“Tobacco Nation” being left behind

Here’s a really good story from U.S. News and World Report about how the smoking rate in the U.S. has dropped dramatically through much of the country … except for one region.

And that’s this funky swath from the Upper Midwest, beginning in West Virginia and then into the Deep South and even some of the lower Midwest. The U.S. News and World report looks at these 12 states — Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia and Kentucky.

Two of these states — West Virginia and Kentucky — have the highest smoking rates in the country at over 24 percent. By comparison, the national smoking rate is roughly 16 percent. Every single one of those 12 continguous states has a smoking rate over 20 percent.

From the article:

 Adult smoking rates in “Tobacco Nation” parallel those in some of the most tobacco-heavy countries in the world, including the Philippines (23 percent), China (28 percent) and Indonesia (the highest rate at 35 percent). The high smoking rates have serious health consequences for both individuals and communities; there are 30 percent more preventable hospitalizations for “ambulatory, care-sensitive conditions” for Medicare enrollees in the 12-state bloc than in the other 38 states, the report said.
 “It’s tragic [in a] nation with these resources financially – medical resources, technology resources, et cetera – that we have a part of the country [where] 66 million people live … that looks more like Brazil or Bangladesh or the Philippines than the United States of America, and that’s just wrong,” says Truth Initiative CEO and President Robin Koval.

These states have a couple of other things in common — most of them have no statewide smoking ban and most of them have low cigarette taxes. Michigan and Ohio are the only two states in that swath that have indoor smoking bans.

 

 

 

This graphic shows the average state cigarette tax in those states is just 98 cents a pack, roughly half of the $1.89 a pack in the other 38 states.

It also isn’t a coincidence that most of these states are conservative and vote heavily Republican. Republican legislatures tend to be more averse to taxes and regulation, so you see no statewide smoking bans and low cigarette taxes.

And you also see a very high lung cancer rate in all of these states.

And there is also a lot of tobacco growing in that region, with millions of tobacco dollars contributed to political candidates. To keep those taxes low and keep those regulations away.

It’s something to celebrate the truly impressive inroads that have been made against smoking in the past 10 years. Both the adult and teen smoking rates have plummeted, the majority of states and major cities in the country have smoking bans, cigarette taxes have gone up and lung cancer deaths are going down. But, that’s sobered by the reality that one part of the country is being left behind by all these advances. People there are being betrayed by the people they’re voting into office.

Anyway, here is a link to a very cool interactive map where you can click on each state to see its smoking rate.

 

E-cigs banned indoors in New York

I only got savvy to this story because I get front pages from the New York Daily News.

The main story here is about Bill O’Reilly, but up in the corner, I noticed the front-page headline of e-cigs smoked.

Sure enough, the story is e-cigarettes are now banned indoors in the state of New York.

The irony here is e-cigs were initially marketed long ago as a way to get around indoor smoking bans. I fully remember the Blu e-cig ads with Stephen Dorff and Jenny McCarthy smoking e-cigs at parties and clubs. Well not in New York. And not in a growing number of places.

The biggest issue with e-cigs indoors? Well, while that cloud of nicotine-laced steam might not smell and might not be irritating, it’s still got plenty of chemicals in it beside water vapour, including a potentially large amount of formaldehyde. (The e-cig industry has denounced these formaldeyde studies, but boy it sure sounds exactly like the cigarette companies trying to denounce the ties between smoking and lung cancer.)

I’m at the point where, absolutely e-cig steam does not bother me or irritate my eyes … but that doesn’t mean I personally want to inhale it. That doesn’t mean I want that formaldehyde coming into contact with my lung cells. I’ve found myself holding my breath or turning away from people vaping indoors.

So, yeah, sorry about those ads from three or four years ago, but vaping is being banned indoors. And I’m OK with that.

 

Philip Morris International trying to bring back the Council for Tobacco Research

WHO Head-Quater in Geneva, Switzerland.
Copyright : WHO/Pierre Virot

Oh, this is too rich. Philip Morris International, the international wing of Altria, has proposed setting up something called “A Foundation for a Smokefree World.”

The World Health Organization has urged world governments not to get involved with the foundation, pointing out the pretty glaring conflict of interest.

