CDC Director resigns over ties to tobacco industry stocks

ATLANTA, GA – DECEMBER, 5:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald is photographed at the agency’s headquarters in Atlanta, GA on Tuesday, December 5, 2017. (Photo by Melissa Golden for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Wow, this one really takes the cake. I would say, “even for Trump,” but frankly, no, there doesn’t seem to be a bottom to the Trump sewer.

This kind of got buried by all the other never-ending scandals with the Trump Administration, but it’s a pretty good scandal … and pretty typical for a Trump appointee.

It turns out the head of the Centers of Disease Control, Branda Fitzgerald, traded tobacco stocks — specifically Japan Tobacco  stocks — AFTER being appointed head of the  CDC.

Keep in mind, one of the major roles of the CDC is tobacco control and tobacco education. And you have the head of that agency actually trading in tobacco company stock. If that isn’t bad enough, Fitzgerald also traded in RJ Reynolds, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International and Altria Group before being appointed head of CDC. She’s involved up to her neck in Big Tobacco.

A quote from a  New York Times article (which frankly bent over backward to be fair to Fitzgerald, more than she likely deserved):

“The tobacco-related investments alarmed others. “It’s astonishing that the director of the Centers for Disease Control, which plays a major role in reducing tobacco use, would purchase stock in a tobacco company,” said William B. Schultz, a former general counsel for H.H.S.”

Hah, get this. This is what a sleaze this Fitzgerald was. She is supposedly an advocate for fighting childhood obesity,  but she once took a $1 million payout from Coca-Cola for her childhood obesity campaign. When sugary drinks are one of the biggest causes of childhood obesity.

From the New York Times overly fair article:

As the state’s public health chief, Dr. Fitzgerald made fighting childhood obesity one of her highest priorities. But she drew criticism from public health officials for accepting $1 million from Coca-Cola to pay for the effort. Her program drew heavily from the soda giant’s playbook, emphasizing Coke’s contention that exercise — rather than calorie control — is key to weight loss.

This is no different than Philip Morris financing anti-smoking campaigns, when they spend millions around the world finding ways to get kids hooked to cigarettes.

Are you kidding me? Not only has this sleaze owned tobacco stock for years and was trading in tobacco stock after she was appointed head of the CDC, she also takes money from Coca-Cola for an anti-obesity program?

What’s scary is this is pretty outrageous, but at the moment, this barely get a blip on the Trump outrage metre.

Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control

The good news that the acting director of the CDC is well-liked and seems to be good at her job and below the radar for the time being of the Trump Administration’s pro-corporate agenda:

From a Washington Post article:

When the notice finally went out on the CDC’s internal announcement board that the principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, 58, with nearly three decades of CDC experience, would be taking over (again) as acting director, employees were very happy to hear the news.

“Yes! There is palpable relief that she’s back in charge,” said one analyst who did not want to be identified for obvious reasons. “You’d have joyous celebration if they made her permanent director.”

Early Thursday, Schuchat sent a “Dear Colleagues” email to staff thanking them for their work.

“It is an honor to provide leadership for our nation’s premier public health agency, and all of you, in this role. Please know that I take this responsibility very seriously and care tremendously about our continued excellence and strength,” she wrote.

Cancer rate keeps dropping

According to information from the American Cancer Society, the  cancer rate 2015 dropped 1.7 percent.

While that may not sound like a big number, first, it’s part of a long-term trend in which the mortality rate for cancer has dropped 26 percent  over the past 25 years (which translates into 2.4 million fewer deaths).

And the biggest reasonf for the drop? According to this Washington Post article:

Cancer Statistics 2018, the organization’s annual look at incidence, mortality and survival, tracks the decades-long decline in mortality as driven largely by falling death rates among four malignancies — lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancer.  Ahmedin Jemal, the group’s vice president for surveillance and health services research, said the decreases largely reflect reduced smoking and advances in prevention, early detection and treatment.

Overall, the cancer death rate has dropped from 215.1 per 100,000 population in 1991 to 158.6 per 100,000 in 2015.

Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said in a statement that the report underscores the importance of continued efforts to discourage tobacco use. While the reduction in cigarette smoking has pushed down mortality rates, “tobacco remains by far the leading cause of cancer deaths today, responsible for nearly 3 in 10 cancer deaths.”

That number is a huge drop — 215.1 per 100,000 to 158.6 per 100,000. Roughly a 36 percent drop. Why? SMOKING has dropped.

The smoking rate in 1991 … about 25 percent. The smoking rate in 2015 … about 17 percent.

The news isn’t all good. Lung cancer remains by far the No. 1 cancer killer.  For men in 2015, 83,000 of all cancer deaths were from lung cancer, out of 323,000 cancer deaths (about 26 percent).

Among women, 70,500 of all cancer deaths were from lung caner, out of 286,000 cancer deaths (about 24.5 percent).

