Could Big Tobacco evolve into Big Pot?


I’m glad someone did an article on this (NBC News) because frankly, this is something I’ve been wondering about myself for the past couple of years.

With a total of four states now with legal marijuana (Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska), might the day come when pot sales will be controlled by huge corporations, perhaps even a single massive mega-corporation?

Boy, there are dollars to be made there. Billions upon billions of them. Too much profit to keep Big Business out for long. It’s legal now for about 18 million people in the U.S. — and I guarantee that number will continue to escalate, maybe a LOT and maybe soon. California might be next in line to legalize pot.

According to NBC:

“My concern is the Marlboro-ization or Budweiser-ization of marijuana,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “That’s not what I’m fighting for.”

“It’s a cultural thing,” said Keith Stroup, founder of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the country’s oldest consumer pot lobby. “All of us have at least a little bit of discomfort with the corporate stuff.”

Which brings me to big tobacco. “Marlboro-ization.” I’ve long suspected that Big Tobacco is keeping an eye on the effort to legalize pot … and drooling in the process. The tobacco industry has been in a long, slow decline for about 20 years now. So the industry will have to diversify. One way to accomplish this is by selling more cigarettes overseas — but the gargantuan market of China is off-limits because the Chinese government doesn’t want American tobacco companies taking over its state-owned market.

So, that leaves … marijuana. I would not be shocked. Not in the slightest if RJ Reynolds or Philip Morris got into the marijuana-selling business in the next 10 to 20 years. Pot advocates see it looming on the horizon. They mention beer companies, too.

NBC News:

“Beer, wine and tobacco people—I’ve met with them all,” said Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, which is above all a consumer rights organization. He doesn’t love the idea of Big Pot, but he believes it will help guarantee that users get a quality product at a fair price.

He recalled two lunches in Washington, D.C., (one at DC Noodles, the other at Pizza Paradiso); several office visits; and a grand tour through Savor, the district’s popular beer and food conference.

“It’s been so surreal,” he said, reflecting on more than two decades as a marijuana lobbyist, all of it spent outside the warm circle of the other vice industries.

“I always dreamed of these meetings,” he added. “I pictured balding guys, with comb-overs, red suspenders, eating in quiet restaurants—and lo-and-behold that’s what they’ve been.”

The article focuses pretty heavily on the alcohol industry and whether beer and spirits distributors might want to get involved in the marijuana business someday, or if they see marijuana simply as a competitor.

I’m focusing a bit more on the Big Tobacco aspect, because frankly at this point, I think it’s more likely Big Tobacco would get involved in pot rather than beer companies.

My old pal Stanton Glantz (one of the most prominent anti-tobacco crusaders of the past 30 years) is quoted extensively in the story.

NBC News:

Tobacco executives, meanwhile, have been studying the marijuana industry for years, according to Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. His research has drawn an 80-million page archive of tobacco industry documents, spanning the 1960s to the late 1990s. Many of the documents reference softening pot laws, rising use, and the dual threat/opportunity of a third major vice industry.

In early 1970, for example, an unsigned memorandum distributed to Philip Morris’ top management read, “We are in the business of relaxing people who are tense and providing a pick up for people who are bored or depressed. The human needs that our product fills will not go away. Thus, the only real threat to our business is that society will find other means of satisfying these needs.”

“These documents reveal that since at least 1970, despite fervent denials, three multinational tobacco companies, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, and RJ Reynolds, all have considered manufacturing cannabis cigarettes,” according to an investigation by Glantz and two colleagues, published this summer in Milbank Quarterly, a peer-reviewed journal of public health.

Make no mistake. Pot will be legalized, if not everywhere in the U.S., than in most of the U.S. And I’m predicting sooner rather than later. The political will to keep it illegal is slowly caving. And it is big, big, big business, a multi-billion business. You can be damned sure Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds are thinking about it.

The question is … would that be a bad thing?

In my mind, only if they completely abandoned the scourge of the 20th century — tobacco.

Westminster, Mass., drops bad idea to ban all tobacco sales

no tobacco

Well, I saw this coming from a mile away.

Westminster, Mass., which came up with a proposal to ban all tobacco sales within town limits, dropped the whole thing after a huge uproar, both from a petition opposing it and a throng of people who showed up at the town’s board of health meeting that grew so heated it was brought to a halt 20 minutes after it started.

At a follow-up meeting this week, the health board voted (predictably, IMO) 2-1 to table the idea.

The objections didn’t necessarily come from smokers, but from local merchants and civil libertarians, who believed the move was too much of a government intrusion into private lives and personal decisions.

