Illinois watering down its smoking ban?

Illinois may be the first state to water down its statewide smoking ban.

Because some bars and especially casinos have seen a huge dropoff in revenues since Illinois imposed its smoking ban in 2008. Casinos reportedly are down 28 percent. A State Legislative panel concluded that the smoking ban has been the biggest reason (I gotta believe the overall economic downturn is a pretty big damn factor, too.).

The Illinois State House passed a bill yesterday to lift the smoking ban on casinos. Another bill in the Illinois Legislature would weaken the smoking ban in bars (It would allow bars to get a smoking exemption licence.), while ironically, Illinois is also considering a bill to raise its cigarette tax another 50 cents a pack (from $.98 a pack to $1.48 a pack — man that would drill Chicago. Chicago has a high city cigarette tax, making it one of the most expensive cities in the country already for cigarettes — about $7 to $8 a pack.)

If the Senate passes the casino exemption and it’s signed into law, Illinois would become the first state in the country weaken its smoking ban.

How Big Tobacco got away with the Crime of the Century

It all began in 1994. Years of outrage over decades of Big Tobacco’s lies finally seemed to be coming to fruition. 1994 was the year it seemed like we finally turned a corner in the fight against Big Tobacco.

tobacco execs

The early 90s was pretty much the height of the lung cancer epidemic. Ever since then, lung cancer rates overall have been slowly dropping, especially among men. It was also the height of “Joe Camel,” a wildly successful marketing campaign by RJ Reynolds that appealed to beginning smokers (i.e., teenagers). What was really alarming people at the time was that the teenage smoking rate had been steadily decreasing until the mid- to late-80s. Then, shockingly, the teen smoking rate started going up, and going up markedly. Why? Joe Camel. Tobacco paying millions every year to insert “cool” smoking scenes in PG and PG-13 movies. They were finding a way to market to kids.

Congressman Harry Waxman held a famous series of Congressional hearings in 1994 in which the CEOs of the four major tobacco companies were subpoenaed to testify before Waxman’s committee about the cover-up and lies of Big Tobacco. All four CEOs — from RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Brown & Williamson and Lollilard — steadfastly refused to budge an inch under withering questioning from Waxman and other congressmen that they knew cigarettes were addictive and were killing people. They all four claimed they did not believe this.

harry waxman

The public was outraged. It was a major public relations debacle for Big Tobacco. Within months, a perjury investigation was initiated by the Department of Justice. All four CEOs were eventually fired. Ultimately, the Department of Justice claimed it didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute for perjury because the four CEOs testified under oath they believed tobacco did not addict people nor cause cancer. They had crafted their answers very carefully, obviously with help from attorneys. Because they had used the word believe, they could not be prosecuted for perjury.

Then came the Global Settlement Agreement, which came oh, so close to passing. This was a settlement proposed between several plaintiffs and Big Tobacco to right at least some of the wrongs committed by Big Tobacco over the past century. This included payment of $365 billion to the states for their Medicaid costs caused by smoking. FDA would be given regulation over tobacco products, warning labels would be strengthened and all class-actions suits against Big Tobacco would be nullified.

This required an act of Congress (because of the FDA involvement), and Congress failed to pass the bill, which was carried by Sen. John McCain.

Out of the flames of that failure, came the the Master Settlement Agreement, which was announced in 1998, I cheered. Finally, Big Tobacco was being brought to its knees. It wasn’t as good as the GSA, but it still sounded good. Big Tobacco would be crushed by a $280 billion out-of-court settlement with 46 states … (give or take several billion depending on your accounting).

I continued to cheer it for at least five years … until I started finding out all that had been lost. All in all, this agreement was an abject failure on most levels, explained very well in Alan Brandt’s “The Cigarette Century.”

The Master Settlement Agreement is to this day the biggest court settlement ever reached in the history of litigation. Big Tobacco (RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, Lollilard and Brown & Williamson), was sued by the state of Mississippi in the early 1990s to reimburse the state for its Medicaid expenses caused by all the health problems caused by smoking. 40 other states joined the suit. Famed Mississippi attorney Dickey Scruggs took over the plaintiffs’ case, leading an army of lawyers against Big Tobacco.

The case had an interesting basis in law. The tobacco industry was adding untold billions to the Medicaid expenses of states dealing with the near-epidemic of health problems caused by cigarettes — lung cancer, heart disease, lung disease, etc. In the 70s and 80s, lung cancer especially hit a crescendo as all those heavy smokers who started smoking in the 1950s and 1960s (when the smoking rate was the highest) started getting lung cancer. The industry knew damn well that its product was making people sick, yet continued to sell it … and this was actually adding to taxpayers’ tax burdens.

