Russia bans smoking in restaurants, cafes and hotels — yes, Russia


Russia, one of the most heavily smoking nations in the world is cracking down on tobacco use. I’m honestly kind of shocked by this.

Russia passed a smoking ban that had already been implemented at schools, public transportation and hospitals. Now, part two of the ban is coming into play — bans on smoking in restaurants, cafes and hotels (apparently not bars, yet, however.).

Russia joins most of the rest of Europe in implementing various levels of smoking bans.

In addition, according to this article from the French Press Agency, Russia has also raised the taxes on cigarettes, more than doubling the price of  a pack from 25 rubles in 2010 to 59 rubles in 2014. (Still cheap, that’s $1.25 Euros vs. $1.70 Euros per pack).

Here is a funny article from NBC News about Russians complaining about the smoking bans, one of them saying, “We are a doomed country.” (Oh, Christ that reminds me of the some of the doom and gloom stuff from smokers’ rights weasels in the U.S. 10 years ago about smoking bans.).

Russia, like much of Eastern Europe, is a region of the world where people smoke heavily. According to this article, 40 million of the 143 million people in Russia smoke, about 28 percent, compared to about 19 percent in the U.S. And according to the same article, about 400,000 people in Russia die every year from smoking -related illnesses.

Unfortunately, Russia basically being the Wild, Wild west, especially when it comes to tobacco control, I fully expect these smoking bans to be flouted by a lot of people. The higher tax rate on cigarettes has created a huge black market in Russia, with dealers buying cigs in Belarus or Kazakhstan. Still in the French Agency article, tobacco officials concede their sales are dropping, and that blaming the black market is an excuse.



Gil Hodges ad promoting cigarettes — Gil Hodges died of heart attack at 47

Gil Hodges

My old Oregon friend Bill posted this on a Gil Hodges should be in the Hall of Fame page.

As I posted a few weeks ago, a lot of baseball players endorsed cigarettes. I found literally dozens of ads of baseball players endorsing either chew or cigarettes — and a hell of lot of them died young of cancer.

Gil Hodges was only 47 when he died in 1972. He literally keeled over dead from a massive heart attack while golfing. He was also a chain smoker. I’ve often wondered if he would have long ago been in the Hall of Fame had he lived and continued to manage and had his face and profile out there. He was 10th all time in home runs when he retired, an integral part of a number of Dodger champion teams, and arguably the best first baseman in the National League during the 1950s. On top of that, he managed a World Series-winning team with the Mets in 1969. But, he was quickly forgotten when he died. He was good, but wasn’t quite as good as Duke Snider, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Henry Aaron and a few others. Still, when you see guys like Tony Perez, Ron Santo and Orlando Cepeda in the Hall of Fame, it’s really hard to believe Hodges can’t get in. (And my point stands that one of the reasons Santo got in was he had a high-profile job for many years as an announcer.).

Hopefully, that will be cured soon. Gil Hodges is on a short list of serious contenders for the Hall of Fame from the Veterans Committee. He is such an obvious oversight.

Anyway, I always cringe at the irony of stars endorsing cigarette products — stars who later died  of cancer such as Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. Or in the case of Gil Hodges, heart disease.

Mother Jones jumps on tobacco on military bases story


Mother Jones has an interesting take on a story I posted about a few weeks ago, when a proposal to ban tobacco sales on military bases fizzled.

Mother Jones writes:

Suppose you wanted to quit drinking, but all the AA meetings in your town were held in the back of a bar with $2 well drinks?

That’s basically the conundrum the US military faces when it comes to regulating tobacco. Smoking is a drain on the force, physically and financially, and over the years the brass has implemented all sorts of efforts to get soldiers and sailors to avoid it, with some success. But every time military officials make a move to stop offering cheap cigarettes to their personnel, they get shot down by the tobacco industry’s allies in Congress. In the latest skirmish, earlier this month, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee launched a preemptive strike to prevent the Navy from ending tobacco sales on Navy and Marine bases and ships.

One thing to remember, not only are tobacco products available on military bases and ships … they’re considerably cheaper than what you find in civilian retail outlets because when tobacco products are sold on military bases, the local and state taxes don’t apply. Seven times, advocates have attempted to have the prices on military bases raised to civilian levels and seven times, they’ve failed, thanks to Big Tobacco lobbying and Big Tobacco allies in Congress. Another study showed that the average civilian price of Marlboro Reds is $6.73 a pack, while on military bases, it’s $4.99 a pack, nearly 30 percent lower.