It was a bad idea, I mean, because of nothing else, all it would have  accomplishes was forcing people to drive to some other town five or 10 miles away to get their cigarettes. It wouldn’t have stopped anyone from smoking, it would’ve just wasted gas. Not to mention all the litigation the town likely would have been hit with.

I’m all for doing all that can be done to crack down on tobacco — within reason. This wasn’t reasonable. It wasn’t practical.

In the words of a local merchant:

“They (the health board) really saw the town was overwhelmingly against it,” said Joe Serio, the owner and pharmacist at the Westminster Pharmacy, which sells cigarettes.

“What upset everyone was that we felt like we didn’t have a say,” said Mr. Serio, who attended Wednesday’s meeting. “But this didn’t divide the town — it united us.”

Mr. Serio said the board understood that news of the proposal had put new pressures on everyone.

“It was obvious that the board wouldn’t meet again without a large contingency of townspeople there,” he said. “And there was a tremendous demand that being in the national spotlight put on us — the volume of phone calls, mail, emails, the news media that came in. After a while, you have to get back to business.”

Steve Lardy’s pal Shaun Hill beats Peyton Manning

“Are you kidding me?”

This game gave me a smile.

Shaun Hill, from Parsons, Kansas, finally got to play again for the St. Louis Rams after getting hurt in Week One.

Coach Jeff Fisher threw Shaun to the lions (no, not his old team Detroit) in going up Peyton Manning and a 7-2 juggernaut in the Denver Broncos. Denver came into the game as 10-point favourites.

Hill not only went toe-to-toe with Hall of Famer Manning, he actually beat him … badly 22-7. OK, the St. Louis defence had a lot to do with it — but Hill had a GREAT game … he went 20-for-29 for 220 yards and a touchdown and zero interceptions, for a quarterback rating of 102.7. Meanwhile, Manning went 34-for-54 for 389 yards, but two interceptions — that was only good for a QB rating of 75.

It was maybe the biggest, highest-profile win of Shaun’s career. It reinforces my point that every time Shaun gets a chance to play, he seems to shine. I was so happy for him after he got hurt in the first week of the season (and then Austin Davis ended up playing pretty well at times for the Rams.).

Shaun Hill and his family celebrate beating the Denver Broncos.
Shaun Hill and his family celebrate beating the Denver Broncos.

Shaun is 34 and I don’t know if he will ever get a chance to start full-time at this point in his career. But, in 28 career starts, he is 14-14. No win bigger than this one.

As an aside, St. Louis is a weird team. They have beaten the Broncos, the Seahawks and the 49ers, but are only 4-6 and likely won’t make the playoffs. They seem to be the kind of team that can literally beat anybody, while at the same time they can literally lose to anyone, too.

Michael Caine: Tony Curtis saved my life by snatching and throwing away my cigarettes



I saw a brief and interesting interview from Michael Caine today about how at some Hollywood party 50 or so years ago, Tony Curtis literally grabbed his cigarettes and threw them in a fireplace to save his life.

Here’s the story Caine tells Yahoo Entertainment:

“You know who saved my life? Tony Curtis. I was at a party. This was when Tony Curtis was very famous. I knew who he was but had never met him. I was speaking to someone by a fireplace and took the end of the cigarette that was in my mouth, lit another cigarette with it, and went on talking and smoking,” Michael explained to

“Then I felt a hand come around behind me and go into my pocket. Tony Curtis took the cigarettes out and threw them in the fire. He said, ‘You don’t know me, but I’ve been watching you. That is, what, the fifth cigarette you’ve lit in less than an hour?’ He said, ‘You’re gonna die. I’ve just saved your life for you.’ He was right. You can’t smoke cigarettes like that and live. And I stopped.”

It’s true, you look at old photos of Michael Caine, and he seemed to constantly have a cigarette in his mouth.

The sad irony to this story is that Tony Curtis, after overcoming alcoholism and drug addiction and was battling cirrhosis of the liver, died in 2010 from COPD, even though he quit smoking some 40-plus years earlier.

Michael Caine is still going strong at 81 and starring in a lot of Christopher Nolan movies.


Westminster, Mass., goes bonkers over proposed ban on tobacco sales

New York Times photo
Westminster, Mass. New York Times photo

OK, I fully expected this hearing to be heated, but even this blew me away.

The town of Westminster, Massachusetts, has proposed banning all tobacco sales within town limits. It’s understandably a controversial idea.

Well, the hearing got so whack, it had to be stopped 20 minutes after it started. Nearly 500 people showed up (in a town of 7,000), some of them apparently from out of town, to the public hearing. It became so out-of-control that the town’s health board made no decision (and likely won’t at this point).