All this information came out in a series of documents leaked over a period of years from various personal injury lawsuits against the tobacco industry. While few of these lawsuits succeeded (Most jury decisions for the plaintiffs were either overturned by higher courts or the damages greatly reduced), one good thing did come out of all this litigation. Discovery.

Big Tobacco spent millions on advertising cigarettes in movies
Big Tobacco spent millions on advertising cigarettes in movies

Through the discovery process, reams and reams of documents were released to the plaintiffs, who in turn made them available to the public, proving that the tobacco industry had known since the early 1950s that tobacco was giving people heart disease and lung cancer and that nicotine was physically addictive and that “light” cigarettes were not safer than “regular.” Documents were released showing that Big Tobacco executives did their damnedest to keep this information covered up, and to fabricate studies attempting to disprove that cigarettes were killing people. More documents also proved that the industry had been shamelessly marketing to “new smokers,” which is a Big Tobacco euphemism for “teenage smokers.”

With this reams upon reams of evidence now out in the public forum, Big Tobacco was forced to settle, or face constant lawsuits and judgments. However, the high-priced Big Tobacco lawyers completely outmaneuvered the state attorneys general in the settlement.

The biggest failure of the agreement? It was suggested in the agreement that a certain amount of the $280 billion go toward tobacco education and cessation programs. Everyone assumed it would. Everyone thought it was a MANDATE. It was never MANDATED however.

Anti-smoking programs did receive a lot of funding from the settlement for a few years, but it didn’t take states very long to figure out that the word “mandate” wasn’t in the settlement anywhere. Before long, state legislatures started diverted that money to balancing their general funds. Money for tobacco education dried up. Lazy state legislators got an easy source of money to balance their budget without raising property taxes. It turned into a huge windfall. Not only that, but states started selling bonds with the intention that they would be paid off by future tobacco settlement funds.

Instead of stamping out smoking, states had become utterly dependent upon tobacco. It wasn’t in the states’ interest to cut smoking rates.

There was one last chance to really nail the tobacco industry. A RICO racketeering lawsuit filed against Big Tobacco in the federal court by the Justice Department under Bill Clinton. They had a damn good case. Tobacco executives had conspired for years to cover up the addictiveness and deadliness of their product. They had conspired for years to cover up the fact that they were marketing their product to kids. They had lied that “light” cigarettes were safer.

The feds won their case in 2006, sort of. A federal judge issued a scathing ruling convicting Big Tobacco of racketeering under the RICO statutes. An appeals court upheld this decison. However, shockingly, the courts did not impose any financial penalties, saying the RICO statute did not allow this. Some argue that the Justice Department under Bush did not pursue the case as aggressively as it had been pursued under Clinton, and this was part of the reason for the mixed ruling. The case is still being appealed as the government is seeking more of a monetary punishment against Big Tobacco.

So, tobacco executive lost their jobs for lying to Congress, were investigated for perjury, but avoided an indictment. Big Tobacco was convicted by a federal judge of RICO racketeering, and that conviction was upheld by an appeals court, but no executives went to jail, nor was the industry even forced to pay penalties. A huge civil settlement with the states has simply turned into a windfall for state government.

Big Tobacco murdered people for decades. And murder is not too strong of a word for it. They knew since the early 1950s, maybe even earlier, that they had a product that was addicting people and was killing people. And they continued to sell it and market it, and then they marketed it to kids. And they covered up and lied. For decades. It’s amazing to me that not one person has ever spent a day in jail for it. And people are rotting in prison in Texas and Florida for selling pot.

They got away with it. The final chapter of Dr. Allan Brandt’s book, “The Tobacco Century,” is “The Crime of the Century.”

They murdered roughly 100 million people worldwide between 1950 and 2010, and by “murder,” I mean they knew full well they were killing people with their addictive product.

If you want to look at the glass half-full, a few good things did come out of the 1998 MSA:

* Joe Camel was retired for good. Big Tobacco is forbidden from marketing to kids again (no ads with cartoon characters). They have attempted to get around this provision several times.

* Payments to movie studios for product placement were forbidden. Weirdly enough, smoking scenes in movies after 1998 actually went up, not down. Big Tobacco insists they have nothing to do with this. It’s probably Hollywood’s continued love affair with the cigarette dating back to Casablanca. However, pressure has been put on Hollywood to cut gratuitous smoking scenes out of PG and G movies. That pressure seems to be working.

