Smoky Prague, Czech Republic go smokefree

A pub in Prague

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

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

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

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

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

From the Washington Post:

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

New drugs making progress against lung cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a Medscape article:

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

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

Chris Cornell 1964-2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Soundgarden, Audioslave collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a Guardian article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Vape thwarted in attempt to water down FDA rules

Preteen girl tries e-cigarette with her friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Philip Morris keeps trying to undermine California’s tobacco tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a New York Times article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacramento Bee editorial on tobacco taxes

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

Haruko’s 2017 Hall of Fame update

I’m going to focus on who I think helped their Hall of Fame case in 2016 and who I think didn’t and who I think stayed in about the same position.

I’m going to ignore a few people who are kind of Hall of Fame no-brainers — Albert Pujols and Mike Trout mainly. I’m also mostly going to ignore younger players like Jose Altuve and focus on guys who have been around for a while. Many of these guys are currently on the borderline of the Hall, I think. Probably less than half the people I talk about will actually make the Hall of Fame, but I think they have the potential to possibly get there by the time their careers are over. I’m also ignoring guys that have PED suspensions like Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colon and Alex Rodriguez because that’s still kind of a non-starter for the Hall of Fame.

Keep in mind that when I talk about some of these players that I’m not sure that many people really considered Adrian Beltre a serious Hall of Famer just five years ago. He’s stayed healthy and had five outstanding seasons in his mid- and late-30s and is now an almost certain Hall of Famer. Some guys in their mid- to late-30s find new life and can really bolster their chances. Some guys fade pretty quickly when they hit 35. You never know.

And, as usual, I’m sure I will miss some people.

First, I will start with position players.

Position players who helped their Hall of Fame cases.

Carlos Beltran

Career numbers

.281, 2,617 hits, 421 HRs, 1,536 RBIs

2016

.295, 29 HRs, 93 RBIs

Beltran had his best season in several years in 2016. To be honest, I have a hard time thinking of Beltran as a Hall of Famer. He got fourth place in the MVP vote one year, but that’s the one and only time he finished in the top 8 of the MVP vote. But, at the same time, his cumulative numbers are getting pretty impressive, a bit surprising considering how many games he’s missed to injury. He turns 40 this year. If he plays a couple more years, and there’s no reason to think he won’t, averages over 100 games a year and ends up with 2,800 hits, 450-plus home runs and over 1,700 RBIs, that’s getting really hard to ignore for the Hall of Fame. If he never played another game, I think he would fall a bit short. One thing that will really hurt him for the Hall of Fame is what I call the “Fred McGriff Syndrome.” Beltran has bounced around his entire career; he’s played for a total of seven teams and he’s never stayed anywhere more than seven years. When you don’t really identify a guy with one or two teams, I think that hurts at Hall of Fame balloting time. If McGriff had played his entire career with the Yankees or Red Sox, he’d be in the Hall of Fame with the numbers he put up. I really believe that.

Chances for Hall of Fame.

Probably about 50/50.

Adrian Beltre

Career numbers

.287, 2,942 hits, 445 home runs, 1,591 RBIs.

2016

.300, 32 HRs, 104 RBIs, Gold Glove

Beltre helped cement his Hall of Fame resume with an awesome year at the age of 37, in which he won his fifth Gold Glove. I can’t believe there’s still people who insist he isn’t a Hall of Famer — and there are, trust me. He should get to 3,000 hits in June and when he does, he will be  one of just nine guys in history with 3,000 hits and 450 home runs. If he can get to 500 home runs, he will be one of only six guys with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs. All that and he’s been an outstanding defensive third basemen for 15 years.

Hall of Fame chances

Automatic, likely first ballot.

Robinson Cano

Career numbers

.307, 2,210 hits, 278 HRs, 1,086 RBIs.