Of course, the issues went way beyond just smokers vs. nonsmokers, as people brought up freedom of choice and personal liberties and the town’s proposal as a government intrusion on individual. (Wow, I’ve actually heard a lot of the same arguments about smoking bans. A lot of alleged nonsmoking Libertarians gets riled up by smoking bans.

It was heated enough, the New York Times wrote about the little town’s brouhaha.

From the Times:

“They’re just taking away everyday freedoms, little by little,” said Nate Johnson, 32, an egg farmer who also works in an auto body shop, as he stood outside the store last week. “This isn’t about tobacco, it’s about control,” he said.

OK, I can dig that to a degree, but this next quote from the Times story is just plain silly.

As Wayne and Deborah Hancock grabbed a shopping cart, they joined in. All quickly agreed that the next freedoms at risk would be guns and religion, prompting Mrs. Hancock, 52, a homemaker, to say that she was afraid to wear her cross.

“I’m thinking, ‘Am I going to be beheaded?’ ” she said, not entirely joking.

A few brief comments actually got in during the hearing:

Wayne R. Walker, a town selectman, said that the selectmen had voted unanimously to oppose the ban. “I detest smoking and tobacco in all its forms,” he told the health board, but such a “unilateral and radical approach” as banning all sales would “create a significant economic hardship.”

A resident named Kevin West said that smoking was “one of the most disgusting habits anybody could possibly do,” but added: “I find this proposal to be even more of a disgusting thing.” The shouts after his statement prompted Ms. Crete, who had issued several warnings, to declare the hearing over.

Apparently, as the board adjourned the meeting, the crowd began singing “God Bless America,” and board members had to be escorted out with police protection.

Oh, man, I’ve sat through too many of those kind of ginned-up public meetings. Really, at this point, the town should just drop it because it’s inviting  a mess of litigation in my opinion and ultimately probably won’t effectively stop anyone from smoking if they really want to. But, officially, the matter was simply postponed.


NBC News: The continuing stigma of lung cancer and lack of funding for lung cancer research

NBC News/Courtesy of Emily Bennett Taylor — Emily Bennett Taylor and her husband Miles in 2013, celebrating NED or “no evidence of disease.” Today, Emily Bennett Taylor is cancer-free after chemotherapy, lung surgery and radiation.

This is a really heartbreaking story. There is a stigma surrounding lung cancer like no other cancer which is reflected in the lack of funding for lung cancer research compared to breast cancer and other kinds of cancer.

The reason why is pretty obvious: “Well, people who get lung cancer did it to themselves.”

There you have it in a nutshell. The feeling that people with lung cancer somehow “asked for it,” whereas people with other kinds of cancer did not. Because as we all know, the bulk of lung cancer cases happens among smokers.

NBC News did a big story on this today, focusing to a large degree on lung cancer among women. First of all, about 20 percent of women who get lung cancer have never smoked a cigarette in their lives (and roughly 10 percent of men).

Here’s a couple of shocking stats from NBC:

According to the Washington, D.C.-based Lung Cancer Alliance, for every person who dies of breast cancer, $26,000 is spent on research funds, yet less than $1,500 is allocated for those who die of lung cancer.

Activist Arielle Densen lost her mother, a nonsmoker, to lung cancer, and is on a mission to bring awareness to the issue during November, Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

“The statistics on lung cancer are so staggering and so many young, non-smoking individuals are dying from this disease and no one is really talking about it,” Densen said.

“If you factor in private donations, the funding gap widens incredibly,” she said. “Susan G. Komen alone raised $428 million in 2012; whereas the largest lung cancer groups bring in about $3 to $4 million a year.”

Those attitudes that people with lung cancer “did it to themselves” and “asked for it,” is directly reflected in the lack of funding for research. Christ, Susan G. Komen (breast cancer) brings in 100 times more than the largest lung cancer fundraising group? I don’t want to get into a “what’s worse, breast cancer or lung cancer?” debate because all cancer sucks, but this is a shocking number to me.

From NBC:

“One of the big problems is there is such a big association in the public’s mind between smoking and lung cancer,” said Dr. Lecia Sequist, a medical oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“No one deserves to get lung cancer,” Sequist added. “But we are seeing a lot of patients who never smoked or smoked years ago or only in small amounts. We just don’t know why.”

Keep in mind that even though fewer women than men get lung cancer, lung cancer is still the No. 1 cancer killer among women (It’s been the runaway No. 1 cancer killer among men for decades.) 108,000 women in the U.S. get lung cancer every year, and about 72,000 of them die from it, according to NBC.