* The cost of cigarettes went up. To pay for the $280 billion settlement, the industry as expected raised their prices. Along with a number of states jacking up their cigarette taxes, in some cases dramatically, the price of cigarettes has skyrocketed in the past 10 years, helping to drive down the smoking rate.

* Spurred partly by outrage that sprang from Waxman’s hearings, more and more states and cities have passed smoking bans. Not only do smoking bans help drive down the smoking rate (because a lot of casual smokers only smoke in bars, and therefore, it gives them a good excuse to quit), they also protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke.

* The FDA was given regulatory authority over tobacco in 2009. The first thing the agency did was ban candy-flavoured cigarettes, which are popular with kids.

* The smoking rate and teen smoking rate have declined since 1998, but not dramatically. The smoking rate was around 24-25 percent in 1998, and today it’s pretty much stuck at about 20 percent. The smoking rate for teens is a little harder to pin down, because few teens are what you would call “regular smokers,” but the percentage of teens who were smoking dropped from 28 percent in 2000 to 17 percent in 2010. However, that drop has stalled the last few years, probably because of the cut in tobacco education funding.

* Class-action suits against Big Tobacco have been halted, but individual lawsuits are still being allowed. In Florida, a Supreme Court decision there in 2006 allowed thousands of individual lawsuits to go forward against Big Tobacco for lying about the safety of “light cigarattes,” etc. So far, juries have awarded hundreds of millions of dollars for plaintiffs, with hundreds more suits in the works. None of those judgments have been paid out, however, as Big Tobacco is appealing all the verdicts. the industry will be dealing with these lawsuits for at least the next decade, maybe longer.


FDA panel suggests banning menthol

An advisory panel at the Food and Drug Administration gave its suggestion last week to the agency that menthol in cigarettes should be banned.


The FDA has been wrangling with the menthol issue for over a year. About a year ago, after being given regulatory control over tobacco products, the FDA immediately banned candy flavouring for tobacco, because it was believed this made tobacco more appealing to teens.

Menthol is a bit tougher nut to crack, because menthol cigarettes and menthol chew have been around for decades and represent roughly 30 percent of the tobacco market. Hell, it was all my dad smoked. It’s a flavouring, just like orange or strawberry, but it’s also a big part of the cigarette market and in fact one relatively large tobacco company — Lollilard — gets most of its profits from menthol cigarettes (Newport is a Lollilard brand). For some reason, a much higher percentage of blacks smoke menthols than whites, and a lot of menthol cigarette advertising is directed at black smokers. If menthol is banned, I could see it putting Lollilard out of business. They the third biggest company of the Big Three — Altria (Phillip Morris), RJ Reynolds being No.1 and No. 2 respectively.


Well, this panel came out and said it should be banned, because menthol, like candy-flavourings, has the effect of making cigarettes more appealing to teens and kids. Menthol itself does not increase the risk of lung cancer or other diseases caused by smoking. It just makes cigarettes more enticing to kids.

The FDA is supposed to make a final decision later this year.

Rural Montana bar says smoking ban putting it out of business

turah bar
Here is a big article about a rural bar in Montana that says the state’s smoking ban, implemented 18 months ago, is driving it out of business. The business completely ignored the state’s smoking ban, racked up thousands of dollars in fines, and then finally was forced to start complying. But, now the bar owner says the ban is driving her out of business.

I gotta call bullshit on this, I really do. I am on record as saying I can believe smoking bans hurt certain kinds of bars — sleazy little corner taverns and maybe little country bars, but to completely destroy your revenue. Whenever I hear these horror stories, I really want to say, “I want to see your books.” I suspect that most of the time these bar owners make these doom and gloom pronouncements about smoking bans, they aren’t lying per se, but they are exaggerating.

I also had a bit of a hard-ass attitude that perhaps some bars will be driven out of business by smoking bans — perhaps. But, there’s no one making money anymore making asbestos roof shakes. No one makes money anymore making mercury thermometers. Why? Because they were UNHEALTHY. Economies change. They evolve. They just do. Sometimes people get hurt. Smoky bars are a thing of the past and people just need to accept that. It’s not going to change.

Wisconsin bartenders love Wisconsin smoking ban

A study just released by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed that bartenders in that state are having fewer health problems and are more in favour of a smoking ban than before it was first implemented last year.


This study is pretty technical, but if you go to the conclusions, it shows that bartenders report fewer respiratory issues — wheezing or whistling in chest, shortness of breath, cough first thing in the morning, cough during the rest of the day and night, cough up any phlegm, red or irritated eyes, runny nose, nose irritation, or sneezing, and sore or scratchy throat (fuck, I got half these symptoms when a chain smoker moved into a unit beneath me.).