The next highest cancers? For men, it’s prostate cancer at 29,000 and for women it’s breast cancer at 41,000. So lung cancer for men and women combined kill considerably more than twice as many people as prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.

 

 

 

Philip Morris International getting out of the tobacco business? Huh, what now?

Philip Morris International this week made the somewhat shocking announcement that it plans to abandon tobacco altogether as its “New Year’s Resolution” and will focus on “electronic alternatives,” (Apparently, that means e-cigarettes).

This pronouncement raised some serious eyebrows … and skepticism. PMI (a separate entity from Altria, which owns tobacco brands in the U.S.) is a huge player on the worldwide tobacco market. PMI went so far as to create a website: smokefreefuture.co.uk  where people can get information on quitting smoking. And by the way, you can only click on that link if you live outside the U.S. I guess they don’t want to help Americans quit smoking.

Sounds all well and good, right? Well, noooot so fast.

First of all, PMI, the company that sold its customers the disease, is now selling them the cure — e-cigarettes. And in its “we’re quitting tobacco” campaign, the company is pushing its e-cigarette products. So, this appears to be an attempt at simply promoting its e-cigarette brands.

Secondly, if PMI is getting out of the tobacco business, why is the company still fighting plain packaging laws and other restrictions on tobacco marketing worldwide.

From a Daily Mail article:

The Truth Initiative argues that if it were seriously anti-smoking now, PMI would cease sales and production of cigarettes altogether, but evidence suggests that the company may not be in such a hurry to make that happen.

Beginning in July, Reuters published a series of PMI documents that reveal the company’s correspondences and meetings with delegates from various countries, in secret efforts to undermine the World Health Organization’s global anti-smoking Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Thirdly,  there appears to be zero timetable for dropping out of the tobacco business. As Truth Initiative points out, last year, PMI sold 565.5 billion cigarettes. They aren’t getting out anytime soon.

From the Fortune commentary, written by Matthew Myers, head of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids:

These ads should have run on April Fools’ Day instead.

It is the height of hypocrisy for PMI to proclaim that it is helping solve the tobacco problem while it aggressively markets cigarettes—especially in low- and middle-income countries—and fights proven policies to reduce tobacco use and save lives. This advertising campaign should be seen for what it is: an effort to divert attention from the fact that PMI remains a primary cause of the smoking problem, not the solution.

Not surprisingly, PMI set no deadline for actually giving up cigarettes. If the company is truly committed to a smoke-free future, it should actively support the proven policies to reduce smoking that are endorsed by an international public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. These include significant tobacco tax increases, comprehensive smoke-free laws, tobacco advertising bans, and graphic health warnings on cigarette packs. These policies apply equally to all tobacco companies, and supporting them would not put PMI at a competitive disadvantage.

Instead, the company has led the fight against these policies around the world. A 2017 investigative report by Reuters revealed a massive, secret PMI campaign aimed at “bringing to heel the world’s tobacco control treaty.” From Australia to Uruguay to Thailand, the corporation has filed expensive lawsuits that challenge strong tobacco control laws and seek to intimidate other countries into inaction.

PMI’s latest claims are no more credible. Until the company stops marketing cigarettes and fighting efforts to reduce smoking, its claimed commitment to a smoke-free future should be seen as another public relations stunt, not a serious effort to reduce the death and disease caused by its products.

So, it certainly seems PMI is simply blowing smoke. And not really fooling very many people, either.

 

 

 

 

People freaking out because they can’t smoke on an airplane … how is this still a thing?

Stewardesses smoking on a plane. Nice beehive. I’m guessing about 1967?

Here’s yet another in a long line of nitwits freaking out on an airplane because she can’t smoke.

A woman lost her mind on an airplane because she disabled a smoke detector, then threatened to start killing people on the plane when she was confronted.

Get this, it was a flight from Sacramento to Portland, Ore. Basically a 75-minute flight. She really couldn’t go two hours without lighting up?

Ah the days … when there was no escaping other people’s smoke.

I swear, I come across some article about someone either losing their shit on an airplane or getting arrested for trying to light a cigarette in an airplane restroom at least two or three times a year. At least. Seriously, this isn’t that isolated. Here’s another incident. And another. And another. I could find dozens if I spent enough time.

I don’t get it. It’s been illegal on all domestic flights in the U.S. since the early 1990s and it’s been illegal on ALL flights entering or leaving the U.S. since 2000. So, for the past 17 years, you cannot light a cigarette on any airplane, since 1990 or so, you can’t light up on any domestic flight in the U.S. Smoking has been banned on airplanes throughout much of the world for at least a decade.

So, why is this still a thing? I shrug my shoulders. Some of it, I think it’s some weird phenonenom where people with mental health issues are prone to freakouts on planes and people with mental health issues are often times calmed by smoking so they don’t think about what they’re doing. I’m going to guess the woman on the Portland flight has mental problems.