Interestingly, doctors in the article say they are seeing more lung cancer cases among nonsmokers. No one knows why. It could be other poisons in the environment. One thing to keep in mind about lung cancer — lung cancer is both a genetic disease and an environmental disease. If you have certain gene markers, smoker or not, your risk of lung cancer is increased, so you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer (However, if you have those gene markers and you smoke, your chances of getting lung cancer are really high. )

I hate that this stigma is still around and how much it affects funding for lung cancer cures. It’s painful that one of the first questions people ask when someone dies of lung cancer is “oh, did they smoke?” (And yes, on this blog, I have been guilty of focusing on smokers who have died from lung cancer, it’s not 100 percent, but it’s still 85 percent — the No.  1 risk factor by a longshot for lung cancer is and will continue to be smoking.).

Remember, anyone that has watched someone die of lung cancer — no one deserves that. And no one asked for it.

Edgy, racy, sexy ad for e-cigs … Blu E-cigs will make you as cool as a racecar driver … or Joe Camel

joe camel, stephen dorff race car driver
Joe Camel and Stephen Dorff (Yup, that’s actually Stephen Dorff) were race car drivers

OK, I am literally sending an email to the FDA about this new Blu E-cigarette ad. Man, this ad annoyed me the first time I saw it about a week ago, and it’s still bugging me.

It’s with our longtime Blu spokesman — washed-up actor Stephen Dorff, advertising a new cherry-flavoured Blu e-cig. Stephen Dorff is shirtless and tattooed, vaping on an e-cig, then he’s climbing a mountain vaping on an e-cig, then he’s walking on a beach vaping on an e-cig, then he’s riding a bicycle vaping on an e-cig, all, then he’s walking on a racetrack wearing a Blu racing uniform vaping on an e-cig, then he is at a formal party vaping on an e-cig, then he is at a hip bar, vaping on an e-cig, then playing pool, while vaping on an e-cig … all to a jazzy, funky song by T-Bird and the Breaks (with the refrain of “Lift me up” as in “Blu cigarettes lift me up not only with their little charge of nicotine, but with their cool hipness, too.”)

So, e-cigs are portrayed as sexy as hell. Funky music blaring, Dorff shirtless, partying, drinking, … heck, even driving a racecar. Blu E-cigs will actually make you as cool as a racecar driver.

Wow, just wow, this is the most annoying Blu commercial I’ve seen yet, blatantly stealing from the “cool, suave” school of tobacco advertising. … heck, e-cigs will even turn you into a racecar driver. Just like Joe Camel. Yup, Joe Camel was a racecar driver, too.

Never mind the fact that activists are concerned that the candy-flavoured e-cigs are directed at kids even without the cool, hip, jazzy advertising … this is just over the top. E-cig use among teens has tripled in three years and ads like this are one of the big reasons why. This is what the FDA needs to STOP. This is a prime example of the kind of e-cig advertising they need to crack down on.


Good news, bad news — CDC: Teen smoking lower than ever, but largely because of e-cigs


According to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control released this week, the teen smoking rate in the 2013 dropped to its lowest recorded level — 12.7 percent (down from 14 percent in 2012 and 15.8 percent in 2011).

This is pretty impressive when you consider the teen smoking rate was 28 percent in 2000, so the rate has been cut by more than one-half in 13.

Sounds great at first, unfortunately, there’s more to the story. Anti-tobacco education funding has been dropping for the past 15 years, so what’s really behind these numbers (I would like to think that seeing less smoking in movies and TV is a factor.)?

Unfortunately, the rise of e-cigs is probably one of the biggest factors. According to the group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the rate of teens using e-cigs has jumped from 1.5 percent in 2011 to 4.5 percent in 2013 (in raw numbers, that’s an increase from 250,000 kids in 2011 to 760,000 kids in 2013).

Combine the smoking and e-cig numbers (crude mathematics, because it doesn’t take into account kids smoking and using e-cigs both, but I’m just doing it to make a point). In 2011, that combined number would be 17.3 percent of kids using some nicotine product. In 2013, number would be 17.2 percent using a nicotine product.

I believe that is probably giving a pretty fair picture of what’s really going on. Fewer kids taking up smoking, more kids taking up e-cigs.

Now, e-cigs are not as bad as cigarettes, they don’t contain anywhere near the same level of carcinogens as cigarettes, but they still contain nicotine, which isn’t any good for you and is incredibly addictive. Also, the jury is out about whether e-cig use will eventually lead to cigarette use.

Numbers on a smaller scale from the state of Minnesota paint a similar picture.