Here’s the kicker, Philip Morris Int’l plans to fund its foundation with $80 million over 12 years. Wow, that’s big of them. A multibillion corporation that has been fighting anti-tobacco intiatives worldwide for 10 years that will rake in billions in profits setting aside $80 million over 12 years for good public relations.

Here is an excerpt from WHO’s statement. It’s awesome, it doesn’t pull any punches:

The UN General Assembly has recognized a “fundamental

conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.” (1) WHO Member States have stated that “WHO does not engage with the tobacco industry or non-State actors that work to further the interests of the tobacco industry”, (2) the Organization will therefore not engage with this new Foundation.

Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) obliges Parties to act to protect public health policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. Guidelines for implementation of Article 5.3 state clearly that governments should limit interactions with the tobacco industry and avoid partnership. These Guidelines are also explicit that Governments should not accept financial or other contributions from the tobacco industry or those working to further its interests, such as this Foundation.

Strengthening implementation of the WHO FCTC for all tobacco products remains the most effective approach to tobacco control. Policies such as tobacco taxes, graphic warning labels, comprehensive bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and offering help to quit tobacco use have been proven to reduce demand for tobacco products. These policies focus not just on helping existing users to quit, but on preventing initiation.

(Here’s the kicker:)

If PMI were truly committed to a smoke-free world, the company would support these policies. Instead, PMI opposes them. PMI engages in large scale lobbying and prolonged and expensive litigation against evidence-based tobacco control policies such as those found in the WHO FCTC and WHO’s MPOWER tobacco control, which assists in implementation of the WHO FCTC. For example, just last year PMI lost a six year investment treaty arbitration with Uruguay, in which the company spent approximately US$ 24 million to oppose large graphic health warnings and a ban on misleading packaging in a country with fewer than four million inhabitants.

There are many unanswered questions about tobacco harm reduction (3), but the research needed to answer these questions should not be funded by tobacco companies. The tobacco industry and its front groups have misled the public about the risks associated with other tobacco products. This includes promoting so-called light and mild tobacco products as an alternative to quitting, while being fully aware that those products were not less harmful to health. Such misleading conduct continues today with companies, including PMI, marketing tobacco products in ways that misleadingly suggest that some tobacco products are less harmful than others.

This decades-long history means that research and advocacy funded by tobacco companies and their front groups cannot be accepted at face value. When it comes to the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, there are a number of clear conflicts of interest involved with a tobacco company funding a purported health foundation, particularly if it promotes sale of tobacco and other products found in that company’s brand portfolio. WHO will not partner with the Foundation. Governments should not partner with the Foundation and the public health community should follow this lead.

I love WHO calling this Foundation a “front group” because that’s sure what it sounds like. Philip Morris International has fought and fought and fought tobacco regulations around the world, including plain packaging laws and limits on tobacco marketing. And now it wants to convince people its one of the good guys?

The president of the foundation responded, but I remain pretty unconvinced.

 From Reuters:
The foundation’s founder and president-designate, Derek Yach, a former senior official at the WHO, said more collaboration, not less, was needed to win the war on smoking.
“I am deeply disappointed, therefore, by WHO’s complete mischaracterisation of the nature, structure and intent of the Foundation in its recent statements – and especially by its admonition to others not to work together.”
I find this a pitifually empty statement Collaboration? Really? With the industry that has been fighting regulations tooth and nail? If this foundation was legit, why not find sources of funding other than the tobacco industry? Then, I might give it some benefit of the doubt (though to be honest, it would be really easy for the industry to fund the foundation through dummy organizations.)
What Derek Yach needs to be reminded of is that Big Tobacco did something very similar 60 years ago, it was called the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research. It was established as a PR move to try and convince the public that the industry was “concerned” about the “possible” health effects of smoking. Instead, the institute was used for decades to deflect, distract and obfuscate the facts about smoking. These organizations were disbanded by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, but it appears PMI is trying to start up something that sounds absolutely similar.

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049 … smoking no longer “noir”

I recently went to Blade Runner 2049 and noticed a MASSIVE difference between this and the 1982 version of Blade Runner. And it’s something the original Blade Runner got seriously wrong about the future.

