All posts by Pepe Lepew

Weird … study: Cigarettes may alter teens’ brain structure, make them more prone to other addictions

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From Discover Magazine.

A study recently published in Neuropsychopharmacology shows that something called the “insula,” which is part of the cerebral cortex, is thinner in the brains of teens who smoke versus teens who don’t smoke.

The insula helps govern emotions and consciousness and it also contains a lot of nicotine receptors so is part of the brain where the craving for nicotine comes from.

According to the Discover article:

“It looks like, even in these very young kids, there is a link between the structure of the insula and the extent to which they smoke and become dependent,” London said in a Neuropsychopharmacology podcast. “It was shocking. We are beginning to get a story of the functional neuroanatomy of smoking.”

Although the study illustrated a difference in brain structure of young smokers and nonsmokers, it did not establish whether smoking caused the variations. It could be that people with differently structured insulas are more likely to take up smoking for an unknown reason. However, the results pave the way for future studies to determine the actual cause and effect.

“Ideally one would start the study in 12-year-olds who haven’t begun to smoke; follow them out after they begin to smoke; and see if in fact the smaller insula thickness was a predictor of a predilection to become a smoker,” London explained in the podcast.

On the other hand, if London’s team finds proof that smoking causes thinning of the right insula, it would provide further evidence of the detrimental health effects of picking up the habit at a young age

And this is why this is important. It could be that kids prone to addictive behaviour already have this thinner insula, or that smoking creates more addictive behaviours later (I’ve long said that pot is not really a gateway drug, but cigarettes are. Almost all drug addicts started using cigarettes as their first drug).

According to the original article:

Cigarette dependence and the urge to smoke were negatively related to cortical thickness in the right ventral anterior insula. Although the results do not demonstrate causation, they do suggest that there are effects of cigarette exposure on brain structure in young smokers, with a relatively short smoking history. It is possible that changes in the brain due to prolonged exposure or to the progression of dependence lead to more extensive structural changes, manifested in the reported group differences between adult smokers and nonsmokers. Structural integrity of the insula may have implications for predicting long-term cigarette smoking and problems with other substance abuse in this population.

Europe to regulate e-cigarettes; FDA next?

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This came from an editorial from the New York Times supporting ecig regulation.

The European Parliament last week (honestly didn’t realize there was such a thing, but it’s the governing body of the European Union, apparently)  voted to regulated e-cigarettes, perhaps laying the groundwork for the FDA in the U.S. to someday regulate these things (yes, they appear to be wholly unregulated at this point).

In Europe, the advertising of ecigs will now be banned, and the amount of nicotine limited in the cartridges. I think I’ve mentioned repeatedly one of my concerns about ecigs is the way they are being marketed — sexy, suave, alluring — just the way cigarettes have been advertised (to teens) for many, many years.

Part of the big debate about ecigs was whether to classify them as a medicine or a tobacco product. Are they a medicine because they help some people quit like nicotine gum or patches, or a tobacco product, because they’re simply a nicotine delivery system that some people use when they’re in places they’re not allowed to smoke. It’s a good question. In the end, the European Parliament made some compromises, but ultimate will regulate ecigs as a tobacco product.

Some members of Parliament expect ecig companies to sue over the regulations.

“This was a very bad agreement,” said Martin Callanan, a British Conservative Party politician who said he opposed e-cigarette regulation on the ground that the products help people stop smoking. “It’s a massive loss for public health in Europe.”

Mr. Callanan, who backed most of Wednesday’s tobacco law reforms, said the details on e-cigarettes were “still very murky” and added, “I’m sure a lot of this will end up in the courts.”

I agree that advertising of ecigs needs to be reeled in. The use of ecigs is growing among teens because a) it’s cheaper than cigarettes, and I’m afraid b) those ecig ads are making it look cool, just like cigarettes.