2016

.298, 39 HRs, 103 RBIs

Cano had his best power year ever in 2016 at the age of 33. He will be only 34 this year and is just 790 hits short of 3,000. At the pace he’s going, he should get to 3,000 hits when he’s 38 or 39 years old. And he never misses games. One of his most incredible stats is that Cano has missed a total of 24 games since 2007. Cano has never had fewer than 155 hits in a season. It appears he will easily get to 350 HRs and could make it to 400, a lot for a second baseman. All that and two Gold Gloves.

Hall of Fame chances

Better than 50/50.

Miguel Cabrera

Career numbers

.321, 2,519 hits, 446 HRs, 1,553 RBIs

2016

.316, 38 HRs, 108 RBIs

Cabrera was probably a no-brainer for the Hall of Fame, but he had experienced a pretty major dropoff in power in 2014 and 2015. If there was any doubt about his Hall of Fame chances, he erased that last season, putting up huge numbers. Cabrera will be just 34 this year and is only 481 hits short of 3,000. He could get to 3,000 hits before the age of 37. He will easily surpass 500 HRs (sometime in 2018, likely) and could get to 600 (and could crack 2,000 RBIs). Add to that two MVPs and four batting titles.

Hall of Fame chances

First ballot slam dunk.

Joey Votto

Career numbers

.313, .425 OBP (12th all-time), .961 OPS (18th all-time), 221 HRs, MVP

2016

.326, 29 HRs, 97 RBIs, 101 runs, 108 walks

Joey Votto has his second straight outstanding season in 2016.  He is quietly putting up amazing numbers that I believe deserve to get serious Hall of Fame consideration. However, because he walks a lot and has lost nearly 200 games in his career to injuries, he hasn’t compiled numbers and this will likely hurt him at Hall of Fame time. Did you know Votto has the 12th-highest on-base percentage of all-time? He also has the 18th highest OPS … ever. That’s why I think he deserves some attention for the Hall of Fame. Votto has an MVP and has finished in the top seven of the MVP vote five times. Still, he only has 1,407 hits and 730 RBIs at the age of 33, which is a negative on his resume. If he can continue putting up the kind of seasons he has most of his career for perhaps another five years and make it to at least 2,000 hits (not easy when you walk over 100 times a year) and 350 HRs, I think he’s got a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame chances

Hard to predict, deserves to be 50/50, I think

David Ortiz

Career numbers

.286, 541 HRs, 1,768 RBIs, .931 OPS, WS MVP, ALCS MVP, .455 in World Series

2016

.315, 38 HRs, 127 RBIs, 1.021 OPS (are you kidding me?)

There’s no doubt Ortiz is a polarising figure because of the suspicions that he juiced. Without getting into the juicing accusations (based primarily on a New York Times article about a positive test for an unknown substance before baseball had sanctions for positive tests), I’m just going to look at his raw numbers. Based on numbers and nothing else, Ortiz should be the first pure DH to go into the Hall of Fame. He had a monster year at the age of 40, leading the AL in OPS at the age of 40, which is unheard of. He ended up 17th all-time in home runs and 22nd all-time in RBIs. Add to that a World Series MVP, an ALCS MVP and a .455 batting average in 14 World Series games. It will be hard to predict how Ortiz will do when his time comes up for a Hall vote because of the PED suspicions, but his cumulative numbers are so impressive that I think it quells the “DHs don’t belong in the Hall” nonsense. Bagwell and Piazza going into the Hall of Fame helps Ortiz’s chances because of the PED suspicions surrounding them.

Hall of Fame chances

It’s complicated

Ichiro

Career numbers

3,030 hits, .313 average, 10 Gold Gloves, 508 steals

2016

.291, cracked 3,000 hits

I don’t think there was a lot of doubt before last year that Ichiro was going to make the Hall of Fame, but since he cracked 3,000 hits (and 500 steals) in 2016, I think that removed any and all remaining doubt. He will go in first ballot.

Actually, I really felt like it was very much in doubt he was going to make it to 3,000 hits after hitting just .229 in 2015. He ended up with his highest batting average since 2010. Ichiro passed eight Hall of Famers in hits last season and now stands at 3,030 hits. He could end up 20th all-time in hits if he gets 85 more in 2017. And he started as a 27-year-old rookie. His stretch between 2001 and 2010 was simply incredible — he averaged 224 hits a year over a 10-year period and holds the record for most hits in a season at 262.