From a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article:

An estimated 15,000 students have tried e-cigarettes without having tried any traditional tobacco products before, according to results from the 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey released Monday. Overall, 12.9 percent of high-schoolers said they had tried e-cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey.

By comparison, just 10.6 percent of high school students said they had smoked traditional cigarettes within the previous 30 days — down from 18.1 percent in 2011.

The survey, which included more than 4,200 students from 70 schools, suggests that e-cigarettes are now more popular among teens than the real thing.

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is using these numbers as a clarion call for the Food and Drug Administration to crack down harder on e-cigs.

The FDA a few months ago proposed a set of regulations on e-cigs that were fairly lax. The best part of these proposed regulations was banning sales to kids under 18. However, there was absolutely zero in the proposed regs to crack down on e-cig advertising, which uses many of the same techniques used by cigarette makers to make cigarettes look cool and suave. Activists also want the FDA to crack down on sweet flavourings for e-cigs (I’m not as worked up about this, but I do want the FDA to curtail the advertising.).

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sees it the way I do:

This increase [of e-cig use] comes as e-cigarette makers have marketed their products with the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids, including celebrity endorsements, slick TV and magazine ads, sponsorships of race cars and concerts, and sweet flavors such as gummi bear and cotton candy.

Minnesota officials agree:

Given looser restrictions on marketing “vaping” products, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, state health commissioner, said he worries that Minnesota youths will try the new devices and eventually develop addictions to nicotine.

“I have a real sense of déjà vu about e-cigarettes,” said Ehlinger, who cited the youth marketing — now outlawed — that drew children and teens to cigarettes years ago.

University of Alabama bans tobacco use


The University of Alabama, deep in tobacco country and deep in anti-regulatory country, announced last week that it is going completely tobacco-free. That means no cigarettes, no chew, not even e-cigs (though these are not technically a tobacco product) on the Tuscaloosa campus (it also includes frats and sororities). Alabama joins numerous other college campuses around the country in banning tobacco products (not many of those are in the Deep South, however.). Auburn and Troy (which is in Alabama) have also banned tobacco products while University of Alabama-Birmingham has a policy of not hiring smokers.

Smoking bans, while popular throughout much of the country, are still a stickler in the South. A poll connected to this Univ. of Alabama article shows that 53 percent are opposed to the tobacco ban, while 46 percent are in favour of it. Trust me, polls in other parts of the country would likely run two-to-one or even three-to-one in favour.

Alabama is kind of an odd duck when it comes to smoking bans overall. There is no stateside smoking ban, however, Alabama might have the most communities with city bans. There’s at least two or three dozen cities in Alabama with smoking bans, including the biggest city, Birmingham. Texas has a similar setup, virtually every major city in Texas has a smoking ban, but their state Legislatures are so conservative, statewide bans are a total nonstarter.

This part of the story is kind of interesting, last year, the student government association at Alabama actually voted against a tobacco ban, but the university got support from five campus organizations to implement a ban.

Town in Massachusetts considers banning all tobacco sales

Westminster, Massachusetts

A tiny town in Massachusetts — Westminster — is proposing to ban all tobacco sales. The city is holding a public hearing on this proposal this week. If Westminster does this, it will be the first town in the U.S. to actually ban tobacco sales.

A local store owner is asking people to sign a petition against it, saying that tobacco sales make up about 5 percent of his retail sales.

From the Christian Science Monitor article:

“It’s going to send business five minutes this way or five minutes that way — no one’s going to quit,” said Brian Vincent, who admits to enjoying a cigar himself now and then.

He has gathered more than 800 signatures and other stores owners claim they will present the town’s health board with petitions with several hundred more signatures.

Of course, Altria (Philip Morris) has chimed in

From the article:

David Sutton, a spokesman for Richmond, Virginia-based Altria Group Inc., owner of the nation’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, called the proposal a “bad policy” that will harm local employers.

“We believe businesses should be able to choose which products they carry,” Sutton said. “If the ban were to be implemented, adult tobacco and e-vapor consumers could shift their purchases to neighboring stores. The proposed regulations, if enacted, would fundamentally alter these businesses and would likely cost Westminster jobs.”

I will guarantee that if the town goes ahead with the ban, Altria and R.J. Reynolds will likely file suit, or at least assist any grocers’ association lawsuit.

I have mixed feelings about the proposal. Of course, I’m totally against tobacco, but these sorts of punitive measures usually don’t serve a lot of purpose in the long run, I think. Like someone said, it will just force smokers to drive a few minutes out of their way to another town. Education is more effective, I think.