Overall, 72 percent of bartenders were in favour of the smoking ban, compared to 64 percent before the ban was imposed. Among non-smokers, the number jumped from 77 percent to 81 percent.

Get this however, among smokers, support for the smoking ban went up from 46 percent to 60 percent. That means a majority of smoking bartenders … is in favour of the smoking ban. Wicked!

Wisconsin had one of the bloodiest battles in the country a couple of years ago to get a smoking ban. It took several tries to get a bill passed and there was of course a lot of teeth-gnashing from Libertarians and the Wisconsin Tavern Association. From all reports that I have from my sources in Wisconsin, 😉 the law has had nary a negative effect on the state.

Smokefree Wisconsin

CNBC’s Cigarette Wars — “It’s still a legal product”

cigarette wars What I was struck by in the CNBC documentary “Cigarette Wars” was how a pair of tobacco farmers, when asked, “how do you feel about growing a deadly product?” just kept repeating the mantra, “it’s still a legal product.”

“Not everyone dies from smoking,” Tobacco farmer Todd Clark says, then quickly adds for properity’s sake: “although there’s nothing positive about smoking in any way shape or form.” You could see in their eyes (well, not in this one clip because the guy is wearing shades), that they didn’t really buy their own mantra. You could see in their eyes this is what they told themselves every night … so they could sleep.

I wrote down at least six times two tobacco farmers told CNBC, “it’s still a legal product.” Six times. Cigarette Wars is an hour-long documentary that looks at the growing of tobacco, smoking bans, cigarette marketing, smoking in Hollywood, cigarette smuggling and cigarette exports. It interviews smoking ban proponents, tobacco farmers and ad execs (but no one from the tobacco industry would speak on camera … acting like the legalized Mafia they are.) I was struck most by two things … the tobacco farmers and Stanton Glantz calling Hollywood directors who insert smoking into their movies “stupid and corrupt.” (Hear that James Cameron? Stanton Glantz just called you stupid and corrupt.).

Here’s why farmers still grow tobacco, knowing full well it’s a deadly product, knowing full well that the only way they’ll be able to sleep at night is telling themselves “it’s still a legal product.” Because it makes a lot of money. According to tobacco farmer Todd Clark, who seemed like a nice enough guy, tobacco can make bring in $1,500 an acre, versus only $300 an acre for corn or other products. So, if you have a 1,000-acre farm … $1,500 an acre is a lot of money to turn away. How does Todd Clark sleep at night? “I don’t think about the end result,” he told CNBC. He admits he has to emotionally separate himself from the damage his cash crop causes to society. (More on him later.).

The documentary then moves on smoking bans. One of the biggest proponents of smoking bans in the country is anti-smoking zealot Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York. His response to smoking bans putting farmers out of business? “There are very few growers out there … and a lot of America kids.” The documentary talked about cigarette smuggling … a bigger enterprise than I realized. One of the problems with state setting up their own cigarette taxes is the tax rate vary wildly from state to state. The taxes can be as low as 30 cents a pack in Virginia to $4.35 a pack in New York. So, it’s a lucrative business to buy up a shitload of cigarette cartons in Virginia, mark them up by $2 a pack and sell them in New York. Some of these schemes have helped fund the IRA and Hezbelloh.

I also enjoyed the segment on cigarettes and Hollywood as this is a personal fascination of mine. Tobacco companies paid movie studios millions of dollars between the 1970s and 1998, but as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, the companies are prohibited from paying for cigarette product placement in films. Yet, from 1998 to 2008, smoking scenes in movies actually went up. Why? Stupidity, said Stanton Glantz. Glantz is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and has been on the frontlines of the fight against Big Tobacco for at least 30 years. He, and many others, are advocates for including an automatic R rating for inserting smoking scenes in movies. (I was dubious about this idea for a long time, but Hollywood has shown such an abject intransigence toward doing the right thing, that I now embrace the idea.) “Because directors are either stupid or corrupt,” Glantz said. The documentary specifically picks on James Cameron and “Avatar,” which had a completely gratuitous and pointless smoking scene with Sigourney Weaver (and it was a family film rated PG-13).