Hall of Fame chances

First ballot.

Dustin Pedroia

Career stats

.301, 1,683 hits, 133 HRs, four Gold Gloves, MVP, 56 career errors

2016

.318, 15 HRs, 74 RBIs, 105 runs, 201 hits

 

Ft. Myers, FL, February 17, 2013:
(Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox)

Pedroia had a really nice bounceback season in 2016. It was his first genuinely injury-free season since 2012. Pedroia is still just 33 and easily could play another five full years. He’s hit over .300 five times and over .290 eight times. I think he needs to get to at least 2,400 hits and perhaps 200 HRs (and keep his career average above .285) to get a shot at the Hall of Fame. If he can average 140 hits a year and 12 home runs a year for five years, that gets him close to 2,400 hits and 200 home runs. He’s a really underrated defensive second baseman, having made just 56 errors in nearly 1,400 games at second base. That’s unreal. He still has work to do for the Hall of Fame, but with a couple more years like last year hitting well over .300, he has a shot.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Less than 50/50.

Edwin Encarnacion

Career numbers

.266, 310 HRs, 942 RBIs

2016

.262, 42 HRs, 127 RBIs

Don’t laugh. I think he has a real shot at the Hall of Fame after another big year in 2016.  The biggest reason I include Encarnacion is his 310 HRs at the age of 33. He’s gotten more powerful as he’s gotten older and I expect he will DH soon, extending his career. He could easily get to 450 home runs and he has a legitimate shot at 500 … if he averages about 30 home runs a year until he turns 39 .. and power ages well. He has hit 193 home runs over the past five years (38.6 home runs a year) and has 550 RBIs over that same span (110 a year). I think Encarnacion probably has to get to 500 home runs to get in the Hall of Fame, or he’ll end up like Carlos Delgado or Fred McGriff, on the outside looking in.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50.

Ian Kinsler

Career stats

.277, 212 HRs, 211 stolen bases, 1,696 hits

2016

.288, 28 HRs, 83 RBIs, Gold Glove

I never thought of Kinsler as a potential Hall of Famer until someone pointed out to me just how good his career numbers are. He has an outside chance at the Hall. He had his best power year since 2011 last year and he has started hitting for average again the past two seasons after a few seasons hitting in the .250s. He also is a rare breed — a second baseman with more than 200 home runs and 200 stolen bases. Joe Morgan and Ryne Sandberg might be the only others who have ever done that. He also won his first Gold Glove last year. One thing that will hurt him, and I think it will hurt him a lot, is his fairly low career batting average — .277. Kinsler will turn 35 this year. If he can get to 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 250 steals, he might have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50.

Evan Longoria

Career stats

.271, 241 HRs, 806 RBIs

2016

.273, 36 HRs, 98 RBIs

Longoria had his best power year ever in 2016. I included Longoria because he is still just 31 years old and already has 241 home runs. He’s hit over 30 HRs four times and it’s conceivable if he averages 30 home runs a year over the next five years that he could have 390 home runs at the age of 35, well within range of 500. Longoria is hurt by a fairly low career batting average, some injury-plagued years and being stuck in Tampa Bay, where he doesn’t get much attention.

Hall of Fame chances

Less than 50/50

Position players whose Hall of Fame stock remained about the same

Yadier Molina

Career stats

.285 average, eight Gold Gloves, 1,593 hits

2016

.307, 8 HRs, 58 RBIs, 38 doubles

A weird year for Molina. He hit over .300 for the fifth time (his first .300-plus year since 2013), which really helps his case, but for the first time since 2007, he didn’t win the Gold Glove (and he actually didn’t throw basestealers out very well last year). He had won eight Gold Gloves in a row. Molina probably needs to get to 2,000 hits to have a real crack at the Hall of Fame, and at the age of 34, he can probably do that in about another four years.  There aren’t many guys who have gotten 2,000 hits from the catcher position. Just three. Not even Gary Carter, Mike Piazza or Johnny Bench did it. Molina has 1,576 hits as a catcher, only 424 hits short, so if he does it, that will be a huge plus for him. Still, offensively, he’s a bit of a mixed bag — .285 for a catcher is pretty good, but his power numbers for the catcher position are pedestrian, just 108 home runs and 703 RBIs in his career. That could hurt him at Hall of Fame time. But, with eight and possibly more Gold Gloves on his resume and considered the best defensive catcher in the National League for a decade, he has a real shot.

