Kids and cigarettes and the stories they tell

Amanda and Dinosaur Jr.

There is a very famous photograph from 1990 by a noted photographer named Mary Ellen Mark of a 9-year-old girl wearing make-up, sitting in a tiny backyard plastic pool and smoking cigarettes.

It turns out the girl came from a very rough and troubled background and continues to have troubles today. NPR did a really powerful piece on this girl.


The photograph is called “Amanda and her Cousin Amy” and was taken in Valdese, North Carolina.

NPR actually tracked the girl down (Mary Ellen Mark recently passed away). Her name at the time of the photo was Amanda Minton — she now goes by the name Amanda Marie Ellison and she is now 34 years old. It turns out she remembered the photo and remembered the photographer.

From NPR:

In 1990, Mark had been sent to rural North Carolina by Life magazine to cover a school for “problem children.” Ellison was one of those children. “She’s my favourite,” Mark told British Vogue in 1993. “She was so bad she was wonderful, she had a really vulgar mouth, she was brilliant.”


Amanda Ellison explains how she was smoking at age 9:

Ellison openly concedes she was a “wild” child, but she says she was just emulating the adults in her life, all of whom by her memory were drug-addicted, residing in a low-income housing complex nicknamed “Sin City.” It was around that time that she began to smoke.

“If I couldn’t get [cigarettes], if somebody wouldn’t give them to me, yes, I’d steal a pack of cigarettes and be gone,” she says. “I’d sit in the woods and smoke ’til they were gone.”

People talk a lot about how somehow dope is a “gateway drug” to harder drugs. Well, research has shown the real gateway drug is nicotine. Sure enough, Amanda graduated from cigarettes to harder drugs.She was addicted to hard drugs by the age of 16.

The most heartbreaking part of the story is that Amanda thought the photos of her smoking at 9 would somehow spur someone to come rescue her from her rough existence, but it never happened.

From NPR:

“When she came along and took those photos, I thought, ‘Well, hey, people will see me and this may get me the attention that I want; it may change things for me,’ ” Ellison says. She thought someone would see the images and come rescue her. “I had thought that that might have been the way out. But it wasn’t.”

Amanda has since done actual prison time, but she is trying to get her life together. From NPR:

By her own admission, Ellison’s adulthood is still tumultuous. She has served time in prison and says she is still “surrounded by crazy people and drugs.” But she says her life has improved, and she wishes she could talk again with “that photographer lady.”

“If I had to guess,” Ellison says, “I would say she would be, I don’t know, overwhelmed with joy that I have made it this far.”

Amanda’s photo and her story made me think of another photo. It was actually taken on a beach way back in 1969 and shows about a 10- or 11-year-old girl smoking a cigarette. The photo is called “Priscilla” and it was taken by a photographer named Joseph Szabo.

Dinosaur Jr. used that photo on their “Green Mind” album cover from 1991 — an album I really wore the crap out of back in the day. Even 24 years ago, that album cover bothered me, and I wondered who that girl was and what her parents — or whatever her loved ones — thought of her smoking so young. That photo always haunted me. It felt so painful. Someone so young doing so much damage to themselves. Now, like Amanda, I wonder what her story was and what became of her. She would be about 56 or 57 today.



Study: Risk of heart attack drops to normal 15 years after most smokers quit


An There’s an interesting new study out that states that within 15 years of quitting smoking, smokers see their risk of heart attack drop to the same level as non-smokers.

The study states that these conditions apply for an average smoker. For a heavy smoker — a pack a day or more for 32 years or longer — the risk of heart attack remains elevated even 15 years after that smoker quits.

The study compiled statistics from over 4,400 people over the age of 65 — smokers, nonsmokers and former smokers.  The study found that 21 percent of nonsmokers and 21 percent of former smokers who had quit 15 years earlier or more experienced heart failure — the same rate.

However, of the heavy smokers’ group, that number was 30 percent. Current smokers experienced heart failure at a whopping 50 percent clip.

