than from alcohol and illegal drugs combined. I’m glad this article talked about nicotine, but I just can’t see how you can dismiss the damage done by nicotine and tobacco and this article did that a bit, in my opinion.

This doesn’t take into account other kinds of damage done to society, such as legal costs, incarceration, drug cartel violence, people losing their jobs and families, etc., from drug use and drinking. But, in terms of death and sheer health costs … nicotine and tobacco are No. 1, in my opinion.

Anyway, it was an interesting article even if i didn’t totally agree with it. Nicotine needs to be very much spoken in the same context as alcohol and illegal drugs as far as the damage done by it.

 

World Health Organization calls for adult ratings worldwide for allowing smoking in movies

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Lois Lane smoking in Superman II. Philip Morris paid six figures to have Lois smoke in this PG-rated movie.

A follow-up toa  series of stories I’ve done in the past few weeks. The World Health Organization has now jumped on board, calling for adult movie ratings for films that depict tobacco use.

What prompted my latest series of stories on this was watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on a rented DVD and noticing there was virtually no smoking in the movie at all, even though it took place in 1963, which is literally during the height of the smoking era. Shortly afterward was a story about how data shows that depictions of smoking in movies, in particular PG and PG-13 movies, has dropped fairly dramatically since the MPAA in 2009 adopted guidelines discouraging (discouraging, not banning) smoking in movies marketed to teens and kids.

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Yup, a real still from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with real free advertising for Marlboros.

The new MPAA policy hasn’t been perfect or ideal, but for the most part it has been working. Studios have been voluntarily removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies because they just aren’t interested in butting heads with the MPAA over it. In fact, Disney, which now owns the Marvel brand, has said no more smoking in any of its movies, including Marvel movies. That means Wolverine and Nick Fury and J.J. Jameson no longer get to chomp on cigars. Call it revisionist history, but hey, back in the day, James Bond used to actually spank women. Times change.

Anyway, this story about the data on smoking in movies claimed there were 10-29 depictions of smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” I thought, “seriously? Really? I can’t remember a single one.” I had already sent the DVD back to Netflix, but my friend Nancy watched the movie for me and confirmed that there was no smoking in the movie. Not sure what “depictions of tobacco” means, according to Smokefree Movies.

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I digress … a LOT. WHO has issued its own opinion that movies that depict tobacco use should be given an “adult” rating (R-rating in the U.S., but there’s myriad other terms for it in other countries.)

From a WHO press release:

“With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s Director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products,” adds Dr Bettcher. “The 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are obliged by international law to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”
….

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, says countries around the world have taken steps to limit tobacco imagery in films. “China has ordered that ‘excessive’ smoking scenes should not be shown in films. India has implemented new rules on tobacco imagery and brand display in domestic and imported films and TV programmes. But more can and must be done,” Dr Peruga adds.

I honestly believe this is an important issue because most tobacco advertising has been curtailed. No tobacco ads allowed on TV or radio and tobacco advertising in magazines has for 18 hours not been allowed to use cartoon characters such as Joe Camel. So, where is one of the biggest sources of kids continuing to get the idea that smoking is cool or hip — if not the biggest source? Hollywood, plain and simple. Hollywood has for nearly 100 years had a bizarre symbiotic relations with tobacco. In the 1930s and 1940s “cool” characters created by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall smoked; the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood to advertise its products beginning with Superman II in 1980, and yet even after this was exposed and banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, smoking depictions in PG and PG-13 movies actually went UP in the 2000s. Only by advocates making a huge stink about it, did the MPAA crack down on smoking in teen-marketed movies … a crackdown that wasn’t as severe as some people wanted, but has served its purpose and hasn’t infringed (In my opinion) on freedom of expression.

For the record, like F bombs, sex, and brain-splattering gore, I’m all for allowing as much smoking as a director wants in an R-rated movie. I’m all for freedom of expression. I just want it out of kid- and teen-marketed movies.

 

Demented ad for cigarettes in “Bioshock: Burial At Sea”

 

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A couple of weeks ago, I posted something about smoking in video games. One of the games mentioned in an article about smoking in video games was “Bioshock: Burial at Sea.”

Well, I’ve been playing it, and noticed an ad in the game for cigarettes … an ad featuring a pregnant woman.

Now, if any of you have ever played any of the Bioshock games, you know there’s a lot of twisted advertisements in these games … really, openly racist ads, etc. If you understand the Bioshock world, you realize there is a lot of irony and dark views of the worst instincts to be found in current U.S. politics (Libertarianism, Objectivism, white supremacy and anti-immigration bigotry … if anything, the anti-Libertarian and anti-racism messages in Bioshock are more compelling today than they’ve ever been).

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Poster from Bioshock Infinite. You get to kill white supremacists in this game.

So, the ad with the pregnant woman falls right into the twisted, ironic world of Bioshock. “Bioshock: Burial at Sea” takes place in 1958. Is this ad that much different from real ads from the 1950s? It’s only slightly more extreme than this:

There is a lot of smoking in Bioshock Burial at Sea. In fact, in all of the Bioshock games, you can smoke a pack of cigarettes to gain more powers (called “Eve” or “Vigors” depending on the game), but it takes away a bit of your health. I don’t know if there’s enough cigarettes in Bioshock to actually kill yourself, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.

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REAL Camel ad from the 1950s featuring an apparently pregnant woman.

So, while I singled out Bioshock in my previous post about smoking in video games, the game does take a very twisted look back at real cigarette advertising and just how insane it actually was.