Hall of Fame chances

About 50/50.

Position players whose Hall of Fame stock declined

Chase Utley

Career Statistics

.278. 250 HRs, 977 RBIs, 1,777 hits

2016

.252, 14 HRs, 52 RBIs, 115 strikeouts

Utley gets some Hall of Fame buzz; there are definitely people out there who believe he ought to be a Hall of Famer, mostly because of his stellar career WAR of 64.4. Utley to me is a classic example of why I don’t like the WAR stat. There are times it simply makes no sense. Why his career WAR is so high, I have no idea because honestly, he hasn’t been that great for a while now.Utley didn’t have a particularly good year in 2016  and he hasn’t had a particularly good year since … 2009. Over the past seven seasons, Utley’s average stats per year are .260 with 13 HRs and 56 RBIs a year. Those aren’t Hall of Fame numbers. Not even close. He has five absolutely outstanding years between 2005 and 2009, but he’s had a ton of injuries and six very sub-Hall of Fame years since (with one decent year in 2013). He likely won’t make it to 2,000 hits and unless he has a serious career renaissance beginning at the age of 38 this year, I don’t see him making the Hall. If Jeff Kent isn’t in with the numbers he put up at second base, then Utley won’t get in. I don’t care what his WAR is, I look at 14 seasons, and eight of them are not remotely close to Hall of Fame-worthy. He’s more the Hall of What Coulda Been.

Hall of Fame chances

I say slight, pfffft to WAR

Mark Teixeira

Career Stas

.268, 409 HRs, 1,298 RBIs

2016

.204, 15 HRs, 44 RBIs

I honestly think Teixeira could’ve made the Hall of Fame, because he had a pretty valid shot at 500 home runs and actually was having a really good year in 2015 until he broke his leg. But, after another awful year in 2016, Teixeira called it quits at the age of 36. I figured if he could stay healthy and play until he was 40 and get to 500 HRs, he might have a shot at the hall. I think his numbers fall far short for the Hall of Fame.

Chances for the Hall of Fame

Virtually zero

Jimmy Rollins

Career stats

.264, 2,455 hits, 231 HRs, 131 triples, 470 stolen bases, 511 doubles, 1,421 runs, MVP, four Gold Gloves

2016

.221, 2 HRs 8 RBIs

I only include Rollins because at one time, it looked like he was a legitimate candidate for the Hall of Fame. He had 2,175 hits at the age of 34, well within range of 3,000, and a LOT of runs, steals and home runs. But, over the past three seasons, he’s batted .233 and last year appeared in just 41 games. It appears his career is all but over at the age of 37. He’s compiled a lot of numbers — hits, home runs, stolen bases, triples, runs. But, Rollins has never hit for particularly good average, he’s never had even one .300 season and he hasn’t hit over .268 since 2008 (In fact, since 2008, his cumulative batting average is just .247). He’s a guy who’s played a ton of games and had a ton of at-bats so he compiled a lot of numbers, but overall, those numbers aren’t going to be good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Chances for the Hall of Fame

Virtually zero

Joe Mauer

Career stats

.308, MVP, 3-time batting champ, three Gold Gloves, 1,826 hits

2016

.261, 11 HRs, 49 RBIs

Mauer has had a weird career. I only include Mauer because he had a truly extraordinary Hall of Fame-calibre stretch between 2006-2013. In those eight years, he had three batting titles, hit over .300 six times and hit a cumulative .327. Since 2013, he’s hit .267, with little power.