According to Mother Jones, 36 percent of men aged 45-54 in the military smoke, compared to 24 percent of nonmilitary men in that same age group.

All of this puffing amounts to a massive medical bill, not just for the men and women dying horrible deaths from cancer and heart disease and emphysema, but for the taxpayers, too. In his letter to the Navy, (Rep. Duncan) Hunter, R-Calif. (a proponent of tobacco sales on military bases), noted that banning tobacco sales would mean a loss of profits for the Military Exchange Command. In reality, cigarettes are a net loss for the military. For every dollar of profit from selling tobacco to personnel, according to data from a 1996 Inspector General’s report, the Pentagon spent more than nine dollars on healthcare and lost productivity.


New York City bans cigarette sales to people under 21

teen-smokingOK, I’ve been called a do-gooder more times than I can count, but even for me this is a bit much (thanks to Haruko for the link). Sorry to the rest of my tobacco control brethren whom I support 97 percent of the time, I can’t completely jump on board this one. I have enough of a Libertarian streak that I think this is a little overboard.

The City of New York just imposed a ban on cigarette sales for people under the age of 21.

My problem with this is it likely will do little to cut down on smoking and it just smacks a little too much of “nanny state.” This is the same city under serial do-gooder Michael Bloomberg banned extra large sodas, which didn’t stand up to legal challenges (dumbest law ever. People would just buy two large sodas rather than one jumbo soda and drink the same amount.) Bloomberg was behind this law, too, though he is no longer mayor.

On Raw Story, which is a pretty liberal web site, even most of the supposed “nanny state liberals” are opposed to this. 18-year-olds can get a full driver’s licence, they can join the military, they can vote, they can see R-rated movies by themselves. But, they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes in New York City. Really? I’m old enough to remember that 45 years ago, young adults protested for the right to vote. And after years of protests and the ugliness of the Vietnam War, in which they could not vote but were asked to die for their country, they’re told in NYC they can’t buy a pack of smokes?

Haruko beat me to this point. The only thing 18-20 year olds can’t do is legally buy or use alcohol. The theory behind keeping alcohol illegal for kids under 21 is that teens haven’t developed the common sense yet to know when they are too drunk to drive. Of course, you can say this about ANYONE, but it’s particularly acute for kids 18-21. So there is some common sense to that law. But, I’m not seeing the common sense in the New York City law and I question whether it will accomplish anything. I doubt it will stop 18-21 year-olds from smoking.

The difference between alcohol and cigarettes is cigarettes aren’t an intoxicant, well, not much of one … let’s put it this way, no one ever got killed from someone smoking and driving. And frankly, I don’t see how this is going to save anyone’s life. Very, very few people start smoking between 18-21. Almost everyone starts smoking at 15-18, when cigarettes are already illegal for kids. All this is going to do is encourage adult teens to get their older brothers or friends to buy their cigarettes for them, or they can just drive or take the subway to Hoboken or out to Uniondale or Hempstead or to Yonkers and buy all the cigs they want (or frankly, it will probably encourage more adult teens to use e-cigs. The law also banned e-cig sales to adult teens, but again, they can just take a subway to Long Island to buy their e-cig products.). Again, it’s laws like this that don’t seem to be based on a lot of common sense that give the tobacco control crowd such a bad rep as do-gooders. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone files suit over the law (like people did against New York’s really stupid jumbo soda pop law).

Frankly, I support an approach of continuing to educate kids of the dangers of smoking rather than this law. In the long run, education will make more inroads than laws that adult teens will see as specious and hypocritical.


Big Tobacco getting into the e-cigarette business — a good thing or a bad thing?

Photo Credit: Goodluz / Shutterstock
Photo Credit: Goodluz / Shutterstock

Here is a story from Alternet about how Big Tobacco companies are buying into the e-cigarette business. This began a couple of years ago when Lorillard (Newport Cigarettes) bought Blu E-Cigs, the biggest e-cig company out there. RJR owns an e-cig brand called Vuse.

The article correctly points out that there are no rules or regulations controlling marketing of e-cigs to minors, which is a major concern to me and other anti-tobacco advocates. E-cig companies have been pretty aggressive in using the exact same techniques to market their products as the tobacco companies used to market cigarettes 30 and 40 years ago.

