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


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.

google doodle
Google Doodle

A really kind of despicable ad from Blu e-cigs

e-cig ad

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?


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?


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.

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


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 “. … 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?


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.

Colorado, Utah consider raising the age for buying cigarettes to 21

teen smoking

Interesting, Colorado, the state that legalized recreational pot is considering raising the legal age for buying tobacco products to 21. Utah is considering similar legislation.

Report on Colorado bill

Honestly, don’t have a strong opinion on this. I see the logic behind making 21 the legal age for alcohol, because too many 18- and 19-year-olds are still too stupid to know how to use alcohol responsibly — supposedly, a certain percentage of those dumb kids will be smarter at 21 to know not to get plastered and drive, etc. Supposedly. But, since tobacco isn’t really an intoxicant, that argument doesn’t wash.

I suppose you could make the argument that most kids by the time they are 21 know better to even get started with cigarette smoking, but most kids get started anyway when they’re 15 or 16. Perhaps those kids who are just smoking a handful of cigarettes a day, start buying their own packs at 18, and by the time they’re 20, they’re addicted to the nicotine. Perhaps, a certain percentage of those kids never get addicted to begin with because by 21, they’re smart enough to know cigarettes are stupid. I mean, very, very few people actually start smoking after the age of 18.

Not surprisingly, lobbyists representing mini marts and convenience stores are opposing both bills. I’m not a total socialist weasel, but I can’t feel too much sympathy for retailers on this one. Hey, really, you want to keep making money selling cigs to 18-year-olds? Raising the price of beer by 5 cents and gasoline by 1 cent per gallon ought to make up for the lost revenues.


My favourite Olympic hockey memory

Dominick Hasek, Nagano Olympics

The truly epic shootout between the U.S. and Russia a few days ago reminded me of one of my favourite Olympic hockey memories. It isn’t the most famous moment in Olympic hockey, not by a long shot — it can’t compare to the Miracle on Ice or Sidney Crosby’s overtime shot in Vancouver, but it’s my favourite.

It was 1998, the first year that NHL players were allowed to play in the Olympics (taking a cue from the success of the 1992 Olympics Dream Team and the 1996 Hockey World Cup, in which NHL stars from the U.S. beat NHL stars from Canada in a three-game series that was fanatically watched in Canada). I was living in the San Juans, and in the San Juans, you could get CBC from Vancouver.

CBC shows 6 straight hours of hockey every Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada and during the Stanley Cup playoffs would show hockey literally every night, so there were a lot of hockey fans in the San Juans. A lot of people only had over the air TV and the CBC station plus one in Bellingham were the only stations available over the air.

Anyway, this was a big deal in Canada because Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Patrick Roy, Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and the other superstars of the era were going to play in the Olympics. For other teams, superstars such as Brett Hull (USA) and Jaromir Jagr (Czech Rep.) and Pavel Bure and Sergei Federov (Russia) were getting to play in the Olympics for the first time.

Canada was the heavy favourite, especially in Canada; Russia was considered the top contender. I found something somewhat distasteful in the Canadian attitude toward Olympics hockey. With the best players in the NHL in the Olympics now, I sensed a massive attitude of entitlement from the Canadians about the gold medal, as if they had already won it before the Olympics ever started.

Bobsled 4
Gretzky wonders what “Larry and Willy” will say on CFOX?

The games came on late at night because of the time difference. Canada more or less chewed threw the competition early, while the USA team, full of NHL stars, completely fell apart. The U.S., just two years removed from the winning the World Cup, completely flopped and didn’t even get a sniff of the medal rounds and got in trouble for tearing apart its hotel rooms.

It set the stage for a huge semifinal between Canada and the Czech. Rep. The Czechs were led by Jagr and one of the best goalies in the world at the time, Dominick Hasek. Hasek was good, we all knew that, but other than Jagr, the Czechs didn’t have a lot of big names on their team. Canada had legendary Patrick Roy in net and a roster full of superstars and fully expected to win.

The game began at about midnight and unlike NBC, the CBC showed all of the matches live. I actually had work the next day, but it wasn’t an important day at work, and it was the kind of job in which I could go in late if I needed to. My boss at the time was pretty cool with this, and I told him I would likely be coming in late, but that there was an 11 a.m. meeting I needed to attend.