Mauer after 2013 looked like a sure-fire Hall of Famer, with an MVP and four top-8 MVP finishes. But, in the past three seasons, his numbers have nosedived, maybe too many injuries, I don’t know what is behind it. In 2016, he had his third straight season of hitting below .280. He’s still a .308 career hitter (down from a career batting average of .323 before 2014), but it appears his career is winding down at the age of 34.

Unless Mauer has a big resurgence for at least three or four years, and that’s looking unlikely, I think he comes up short for the Hall of Fame. His career numbers are looking really similar to Don Mattingly’s and Steve Garvey’s — two guys who were great the first half of their careers but pedestrian their second halves — only without power numbers to help his cause.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Slight

Pitchers who helped their case for the Hall of Fame

Max Scherzer

Career stats

125-69, 3.39 ERA, 2 Cy Youngs, 1,881 strikeouts, two 20-win seasons

2016

20-7, 2.96 ERA, 284 strikeouts, Cy Young award, 0.968 WHIP (First in NL)

Scherzer really helped his Hall of Fame resume this year. He won his second Cy Young and is only one of six pitchers now to win a Cy Young in both the American League and the National League. Only one non-steroids tainted pitcher has won two Cy Youngs and is not in the Hall of Fame — Brett Saberhagen, whose career was cut short by injuries. Scherzer had a spectacular season, leading the National League in wins (he had his second 20-win season), strikeouts, WHIP and innings pitched. He is averaging 256 strikeouts a season over the past five years and seems likely to pass 3,000 strikeouts. He has also averaged 17.3 wins a year over the past six years. He is still only 32 and barring arm injuries could get to 200 wins (prolly a Hall of Fame minimum) by the age of 37 or 38. He does have a potentially chronic hand/finger injury, which is worrisome.

Hall of Fame chances

About 50/50.

Justin Verlander

Career stats

173-106, 3.47 ERA, four strikeout titles, MVP,  Cy Young, two Cy Young second-place finishes,, 2,173 strikeouts

2016

16-9, 3.04 ERA, 254 strikeouts (first in AL), 2nd in Cy Young voting

Verlander’s numbers and career appeared to be in decline, but last year, he had a great bounceback season, which got him second place in the Cy Young vote (and many people will argue Verlander got robbed because a couple of writers didn’t even bother to even include him on their ballots). Verlander is 173-106 in his career and is still just 34 years old; 200 wins seems a certainty. He also now has five top-5 finishes in the Cy Young vote with one Cy Young award and is one of the few pitchers to ever win an MVP. He’s also at 2,173 strikeouts, with a shot at 3,000, and he’s led the AL four times in strikeouts. I think he needs to get to 200 wins and have perhaps another two or three pretty good seasons to make the Hall of Fame.

Chances for Hall of Fame

About 50/50.

CC Sabathia

Career stats

223-146, Cy Young, 2,726 strikeouts, 3.70 career ERA

2016

9-12, 3.91 ERA

Sabathia actually had a decent season; enough to show that he isn’t done yet as a pitcher after a lot of injuries and personal problems. I honestly thought last year could’ve been his final season. Sabathia had a losing record in 2016, but a respectable ERA, so he may have a few years left at the age of 36. Sabathia has 223 wins with 2,726 strikeouts. So, 250 wins and 3,000 strikeouts are not out of the question. Even 270-280 wins is still possible. Some people scoff at the idea of Sabathia being a Hall of Famer, but they forget how good he was from 2001-2012. In those 12 seasons, he went 191-102, won a Cy Young and had five top-5 Cy Young finishes. His career ERA of 3.70 is a bit high. If Sabathia retired today, I doubt he makes the Hall.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Probably less than 50/50.