This is a fairly scathing article from Alternet, and based on my research into e-cigs, I see some of the points they are making (I totally agree with the article’s points about the dangers of no control over e-cig marketing), but don’t entirely agree with all of them, suggesting that e-cigs are nearly or virtually as bad as cigarettes. A number of commenters (and e-cig proponents) are taking Alternet to task for the article.

Let me make it clear — again — I am not an e-cig proponent. BUT, I have read and heard enough anecdotal evidence to accept that they may help SOME people quit smoking. And while e-cigs are not entirely harmless, nor are they anywhere nearly as toxic as cigarettes.  Do, I think they should be regulated? Absolutely. The FDA is doing this and importantly, is banning sales to minors. Do I think their marketing should be regulated? Absolutely. The FDA is NOT doing this, but should. Do I think they need to be banned? No, I’m not on board with that yet.

The article decries that Big Tobacco is getting into the e-cig business. I don’t see this as either a bad thing or a good thing. I see it as an inevitable thing.

Big Tobacco has lost billions in sales in the U.S. and the rest of the West in the past 25 years as smoking rates have plummeted, and lately smoking rates among young people, which had stubbornly refused to drop, finally starting dropping dramatically about four or five years ago.

Big Tobacco is a lot of things, evil, venal, amoral, etc., but it isn’t stupid. The execs see the future, and the future is, cigarette sales in the West will never remotely approach where they were 30 years ago, and will continue to decline. So, what are they doing? Diversifying. Into e-cigs. It’s capitalism, love it or hate it.


NPR story: Kids are harvesting the tobacco for cigarettes and getting sick doing it

NPR photo — Eddie Ramirez, 15

Outstanding story from NPR today; really powerful stuff.

Listen to the NPR report here.

Kids, some as young as 12 years old, are helping to harvest tobacco crops through much of the South. NPR interviewed Eddie Ramirez, a Honduran kid who picks tobacco with his migrant family in the South:

“In the mornings, tobacco is wet because of the dew and, like, the rows are narrow and the tobacco is really big. You just feel like you’re suffocating or can’t breathe really well,” he says. “You just want to stop and not do it no more.”

Well, all that tobacco is absolutely leaking nicotine, and as I’ve talked about especially a lot lately, nicotine is actually poisonous, especially to kids. So, these young kids are absorbing nicotine through the hands and skin by working in the tobacco fields all day (Remember a story I posted about a woman ending up in the emergency room because she fell asleep on a bottle of liquid nicotine for her e-cigarette and got severe nicotine poisoning because it was absorbed into her system through skin contact?)


In the NPR article:

“We found that the overwhelming majority of kids we interviewed got sick while they were working in tobacco fields with nausea, headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness,” says Human Rights Watch researcher Margaret Wurth. “And many of the symptoms they reported are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, which happens when workers absorb nicotine through their skin.”


A group called Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 100 children who work in tobacco fields, but has no idea how many kids are really doing this … and possibly getting sick from it. The group is calling for the end of using child labour in tobacco fields, and is calling on Big Tobacco to take a more active role in stopping it.

Of the 133 kids interviewed by HRW, more than 66 percent reported feeling sick with symptoms consistent with nicotine poisoning; 73 percent report getting sick in the fields with other symptoms.

Just awful story, and it’s being enabled by the Labor Department, which refused under political pressure (gosh, from where, I wonder? RJR and Philip Morris, no doubt)  to implement tougher work standards for employers hiring crews to work in tobacco fields.

Anyway, a great story that sheds a light on something that needed to be exposed, and needs to stop.


Committee votes to allow tobacco sales on military bases


A loss for the anti-tobacco crowd.

They had been a proposal to ban tobacco sales on military bases (not smoking, but sales), but the House Armed Services Committee (obviously stacked with Republicans) did the opposite, approving a measure to specifically protect tobacco sales on military bases. (Had to use a Stripes link, because the only other stories I found were Washington Times and Fox News. I don’t post links to the Moonie Times or Faux News.).

Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, a former Marine, said:

young servicemembers should have the right to smoke or chew, and lawmakers who support base tobacco bans should “just outlaw war” because it also damages servicemember health.

OK, fair enough, I guess, except the proposal never said that service people couldn’t smoke or use tobacco products on bases; it just said that these products couldn’t be sold on the bases. So, that is a false analogy, I think. By protecting tobacco sales on military bases, you aren’t doing the service people any favours, you’re just making it easier for Big Tobacco.