In the 1982 version, there are a number of heavily smoky scenes with characters smoking cigarettes. Not just smoking, but smoking indoors.

OK, OK, I get it. Blade Runner was never meant to be an accurate portrayal of 2019, but I found it ironic. There is virtually nowhere you can actually smoke indoors in 2017. Perhaps in bars in the Deep South, but that’s about it. You certainly couldn’t smoke indoors in Los Angeles, where the film takes place.

Blade Runner … 1982 version

Blade Runner was a film noir, a callback to gritty 1940s detective movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, even most of the hairstyles are out of the 1940s. I remember seeing the movie as a teenager and damn near feeling my eyes tear up from all the cigarette smoke on the screen.

Blade Runner 2049. Plenty of noir … no smoking.

In fact, the original poster for Blade Runner had Sean Young holding a smouldering cigarette, looking cool and suave like Lauren Bacall from 1947..

Blade Runner 1982 … cough, cough.

Here’s the actual cool part. In Blade Runner 2049 … absolutely … positively … NO SMOKING whatsoever. Not a puff. Not once during its grueling 2-hour, 45

It’s not a statement on the future, it’s a statement on Hollywood and how things have changed dramatically in 35 years. Blade Runner 2049 could’ve had all the smoking it wanted, it was already an R-rated movie, but it’s a statement to me that smoking is no long seen as “noir” or “cool” that the filmmakers felt no need to include it, even though the original Blade Runner was one of the smokiest movies you’ll ever see.

Blade Runner 1982.

1982 was during the dark dirty days of cigarettes and Hollywood. To my knowledge there were no payments from Big Tobacco to the producers of Blade Runner, but it was just two years after Big Tobacco paid $250,000 to have Lois Lane smoke in Superman II … a kid’s movie. Which kind of started the outrage about Hollywood’s weird and mostly one-sided love affair with cigarettes.

Anyway, something cool and interesting I noticed about Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049.

San Francisco ban on flavoured tobacco, e-cig products goes to ballot

Candy-flavoured e-cig products.

The city of San Francisco a while ago banned all sweet-flavoured tobacco products. This included menthol cigarettes, Swisher sweet cigars and candy-flavoured e-cigs.

A group challenged the ban and gathered enough signatures to put the issue on a ballot, asking that this ban be repealed. This movement is called, “Let’s Be Real, San Francisco.”

People behind the repeal are mostly small grocers –the Arab American Grocers Association, a number of vaping outlets and (of course) the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (which is probably funded by Big Tobacco)

According to CBS:

Funded almost entirely by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the committee was able to collect almost $700,000 in contributions and collect just under 20,000 valid signatures in barely a month after the ordinance was signed in early July..

Yeah … so my old pal, RJR is really behind this, not the Arab American Grocers Association.

Anyway, the Board of Supervisors for San Francisco had the opportunity to repeal their decision, but declined, meaning the whole issue will go to a public vote.

The issue could go to a vote by June 2018. Now, looking at how Big Tobacco just got their ass kicked in California, I’m cautiously optimistic that this measure will fail (which means the ban will stay in place).

Flavoured tobacco products is a pet peeve of mine because it’s fairly blatant at times these products are marketed to help get teens hooked on tobacco. Candy-flavoured cigarettes have been banned for years, but not menthols (which are popular with black smokers) and not candy-flavoured e-cig products. The e-cig issue is near and dear to me because the use of e-cigs by teens has skyrocketed in the past five or six years, and it pisses me off to see cherry-flavoured, orange-flavoured and raspberry-flavoured liquid nicotine being sold to teenagers at minimarts. When the FDA began regulating e-cigs, the agency pointedly avoided dealing with the issue of candy-flavoured e-cig products. Maybe San Francisco can lead the way.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full-page ads will address these four topics:

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

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

 

 

A pack of smokes in New York City now $13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advertising campaign: Big Tobacco targets the mentally ill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, here is the ad from Truth:

.

 

Reuters India investigation: Philip Morris definitely targeting young people

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

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

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

From the Reuters investigation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Baton Rouge joins New Orleans going smokefree

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

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

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

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

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

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