The message from doctors involved in the study? The body can heal itself from the ravages of tobacco, if given the opportunity:

“Our body can heal itself,” Bich Tran, a public health and epidemiology researcher at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told Reuters Health by email. “Within 12 hours or few days after the smoking, the level of carbon monoxide in blood will decline and the circulatory system will start repairing the damage.”



L.A. Times: Chew is deeply ingrained in the culture of baseball

Mark derosa

Here’s a great story from the L.A. Times exploring the culture of chewing tobacco in baseball.

San Francisco recently banned chewing tobacco at all ballparks, including AT&T (to take effect next year), while both the city of L.A. and the state of California are considering similar bans.

The issue of chew in baseball has become more high-profile in the past year or so because of the death last year of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer. On top of that, pitcher Curt Schilling battled oral cancer in the past year. Schilling blames chew for his cancer, as did Gwynn.

The Los Angeles Times focused on how, despite being banned by the NCAA, chewing tobacco remains persistently part of the game on the field.

From the article:

Coaches said they address tobacco with their players before every season.

“You also bring it up throughout the season,” UCLA Coach John Savage said, “but it’s not a daily reminder.”

40th anniversary of Jaws and the dramatic tension of a dangling cigarette




I saw an article the other day about how this is the 40th anniversary of Jaws (I was a total weenie in that movie, it really terrified me as a kid). And this story had the very famous, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” scene attached.

I realized something with this scene. In it, Roy Scheider has a cigarette in his mouth and is shoveling chum into the water to attract the killer Great White. When the Great White pops up out of the water behind the boat, Scheider stands there transfixed in horror at the sheer size of the shark, with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

He backs into the cabin of the boat and says to Quint, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” (If you pay attention, you’ll notice a continuation error in this scene. When the giant shark bobs up out of the water, Scheider’s cigarette is unlit. When he backs into the boat’s cabin, his cigarette is now lit. Apparently, Scheider quickly lit his cigarette while walking backward.)

I realized that cigarettes were for a very long time used by Hollywood to create dramatic tension. A cigarette simply dangling from the mouth, a character too shocked to even be aware of that cigarette being there. I’ve seen that used in a number of films.

For instance, in Ghostbusters, there is a scene almost identical to the Jaws scene, only this time, it’s done for laughs. When Ray rounds a corner in a hotel hallway, he sees a gross green spectre they come to call “Slimer.” He’s smoking a cigarette, and again, shocked and transfixed, a lit cigarette dangles from his lip. Only in this scene, it literally dangles from his lower lip and then falls to the ground. It’s actually a really funny scene, and it’s interesting how similar it is to the scene from Jaws. It’s a total spoof of Jaws, I’m sure of it.


It was an earlier era in which cigarettes were absolutely used as a prop in Hollywood

(BTW, Roy Scheider died a few years ago at the age of 76 from myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Ironically, one of his best-known roles was in “All That Jazz,” a semi-autobiographical film about Bob Fosse, playing a chain-smoking Fosse who dies from heart disease. Fosse actually was a chain-smoker and actually did die of heart disease at the age of 60. Fosse’s wife also died of lung cancer.)



Poll: E-cigarette use is up, but e-cigs are not necessarily replacing cigarettes


A very interesting poll this week put out by Reuters kind of confirms what a lot of us have been saying now a few months — that a small percentage of people using e-cigarettes are using them to quit smoking.

According to this poll of 5,679 people, 75 percent of the people using vaping products are continuing to smoke tobacco. Apparently a number of these people rely on e-cigs to get a nicotine charge in public places where tobacco is discouraged.

According to the poll, roughly 10 percent of adults “vape,” and about 15 percent of adults under the age of 40. That’s up dramatically from 2013, when the estimated number of vapers was 2.3 percent of Americans.

Despite that 75 percent figure, about 40 percent of vapers believe e-cigs are an effective tool for quitting cigarettes. In fact, a recent study shows that e-cigs are not especially effective in helping people quit smoking. (That doesn’t mean they don’t help anyone quit smoking, it just means that e-cigs are not some sort of “miracle cure” or for tobacco use. They might help some people, but they don’t appear to be any more effective than Nicorette, nicotine patches or simply quitting cold turkey.)