The game started late, if I remember because the game before it went long. It ended up starting sometime around 1 a.m. Still no big deal, I thought. I was still young and full of beans back then and figured I could go to work after four hours of sleep.

Well, Hasek was absolutely spectacular. It was literally the most amazing, otherworldly goaltending I have ever seen. The Canadian, with all their raw, Hall of Fame, talent, with Wayne Gretzky (granted, toward the end of his career), simply could not crack him.

The game went into overtime. I believe back then they played a full 20-minute overtime. Still after all that, the game remained tied 1-1. I got the sense the Canadian announcers were in disbelief. You have to understand, Canada simply expected the gold medal was all theirs. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I remember after one play that didn’t go Canada’s way, one of the frustrated announcers actually said, “Oh, that’s a kick in the groin!”

haruko and T.J.
Haruko and her new heartthrob, T.J. Oshie. Poor Jacoby Ellsbury, she’s traded up!

The shootout lasted for five shots each. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as T.J. Oshie’s heroics. The format was different in that a shooter could not shoot twice. You had to go through the entire roster. The Czechs scored on their first  penalty shot, and then Hasek stoned five straight Canadian penalty shooters. Canada was in shock; they literally had been beaten by one man. There would be no gold medal. I found myself during the game actually cheering for the Czechs. They were huge underdogs and were being carried by one, superhuman man.

I was so mesmerized by the game, I wasn’t even paying attention to the time. When the game was over, it was actually 5 a.m. and the sun was starting to come up. I had expected the game to end between 2:30 and 3 a.m., not 5 a.m.

The morning DJs on the Vancouver radio station (Larry and Willy, legends in Vancouver for like 20 years) I usually listened to (CFOX) were furious about the game. It was all they talked about, that and wondering what the Canadian announcer’s, “Well that was a kick in the groin” was all about. Larry and especially Willy had been spending the whole Olympics trashing the U.S. team for being such a bunch of losers and were being pretty unsparing in their disgust with the Canadian team, too.

I sheepishly called my boss about the game at about 8:30 and explained I had only managed to get a couple of hours sleep. He found it all funny, and the fact that Canada was devastated by the loss. I made the staff meeting, then went home in the afternoon to nap.

The Canadian team was demoralized and barely showed up for the Bronze medal game, losing to Finland. The Czechs went on to beat that very powerful Russian team full of superstars 1-0 behind Hasek. Hasek was a huge hero (and still is to this day) in his home country. Never had I seen one player literally carry an entire team the way he did in those 98 Olympics.


Leonard Nimoy discusses his COPD with Piers Morgan


“I was an Olympic championship smoker.”

Sounding gravelly, this is what Leonard Nimoy tells Piers Morgan of CNN in an interview about his COPD diagnosis. Nimoy disclosed this week that he has COPD, though he has not smoked in 30 years. I notice Nimoy has an oxygen apparatus on the table in front of him during the interview.

Nimoy emphasizes that it’s “never too early to quit.” He quit after a 30-year smoking habit, and it took 30 years for the COPD to show up.

“The damage is being done right now. Every day you light up a cigarette, you’re losing cells in your lungs,” Nimoy said. Never were wiser words spoken.

Nimoy said he was smoking two packs a day. He talks about the insane smoking advertising of his day — doctors actually endorsing cigarettes; and he also talks about how physically addicting cigarettes are and how difficult it was for him to stop. He also talks about how much cigarettes were ingrained into the culture 50, 60 years ago.

“It was part of my culture. My guys, my gang…”

A brave man facing a huge challenge. Live long and prospier, Leonard.


Leonard Nimoy announces he has COPD


Leonard Nimoy announced yesterday he has COPD and put out a statement urging people to please quit smoking. Here is a more lengthy CNN article.

Nimoy, sent out a tweet: “I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP (Live Long and Prosper, obviously)”

Part of the deviousness of smoking … even if you quit, the damage it does can come back to haunt you decades later. It’s heartbreaking that someone does the right thing … and still develops lung diseases years later. The best way to avoid that damage is to never start smoking to begin with.

Leonard Nimoy says he is feeling OK, but just cannot walk long distances. He issued his announcement after he was seen at an airport being pushed in a wheelchair and with a breathing tube. I know from personal experience they can do a lot to repair the damage done by COPD; they can’t cure it or make it go away, but they can get the lungs functioning better with various medications; I wish Nimoy the best.