The problem with this, is that while ecigs are not as toxic as cigarettes, they still contain nicotine, and are just as addictive as cigarettes. Ecigs might be effective for some people to quit smoking (maybe, the jury is out on this, I’ve heard and read anecdotes to support both sides), but they are not a good idea as a “substitute” for cigarettes, especially for kids. They are still getting addicted to nicotine and still inhaling toxic substances.

 

John Steinbeck’s birthday today — a life snuffed out too young

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Today, Google is celebrating John Steinbeck’s birthday with a special doodle.

Steinbeck was one of my favourite writers when I was younger. He only lived to be 66. He died of heart disease still a relatively young man, and still with much to give the world. John was reportedly a chain smoker, three packs a day minimum. Google John Steinbeck images and you will find plenty of images of him smoking.

Only 66, so many stories left to tell, snuffed out too quickly by a terrible habit.

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Google Doodle

A really kind of despicable ad from Blu e-cigs

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From the category of “Are you kidding me???”

Blu e-cigs (owned by Lorillard tobacco) is pulling out all the stops lately using the same ad techniques cigarette companies used.

I try to stay on the fence on e-cigs, because they might help some people quit smoking, but when I see ads like this, I feel less and less inclined to defend them. They’re stealing the 1960s tobacco industry playbook. One of the biggest problems I have with e-cigs, and one of the reasons I don’t fully trust them or their manufacturers, is they keep relying on advertising trying to make their product look sexy and dangerous.

This ad appeared in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. It’s not even remotely subtle, fairly blatantly using sex to try and sell their products. I would find it funny, but teenaged use of Blu e-cigarettes has more than doubled, according to the CDC. Hey, get kids those kids addicted to nicotine early. You want to get into a girl’s panties? Look sexy by using e-cigs.

Bad move, Blu. Too blatant. Too … creepy. It’s this kind of advertising that is going to help get e-cigs regulated.

New lungs grown in a lab — cure for COPD someday?

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An interesting and slightly bizarre story last week (behind a bit on this one, meant to post about it, then forgot).

Scientists, using stem cells, successfully grew a pair of human lungs, using one “stripped down” lung of collagen as a “scaffold.” They then painted the scaffold with cells from another lung (these lungs were harvested from children who likely were killed in a traffic accident), and grew a functioning lung.

“In terms of different cell types, the lung is probably the most complex of all organs – the cells near the entrance are very different from those deep in the lung,” UTMB researcher Dr. Joaquin Cortiella said.

“People ask us why we’re doing the lung, because it’s so hard. But the potential is so great, and the technology is here. It’s going to take time, but I think we’re going to create a system that works.”

This story specifically mentions that perhaps lungs can be grown for people with cystic fibrosis or COPD, but that transplants using grown lungs might be as far as 12 years away because of the need for considerable more testing (such as transplanting grown lungs in the bodies of animals to make sure they function.)

Exciting news. Slightly weird, but exciting.

 

Are e-cigs controversial because they look like cigarettes?

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That’s the question raised by National Public Radio columnist Alva Noe.

It’s an interesting point he makes. If e-cigarettes looked like a medical inhaler, would anyone care about them being used in public?

The controversy surrounding these devices is fueled by these facts about look and feel. If they looked like medicinal inhalers, or if the vapor exhaled were not designed to resemble smoke (as I assume that it is), there would be little to fight about. For there would be no link to cigarettes and smoking. No one argues that smoking bans should be extended to nicotine gum.

But the fact is, on both sides, symbolic benefits and symbolic dangers govern the discussion.

Anti-smoking activists have long worked hard to tarnish the appeal and glamor of the smoke. They’ve been trying to tear-down smoking’s image. From their point of view, pretend smoking is dangerous if it does anything to make smoking seem appealing. In the trenches of the smoking propaganda wars, a smoking simulacrum is a dangerous weapon, not because it’s dangerous itself or poses dangers to others, but precisely because it may not.

And on the other side, manufacturers and their shills are quick to insist that that e-cigarettes are a tool for quitting. Why? Not because they are a safer cigarette, but because they are not a cigarette at all, but rather a nicotine-delivery system that has the appearance of a cigarette. Again, the value in a simulacrum.