Kansas raises cigarette taxes — for the wrong reasons

“Toto, we need to get the hell out of Kansas. This state is bolloxed.”

Many states have raised cigarette taxes for the right reasons — because studies have shown that higher cigarette taxes result in a lower smoking rate.

Kansas is a total train wreck politically and financially. It’s been the source of a conservative experiment from Gov. Sam Brownback and a conservative state Legislature  — that if taxes on corporations and the wealthy are drastically  cut, then it will spur growth. Well, even though Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics was proven 25 years ago to have been a disaster, these guys in Kansas had to learn the hard way that this doesn’t help the state’s economy.

Instead, Kansas is desperately broke and is probably in the worst shape financially of any state in the country, taking a $800 million surplus two or three years ago and turning it into a $400 million deficit. Why? Gosh … NO REVENUES! So, they’re responding by cutting, cutting, cutting. Cutting school days, cutting services, etc.

sam brownback
Sam Brownback

But, you can only cut so much. Kansas Republicans finally bit the bullet and passed a couple of tax increases to address that $400 million deficit. But, instead of raising income taxes on the wealthy (who can most easily absorb a tax increase), they went after the poor with a pair of regressive taxes — a sales tax increase and an increase in the cigarette tax.

Look, I’m all for raising cigarette taxes to a reasonable amount, and Kansas’ cigarette tax was fairly low. The Legislature approved a bill raising the state cigarette tax from a pretty low 79 cents a pack to $1.29 a pack. (In my opinion, a good state tax for cigarettes is $1.50 to $2 a pack … more than that you start chasing people to Indian Reservations or the black market to buy their cigs).

So, I want to say “good job Kansas”, but I can’t. The state did the right thing … but for the wrong reason. A cigarette tax to cut smoking rates — great. A cigarette tax on the backs of the poor to try and balance a budget screwed up by your fiscal mismanagement — bad.

Look, I get one thing wrong with cigarette taxes is that they are a regressive tax. They are. The poor have a much higher smoking rate than the wealthy, so when you raise cigarette taxes, the bulk of that increase is paid by the people least able to afford it. However, my agenda is it also gives people the incentive to quit and discourages teens from buying cigarettes to begin with … and a number of  studies bear this out.

Anyway, it just shows how screwed up the policies are in Kansas, attempting to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor, leaving the radical tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in place and then cutting services and programs mostly used by the poor. It’s a messed-up state.

George Case … one of the fastest men to ever play the game … and his son’s message about tobacco

George Case

I hope I’m not stepping on Pepe’s toes here, but here is a rare submission from me about smoking.

George Case was a ballplayer I had never heard of before. Over the past few months, I’ve been reading the comments from his son in a baseball group I belong to. Some very powerful, poignant comments.

george case ad - Copy
Joe DiMaggio and George Case both died of tobacco-related illnesses. No cause of death is listed for Bucky Walters.

George Case was an outstanding baseball player, mostly for the Washington Senators, in the 1930s and 1940s. One of the reasons I had never heard of him before is that his career was very short — he only played nine full years and retired at the age of 31 due to back problems. But, he was very, very good. He led the league in stolen bases six times, stealing as many as 61 bases in a season during an era in which there weren’t a lot of stolen bases (In fact, in 1939, George Case led all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases with 51; the next highest total that season was 23 — wow, what a gap!). He stole 349 bases in that short career (averaging 41 steals a year over eight seasons), hit .282 for his career, made three All-Star teams, scored over 100 runs four times and hit over .300 three times.

According to Wikipedia, Case was “possibly the fastest player in baseball between the 1920s and the 1950s.” He got a handful of Hall of Fame votes, but his career was simply too short to get a lot of Hall of Fame attention. Case went on to own a sporting goods store and was a successful coach at Rutgers, then later coached for the Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins.