Smoking can both cause arthritis and make it worse


You know, when I first got into this racket five or six years ago, I would have never believed smoking — in particular heavy smoking — actually not only can cause arthritis, it makes arthritis far worse for the people who develop it.

This is something I’ve been meaning to touch on for weeks. This topic is an especially raw subject for me, because my mom is absolutely suffering from severe arthritis; she is diabetic and has COPD and high blood pressure, but honestly, the last year or so, it’s been the arthritis that has robbed her the most of her quality of life (And if anyone has witnessed the ravages of COPD, you know that to say that arthritis is wrecking her quality of life more than COPD is a hell of a claim, but it really is. The COPD is under control for the moment, but not the arthritis.)

She can sometimes barely move or walk because of the pain. When I last visited her, she could barely get in and out of bed and could barely use the restroom. She was in agony; it’s in her spine and most of her body, frankly. The only way she could function was by taking oxycontin and other heavy painkillers and they make her sick to her stomach, it’s terrible. When I last saw her, an epidermal had helped her, but she was still getting sick to the stomach from the oxycontin. It’s either throw up a lot or be in excruciating pain — that’s the choice she faces.

x-rayI hate to come off like, “she did it to herself,” because frankly, no one even really knew about the connection between smoking and rheumatoid arthritis (from now on, RA, because rheumatoid is a pain in the ass to spell) until a couple of years ago. Additionally, other studies have shown that smoking increases the risk for osteoarthritis (essentially the loss of cartilage — and smoking can cause a deterioration of cartilage, somewhat different from RA), as well. (I’ve had Mom’s arthritis described as both osteoarthritis and RA to me. The story has changed over the years. Her hands look like RA to me.) Anyway, Mom didn’t know, only a few people knew. And frankly, blaming her doesn’t do her or me or anyone any good.

So, to be clear, I am not point a finger and laying blame. Just simply trying to explain the staggering physical damage that smoking causes — and the damage I’ve seen with my own eyes.

I began reading a couple of years ago about the ties between smoking and arthritis. I dismissed it initially; you see a lot of articles splashed all over the Internet saying that smoking is a “risk factor” and , and since then, I’ve seen a literal cascade of information about how smoking both causes RA and makes it far worse. And all I can think of when I read this stories is my mom.

It’s important to remember that RA is an autoimmune disorder. While it is a genetic disorder (as is lung cancer), studies have show that smokers are three times as likely to develop RA as nonsmokers, in particular heavy smokers. So, like lung cancer, smoking is environment and genetics working together to ravage the body.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Surgeon General put out a report on the 50th anniversary on the landmark 1964 USSG report declaring that smoking causes lung cancer detailing all the other diseases believed to be caused or exacerbated by smoking, which people didn’t know in 1964. A the top of this list is diabetes, macular degeneration, erectile dysfunction … and arthritis.

From the 2014 U.s. Surgeon General report:

Immune and autoimmune disorders: This report finds that smoking is a cause of general adverse effects on the body, including systemic inflammation and impaired immune function (Chapter 10). One result of this altered immunity is increased risk for pulmonary infections among smokers. For example, risks for Mycobacterium tuberculosis and for death from tuberculosis disease are higher for smokers than nonsmokers (Chapter 7). Addi­tionally, smoking is known to compromise the equi­librium of the immune system, increasing the risk for several immune and autoimmune disorders. This report finds that smoking is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis, and that smoking interferes with the effectiveness of certain effectiveness of certain treatments for rheumatoid arthritis (Chapter 10).

This report finds that active smoking is now causally associated with age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, colorectal cancer, liver cancer, adverse health outcomes in cancer patients and survivors, tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction, orofacial clefts in infants, ectopic pregnancy, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation, and impaired immune function.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

  1. The evidence is sufficient to infer a causal relationship between cigarette smoking and rheumatoid arthritis.

In addition, a recent Swedish study focused on smoking and RA among women. this study surveyed 34,000 people and found that women smoking as little as one to seven cigarettes a day more than double their risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.


(My mom, at her heaviest smoking, probably smoked 30-plus cigarettes a day)

Not only does smoking increase the risk of RA, but it makes the arthritis worse and more difficult to treat, other studies have shown.

I mean, this is stuff I didn’t know as recently as a year ago, but the evidence is pretty overwhelming and pretty damning. Just part of the 20th century tobacco holocaust. Even if you are spared lung cancer, there’s so many other things that smoking does to the body. And not only does smoking kill people, it also destroys the quality of life through COPD and arthritis and other diseases. It’s a plague.