But, what about the assholes who keep trying to smoke in bathrooms? Knowing they’re in a very confined space with no escape with pressurized air, ie, it’s incredibly fucking dangerous to smoke on a plane which is one of the reasons why it was banned. Is it that hard to get a patch if the nicotine addiction is that bad? (And thank god vaping on a plane is also illegal with vaping pens’ tendency to periodically explode.)

Again … it’s a thing. And will continue to be.

 

Big Tobacco starts airing court-ordered anti-smoking ads

This week, tobacco companies began running ads admitting that cigarettes are unhealthy. This is the result of lawsuit filed by the Justice Department way back in 1999.

A court ruled back in 2006 that the industry had to admit its wrongdoings, but Altria and RJR and British American Tobacco have been appealing that decision for 11 years. They managed to get the language watered down quite a bit from the original ruling that toned down the language.

From a USA Today article:

“It has been a long fight,” Robin Koval, president of the anti-smoking nonprofit Truth Initiative, told NBC News. She added: “Not as much will be seen by young people, who spend less and less of their time watching prime-time television.”

In the ad, fully paid for by the tobacco industry, the industry admits that cigarettes kill 1,200 people every day in the U.S. and kills more people than illegal drugs, alcohol, AIDS and murder combined.

The ad goes on to say that smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and various other cancers such as leukemia, throat, esophageal, bladder, pancreatic and stomach.” It even mentions cervical cancer and low birth weight for children (I wish it had talked about diabetes, arthritis, and erectile dysfunction, too).

I haven’t seen any of the print ads yet; the industry is supposed to put these ads in major papers over the next several months. I bought a Seattle Times looking for one, but no cigar. They’re apparently being rolled out over several months. But, I’ve seen the ads on YouTube that are airing on TV.

About time. Watered down, but making Big Tobacco pay for an ad telling people that cigarettes kill … priceless enough.

Natural American Spirit finally drops “additive-free” from advertising

Natural American Spirit finally drops “additive-free” from advertising

Years of litigation have finally worked. Natural American Spirit has FINALLY changed its advertising.

For years, this RJ Reynolds subsidiary had gotten away with advertising its cigarettes as being “natural” and “additive free.” Natural American Spirit had agreed in a settlement early this year with the FDA to stop the deceptive advertising, yet I kept seeing ads in Sports Illustrated for “natural” and “additive free” Natural American Spirit cigarettes, somehow giving consumers the idea that their cigarettes were safer and more healthy … which they absolutely are not.

Apparently, the whole issue had to wind through the legal process because in last week’s Sports Iilustrated, I FINALLY saw that NAS had dropped the “natural” and “additive-free” from its advertising.

The new ad simply says: “Real. Simple. Different.” No “additive-free” BS. Though the ad later goes on to state that the only two ingredients are “tobacco and water.” (Never mind the fact that tobacco contains roughly 3,000 ingredients in of itself.)

It’s a minor victory. RJR really had to be dragged kicking and screaming just to make this small change in its advertising. Advocates wanted the name “Natural American Spirit” changed, but the settlement allows the brand to remain. Again, to reiterate, Natural American Spirit started out as a Native-owned cigarette company but several years ago it was purchased by RJ Reynolds and it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of RJ Reynolds. A lot of people still believe this is a Native-owned brand. It isn’t.

A great and informative anti-tobacco video

That’s 30 packs’ worth of tar

This might be the best anti-tobacco video I’ve ever seen. It’s an experiment using cotton balls in a jar and subjecting them to various levels of cigarette smoke, ending at 30 packs. Then the viewer gets to see just how much gunk and tar the cotton balls collect after just a few cigarettes.

Think, that’s the same gunk and tar that collects on smokers’ lung cells. My favourite part is when the guy squeezes all of the tar out of the hoses used in his experiment.

Think about that. Pretty scary, huh? If this video doesn’t encourage smokers to quit, seriously, I don’t know what can.

Look at this and think to yourself, this is 30 lousy packs. That’s basically a month’s worth of cigarettes for a moderately heavy smoker. That’s 1/12th as much gunk that ends up in your lungs as you get after just one year.

Here’s the video:

Japan companies offer an extra week off for quitting smoking

OK, I know most companies offer a health insurance discount to their employees who don’t smoke or who quit. But, here’s a new one to me — an extra week off for being a nonsmoker.

The logic behind this is nonsmokers don’t take the smoking breaks that smokers do, so they’re entitled to more time off. I like the idea. Whatever it takes to encourage people to quit.

What’s especially novel about this is Japan is a very smoker-friendly culture. The country has a fairly high smoking rate, though it is apparently dropping. Japan is still 21st in the world in the highest rate of cigarettes smoked per capita. That’s way, way ahead of the U.S., Canada and most Western nations.

I’ve noticed this is Japanese anime, that they really love smoking in Japan, and still consider it very cool and hip.

 

 

 

 

“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.