One of the reasons George’s name keeps coming up in the group is that people like to post vintage smoking baseball smoking ads. Pepe’s done a couple of posts about these ads, and about how many of those baseball players died from lung disease or cancer. People like to make fun of these old ads, but there’s a dark undercurrent to them — these guys either wittingly or unwittingly were promoting a deadly product and many of them died from tobacco-related illnesses themselves (Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Gil Hodges, Joe DiMaggieo, so many others.). Often times when tobacco and baseball comes up, George Case III enters the discussion, talking about his dad and advocating very strong against smoking. He has a powerful story to tell.

george caseGeorge Case, like many ballplayers of his time, starred in cigarette advertising. Case promoted Camel cigarettes. He died of lung disease at the age of 73. He actually starred in a Camels ad along with Joe DiMaggio, a heavy smoker who died of complications from lung cancer.

George’s son, George Case III, has told some powerful stories about his dad’s tobacco use and his death from lung disease. Here are a couple of them:

I smoked when I was in college and had a health scare and was told to give up the cigarettes which I did “cold turkey.” 50 years later I’m so glad I did because I am now older than my father was when he died because of smoking. He lived long enough to know all three of our children, who loved him and enjoyed being with him. None of our grandchildren would have the chance to know Pop-Pop. Our grandchildren only have heard stories and seen photos of their great grandfather. If it hadn’t been for the cigarettes, I’m certain they would have loved being around their great grandfather listening to his baseball stories. They hear the baseball stories from their grandfather but it’s not quite the same, unfortunately!

According to George Case III, his father only ever lost a race to Jesse Owens himself, who also died of lung disease:

From personal experience I can tell you this. My dad was the fastest player in the major leagues during his baseball career. And he was a heavy smoker. At the time, it probably had very little affect on his running, as he was a young man. The only person to ever defeat my father in a race was Jesse Owens (at the time, “the world’s fastest human”) – also a heavy smoker. HOWEVER, cigarette smoking did catch up to my father and Jesse Owens, later in life. The last few years of my dad’s life, he needed to have a portable oxygen tank and could barely walk across a room without getting winded. He used to say “if it hadn’t been for those damn cigarettes” My father died of emphysema and Jesse Owens died of lung cancer. If the dangers of cigarette smoking were known at the time, I’m certain the vast majority of athletes who smoked, never would have. Unfortunately, too late for so many – like closing the barn door after the horse had escaped!

(Surprisingly, even Pepe didn’t realise Jesse Owens had died of lung cancer, but sure enough George III is right. He did. He smoked over a pack a day and died at the age of 67.).

So, I appreciate George III’s advocacy and his passion and his honesty, and Pepe does, too. His dad sounds like he was an amazing man and an amazing ballplayer somewhat lost in the sands of history.

Ukraine bails on ridiculous challenge to Australian plain packaging laws

Plain packaging

Here is an update on John Oliver’s excellent rant about the tactics of Big Tobacco in fighting regulations against their products worldwide.

This is complicated and I’m not 100 percent confident I will explain it right, but I will try:

Ukraine had been convinced (no doubt by Big Tobacco lobbying efforts) to file a World Trade Organization challenge against Australia over Australia’s plain packaging laws. Per Australian law, tobacco companies cannot put their logos on cigarette packs. Only graphic anti-smoking warnings are allowed and a small amount of text saying what the actual brand of the cigarettes are.

Tobacco companies filed suit and recently, the Australian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the government. So, Big Tobacco (or should I say Big World Tobacco) lost that round.

They grow wheat in Ukraine, not tobacco

However, Big World Tobacco also went the WTO route (John Oliver did a great piece on this), saying Australia’s strict rules affected trade with other countries and violated international trade agreements. For some mystifying reason, Ukraine got involved, even though Ukraine is not a major tobacco-growing nation and does not export any tobacco to Australia. (Like I said, I smell money — LOTS of money — exchanging hands here between tobacco interests and Ukrainian government officials.)

From the Reuters article:

Health campaigners were perplexed by Ukraine’s WTO suit because it is also a party to the U.N.’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and was one of the countries that backed guidelines on how to implement the treaty, including enforcing plain packaging.

British American Tobacco has previously said it was helping meet Ukraine’s legal costs in the WTO case against Australia. Individual companies cannot pursue litigation via the WTO.