Clayton Kershaw

Career stats

126-60, three Cy Youngs, 2.37 career ERA , MVP, Fifth in Cy Young vote

2016

12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 strikeouts in 149 innings

Kershaw had his first major injury in 2016, he was likely on his way to his fourth Cy Young before he got hurt. Still, he had decent numbers and came in fifth in the Cy Young vote despite only pitching 21 games. So, 2016 didn’t hurt his case. Kershaw is likely a lock for the Hall of Fame already with three Cy Youngs, six top-5 Cy Young finishes, an MVP and the lowest career ERA since Walter Johnson. Kershaw’s career ERA of 2.37 is almost half a run better than the next modern-era Hall of Fame starter — Whitey Ford at 2.75. And he already has over 1,900 strikeouts … he is still only 29 years old.. He could really compile some impressive numbers if he can pitch another 10 years — 250+ wins and 3,000 strikeouts is a real possibility. On the bad side, Kershaw’s injury was a bad one — in his back. Hopefully, it won’t become a chronic issue. However, even if Kershaw retired after this year, I think he’d make the Hall of Fame with what he has already done.

Chances for Hall of Fame

Near certainty.

Madison Bumgarner

100-67, 2.99 career ERA, NLCS MVP, WS MVP

2016

15-9, 2.74 ERA, 251 strikeouts, Fourth in Cy Young vote

Bumgarner had another typical Bumgarner season in 2016, not what I would call spectacular, but pretty darn good.  It was Bumgarner’s third year in the top-6 of the Cy Young voting. Bumgarner also got to 100 wins last year and believe it or not, he is still only 27. He easily could have 140 wins before he turns 30. He is also 8-3 in the postseason with an NLCS MVP and a World Series MVP, which helps his case. He needs to do more, obviously, but is on a good Hall of Fame track with a  lot of wins for a guy who is still pretty young. It would help his case if he could win a Cy Young before he’s done.

Hall of Fame chances: About 50/50

Jon Lester

146-84, 3.44 ERA, three world championships, 4-1 in the World Series, three top-4 Cy Young votes

2016 season

19-5, 2.44 ERA, second in Cy Young vote

Lester had one of his best years ever in 2016. He’s won 15 or more games seven times and has three top-4 finishes in the Cy Young vote. He’s 33 years old and could get to 200 wins by the time he’s 36. I still consider him a longshot for the Hall of Fame, but I think after last year, he has a chance. He needs to have at least three or four more really good years to have a shot.

Hall of Fame chances: Less than 50/50

Pitchers who didn’t help their case

Zack Greinke

155-100, 3.42 ERA, Cy Young, second-place Cy Young finish

2016

13-7, 4.37 ERA

Greinke had a down year in 2016. His record of 13-7 was OK, but his 26 starts and high ERA weren’t. After an amazing year in 2015 (19-3, 1.66 ERA, second in the Cy Young), I felt he was a serious Hall of Fame candidate. He still is, but he can’t continue having seasons with an ERA way over 4.00. Greinke is still just 33 years old and could have 200 wins by the age of 35. He also won a Cy Young in Kansas City. Much like Lester, he needs to have at least three or four more really good seasons to have a shot.

Hall of Fame chances: Less than 50/50

Felix Hernandez

154-109, Cy Young, four top-4 Cy Young finishes, 2,264 strikeouts, 3.16 ERA

2016

11-8,  3.82 ERA

Felix had a bit of a lost year, with a major calf injury costing him a couple of months. At one point, he was 11-5 and still could’ve ended up with a decent season, but he lost his last three games and his ERA ballooned in Septmeber. He is still just 31 years old and seems a cinch to get to 200 wins (he could get there at the age of 33). In fact, he’s got a legitimate shot at 250 wins. The good news is his injury was in his calf, not his arm, so there is likely little danger of it becoming chronic. He needs to bounce back and regain his form from 2009-2015. Seattle now has some offence, too, so that should help his win total, which was killed earlier in his career by pitching for bad offensive teams. He also seems a cinch to get to 3,000 strikeouts and could get to 3,500, something only nine pitchers have done.

Chance for Hall of Fame: About 50/50

 

Indonesia, still the “Disneyland of smoking”

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

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

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

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

Not even subtly using sex to sell cigarettes in Indonesia.

From the Southeast Asia Globe:

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

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

From a Quartz Media article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian study shows plain packaging laws work

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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).