Glantz points out directors are just plain stupid to give a multi-billion dollar industry free advertising with getting a cent in return. One 21-year-old college student and heavy smoker pointed out that Hollywood taught him as a kid that “smoking is just badass.” There followed a montage of Hollywood stars smoking, including Irish douchebag Colin Farrell. 🙂 Stupid Irish idiot smoking The “Truth” anti-smoking campaign is next featured. I love this campaign, though it threatens to die from lack of funding every year, because it doesn’t try to tell kids smoking is bad for them. A “Truth” spokeperson acknowledges that often the best way to get kids to do something is to tell them it’s bad for them. “Our goal to to disrupt their (Big Tobacco’s) business model.” Instead, “Truth” focuses on trying to get through to kids that corporations are manipulating them and turning them into their slaves (though nicotine addiction). Truth has been a wildly successful program despite their tiny budget. Even though they can no longer advertise on TV or radio, tobacco companies still spend more on marketing every day than Truth spends in an entire year.

The documentary moves on to global tobacco use. We can fight the tobacco industry all we want, but they are simply going to export their epidemic overseas. While the smoking rate in the U.S. is less than half of what it was 50 years ago, smoking is thriving and even on the increase in Eastern Europe, Russia and China. They are 320 million smokers in China, compared to 55 million in America. That’s a big tempting market for American tobacco companies (they mostly smoke Asian tobacco still in China, but believe me, Big Tobacco is trying to horn in … and China is aware of it, too. They aren’t stupid.)

I did like how the documentary ended. There seems to be hope for tobacco farmer Todd Clark. He’s diversified his farm into other products, such as cattle, chickens, other crops, because tobacco appears to be on the decline. He admitted that the “reality has sunken in more than it ever has before” that the days of American tobacco are on the wane, and that Clark is putting more energy into “having to do other things (grow other crops.).” “I’m excited about those other things,” Clark said.


Montana tobacco funding bill at Legislature next week

This is a really good article out of Helena on this bonehead Republican move.

As you might have heard, Republicans in Montana have gone categorically INSANE this year, and this is just one insane proposal of theirs out of MANY.

A Republican-sponsored move that would take money away from the state’s anti-tobacco program and divert it to other state programs will be heard in the State House next week. For some mystifying reason (I dunno, campaign contributions, I suspect), Republicans want to take $15 million from the state’s anti-tobacco program, which would pretty much gut it.

Expect litigation if they go through with it. This money was actually set aside speficially for tobacco education by a voter-approved ballot measure. It is just one of several voter-approved or local measures in Montana that state Republicans are looking to subterfuge. (I thought these guys went around calling themselves the party of the people.).

This is such a fucking outrage. The program called ReACT, is one of the most successful in the country, and for $15 million, it’s a bargain. That’s basically $15 for every man, woman and child in the state. And $15 million is not going to make or break the state budget anyway. This is purely a political move by Republicans who apparently see this as a “Nanny State government entering our private lives” program. (I wonder how many of these same Republicans supported a bill that would have required women seeking an abortion to first get an ultrasound?)

Federal grant money to be used to lobby for tougher St. Louis smoking ban

This is interesting, and I’ve never heard of anything quite like this before. Health officials in St. Louis County, Missouri, are using $2 million in federal stimulus dollars to implement a public relations campaign to lobby the county council to impose a more strict smoking ban in the county.

It’s a county agency contacting with a PR firm, using federal money, to lobby its own county council.

That’s gotta drive libertarians insane. And it’s a lot of money — $2 million. I guess I wouldn’t find it so weird if it were a lot smaller dollar amount. What are they really going to spend $2 million on?

St. Louis County currently has a restaurant smoking ban, with exemptions for standalone bars and casinos. The county health agency will lobby for a comprehensive ban.

I see my old friend Bill Hannegan quoted in this story. He is a noted (and very busy) activist from the St. Louis area against smoking bans — one of the sane ones, though I rarely come remotely close to agreeing with him. I grudgingly have to agree with him on this one, though, this is really kind of an odd story.

Great Britain banning tobacco displays in stores

Great Britain is following the lead of Canada and is expected to ban the display of tobacco products (I’ve heard these called Powerwalls in Canada).

There’s talk that the FDA may do something similar later this year or early next year in the U.S., but I suspect whatever they do when it comes to powerwalls, it will probably be pretty subtle.

What made this story especially funny is one of the more stupid comments I’ve ever seen on Topix (a news aggregation site which is where you can find a lot of these stories easily). The comment reads:

Someone needs to remind these anti-American, Nazi oriented political scum of the Constitution. Smoking is not the issue it is the freedom that is being eroded. It should be a capital offense to violate the Constitution.

I guess he didn’t actually bother reading the story … because he would have noticed that the story took place in the UNITED KINGDOM. Smiley

Also, a capital offense to violate the Constitution? So, does that mean he thinks Bush, Cheney, Nixon, Reagan, Kissinger, Oliver North, half the Watergate conspirators and Jan Brewer should have all been put to death?

Because they have all violated the Constitution.