Well, there you go: BAT was paying Ukraine’s legal fees.

The issue isn’t over, but Ukraine was the biggest country involved in fighting the Australian plain packaging rules. Other nations challenging the plain packaging rules are Cuba, Honduras, Indonesia and the Dominican Republic (all tobacco-growing nations).



Los Angeles may be next to ban chew at ballparks

I love L.A.

San Francisco recently banned chewing tobacco at all ballparks, including AT&T Park (to take effect in January 2016). Now, Los Angeles may be next.

A Los Angeles City Councilman has proposed a bill similar to San Francisco’s to ban chewing tobacco at all baseball venues in the city, including Dodger Stadium.

From the Los Angeles Times article:

“It’s about protecting the health of our players and the health of our kids,” councilman Jose Huizar said. “America has a great pastime, but chewing smokeless tobacco shouldn’t be part of that.”

There is also a bill in the California State Legislature to ban chewing tobacco in all California ballparks, including AT&T, Dodger Stadium, the Oakland Coliseum and Petco Park in San Diego.

Chew has already been banned by baseball in all Minor League ballparks, by both players and fans. It is also banned in all NCAA ballparks. The players’ union has opposed a ban on chewing tobacco in the past, but the issue is expected to be negotiated during the next collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball.


Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons talks about chewing tobacco and Tony Gwynn’s death

John Gibbons, Associated Press photo

John Gibbons, a former Major League ballplayer and the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, gave an interview to the Toronto Star about why he quit chewing tobacco, saying he was motivated to quit chew after the death last year of Tony Gwynn from salivary gland cancer.

tony gwynn

The reporter, Brendan Kennedy, makes kind of a funny comment that he tried to interview Gibbons about giving up chew, but that “twice he blew me off. He wanted to make sure he had actually kicked it before he went public.”

From Kennedy’s article:

The turning point for Gibbons came last June when Tony Gwynn died of salivary gland cancer. The Hall of Famer was just 54 and had chewed tobacco throughout his 20-year career. Gibbons didn’t know Gwynn personally, but his death hit home. It was the last push he needed to “wise up” and get over the hump.

“It was something I needed to do,” Gibbons said. “It wasn’t something I was proud of, but you get addicted to it, you know? Like all addictions you wish you could stop, but it’s not that easy.”

Gibbons said he first started doing chew in high school. Here’s the interesting part of Kennedy’s pretty extensive article. A lot of smokers talk about how certain repeatable behaviours go into their habit, such as sitting down at a bar. They get so used to smoking at a bar, that years after they’ve quit, years after places have gone smokefree, when they sit at a bar, their first impulse is to reach into their pocket and grab their pack of cigarettes. According to Gibbons, chewing tobacco and walking out onto a baseball field are the same way:

Soon it became as routine as batting practice.

“It was almost like without it you felt naked on the field,” he said.

Gibbons’ wife and three children — aged 22, 20 and 15 — have been on him for years to quit, and his mother would regularly scold him.

“She said, ‘You’re stupid. You get a little enjoyment out of this, but it’ll cost you.’ Because she cleaned people’s teeth and she could see the pre-cancerous lesions and the receding gum lines and the stained teeth.”

But there was always something about stepping onto the fresh grass in spring training every year, Gibbons said. That’s when the temptation was greatest and his willpower faltered. “It’s sad to say, but for a long time in this game it went hand-in-hand with everything else.”

Gibbons’ advice for quitting chew? He doesn’t have any, because he failed several times before he finally successed. Here is his advice:

“Don’t start,” he said. “Then you won’t have to worry about it.”

Gibbons says he doesn’t miss it and he hopes tobacco use continues to decline in baseball.

“You hope for this generation that’s out there now that they’re smarter than we were.”

Public health groups have called for banning chew in Major League Baseball (on the field and dugouts). It is already banned in the Minor Leagues and by the NCAA. However, the players’ union would have to agree to a ban on the field. A ban is expected to be part of the latest collective bargaining negotiations.