Again, being one of the anti-smoking activists that Noe refers to, I’m personally on the fence on e-cigs. They are safer than cigarettes, but not completely safe, and keep a person addicted to nicotine addicted. However, they are not annoying, don’t irritate the nose and eyes, and if they genuinely help some people quit smoking, more power to ’em. I reserve judgement.

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Blu is trying to make e-cigs LOOK cool like cigarettes

He definitely brings up some salient points about perhaps part of the reason there is so much controversy surrounding e-cigs. They simply do look like cigarettes and in fact, in the Blu E-cig ads, they are  marketed the same way as cigarettes back in the day — to appear cool and sleek. If e-cigs are controversial because they look like cigarettes, well, the e-cig industry has definitely tried to market them as somehow being a “different kind of cigarette,” which is perhaps why there continues to be so much confusion about what exactly they are.

U.S. Senators urge drug store chains, WalMart to join CVS in banning tobacco products

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In response to CVS’ recent decision to halt tobacco sales, eight U.S. Senators –Tom Harkin (D-IOWA), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) — wrote two other major chains asking them to follow CVS’ lead.

Major chains contacted over the tobacco ban were Rite Aid and Walgreens (Walgreens has said it is “evaluating” its tobacco sales policy. … and Rite Aid? Rite Aid says it is “evaluating” its tobacco sales policy.)

Harkin, head of the  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, didn’t stop there. He has also written a letter to WalMart asking that chain to stop selling tobacco products. That letter was also signed by Durbin, Brown, Whitehouse, Rockefeller and Boxer. No word if WalMart is “evaluating” tobacco sales.

An excerpt from the letter to the drug store chains:

CVS Caremark’s historic announcement comes on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health, and new revelations in the latest Surgeon General’s report that smoking is even more hazardous and takes an even greater toll on the nation’s health than previously known. Smoking kills 480,000 Americans annually, sickens millions more, and costs the nation more than $289 billion every year. The impact of tobacco on our nation’s children is impossible to ignore – 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18, and 5.6 million kids alive today will die prematurely from smoking-caused disease unless current trends are reversed. These findings highlight the critical need for all sectors of our community to play a role in ending the unnecessary disease and death that results from tobacco use.

CVS Caremark’s bold and admirable decision will complement federal efforts to save lives and reduce health care costs through continued implementation of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, access to smoking cessation therapies with no out-of-pocket expenses under the Affordable Care Act, and the ongoing success of public awareness campaigns like CDC’s “Tips from a Former Smoker” and FDA’s new “The Real Cost” campaign.

In recognition of the 8.6 million Americans who currently suffer from smoking-caused illnesses, we hope you will join this national effort to end the scourge of tobacco use. We look forward to working with you in a joint effort to promote the health of all Americans.

Bidis, what the hell are they? And why did the FDA just ban them?

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The FDA just took its first action to actually ban a tobacco product — bidis.

I have to be honest, never heard of ’em before.  The FDA last week banned Sutra Bidis Red, Sutra Bidis Menthol, Sutra Bidis Red Cone and Sutra Bidis Menthol Cone. It’s the first substantive action the FDA has taken against a tobacco product since Obama signed legislation giving the agency expanded power over tobacco back in 2009.

What is a bidi? According to the Centers for Disease Control, they are:

… thin, hand rolled cigarettes that are made mostly in India and other Southeast Asian countries. The tobacco is wrapped in a tendu or temburni leaf, and tied with a colorful string. They come in flavors like chocolate, cherry or mango or may be unflavored. They have a higher amount of nicotine and tar and produce more carbon monoxide than traditional cigarettes.

That 2009 law banned candy-flavoured cigarettes (but not candy-flavoured cigars), because studies showed that 35 percent of teens start smoking cigarettes by first smoking candy-flavoured cigarettes.

So, not only do bidis have candy flavourings, they also have a higher level of nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide than traditional cigarettes.