FDA: End of the line for so-called “natural” and “additive-free” tobacco products

American Spirit
Not any more “Natural” than any other brand.

Awesome story. The Food and Drug Administration told RJ Reynolds and other cigarette companies to stop it with their false advertising about “natural tobacco” cigarette products — this includes the infamous “American Spirit” brand of cigarettes.

American Spirit claims to be a “natural, additive-free” cigarette brand. A lot of people believe these are Native-made cigarettes, but in fact, American Spirit is a wholly owned subsidiary of RJ Reynolds, makers of Camel cigarettes and plenty of other nasty-ass brands. It’s all a big show that has fooled many people.

From an NBC article:

“The FDA has determined that these products, described as ‘natural’ and ‘additive-free’ on their labeling, need an FDA modified risk tobacco product order before they can be legally introduced as such into interstate commerce,” the agency said in a statement.

“The FDA’s job is to ensure tobacco products are not marketed in a way that leads consumers to believe cigarettes with descriptors like ‘additive-free’ and ‘natural’ pose fewer health risks than other cigarettes, unless the claims have been scientifically supported,” said Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

“This action is a milestone, and a reminder of how we use the tools of science-based regulation to protect the U.S. public from the harmful effects of tobacco use.”

This affects a couple of other brands, but American Spirit is the most high-profile. This has been yet again one of Big Tobacco’s big lies. That somehow tobacco brands with fewer additives are “natural” and (hint, hint) without actually coming right out and saying so, because coming right out and saying so would be incredibly @#$%ing illegal, they’re some safer or healthier.

Lucky Strike cigarette ad 1940s

Nope, nope, nope, nothing could be further from the truth. These brands (two others I hadn’t heard of previously are Nat Sherman and ITG) are NOT safer and do NOT contain fewer additives. Many years ago, Big Tobacco kept trying to find sneaky and dishonest ways to market their products as somehow being safer or “approved by doctors.” The industry’s lies about these ads was long ago exposed. The whole “natural” and “additive-free” lie is using the same techniques as the old “four out of five doctors approve Camels” ads from the 1940s and 1950s.

The FDA several years ago was given regulatory authority over tobacco and specifically nicotine by a bill signed by Barack Obama. That authority gives the FDA the authority to control the marketing of cigarette products. The whole “natural, additive-free” fight has been a thorn in the side of tobacco control advocates for years. And now, it appears the FDA isn’t screwing around and cracking down.

By the same token, I believe the FDA could use this same power to crack down on the marketing of e-cigs, since they are likewise a nicotine product.

As an aside, several years ago, a really angry email from me actually convinced Discovery Magazine to drop “American Spirit” ads from its magazine. A reminder that giving a damn can make a real difference sometimes.

Another study about e-cigs: They’re great! Or at least much better than cigarettes

e-cig graphic

A glowing study about e-cigs out just came out of England this week that in some ways 180 degrees contradicts another study done at the University of Southern California.

Public Health England came out with an absolutely glowing report on e-cigs …. so glowing that I’m immediately left a little skeptical about who was really behind it and what their agendas may have been. However, I can’t really question the biggest conclusion in the report, which is e-cigs are 95 percent safer than cigarettes. I can buy that. The report calls this, “the best estimate so far…”

The report suggests that e-cigs may one day be dispensed like a medicine such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum to help smokers quit.

From a Guardian article:

While stressing that e-cigarettes are not free from risk, PHE now believes that e-cigarettes “have the potential to make a significant contribution to the endgame for tobacco”.

The message was backed by the government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, who nevertheless cautioned that “there continues to be a lack of evidence on the long-term use of e-cigarettes”. She said they should only be used as a means to help smokers quit.

“I want to see these products coming to the market as licensed medicines. This would provide assurance on the safety, quality and efficacy to consumers who want to use these products as quitting aids, especially in relation to the flavourings used, which is where we know least about any inhalation risks.”

Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, said: “E-cigarettes are not completely risk-free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm.

“The problem is people increasingly think they are at least as harmful and this may be keeping millions of smokers from quitting. Local stop-smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely.”

Peter Hajek, of Queen Mary University, London, one of the independent authors of the review, said: “My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health. Smokers differ in their needs and I would advise them not to give up on e-cigarettes if they do not like the first one they try. It may take some experimentation with different products and e-liquids to find the right one.”

I’m all for e-cigs being used as a smoking cessation tool. Studies are very mixed as far as e-cigs’ effectiveness for quitting cigarettes, but I know the anecdotal information is pretty strong. I’ve seen tons of e-cig users online absolutely swearing by them (poor Haruko got into it with some of these folks) as “life-saving,” a “Godsend,” a “miracle.” etc., etc. You see so much of that anecdotal testimony online that you have to take it seriously. My attitude is when all else has failed, try them. You have nothing to lose.

And I really like the idea of e-cigs being prescribed and only sold over the counter at pharmacies, etc. That would make it much more difficult for kids to get them and to get started using them for their nicotine jolt rather than cigarettes.

However, this is where I think the English study goes off the rails and I think makes a dangerous assertion. The study also suggests there is zero evidence that e-cigs leads to kids smoking. This completely contradicts a study from USC that came out just the day before, which states that kids who take up vaping are more likely to use tobacco than kids who never vape.

From the Guardian article:

The switch in policy towards e-cigarettes coincided with publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association of research from Los Angeles suggesting that high school students who had use e-cigarettes are more likely to go on to try tobacco.

But Hajek said this did not show that vaping leads to smoking. “It just shows that people who are attracted to e-cigarettes are the same people who are attracted to smoking. People who drink white wine are more likely to try red wine than people who do not drink alcohol.”

Well, when other studies have said otherwise, colour me skeptical on this conclusion at best.

MAJOR slam on e-cigs — study shows kids who use e-cigs are actually more likely to take up smoking


Man, this totally symbolizes what I hate about e-cigs and disgusting e-cigarette marketing.

A recent University of Southern California study shows that kids who take up e-cigs are more likely to start smoking than kids who never use e-cigs.

The study surveyed 2,500 kids and found that a higher percentage of kids who take up smoking vaped first than those who never vaped. Thirty-one percent of the kids who vaped moved on to tobacco products while only 8 percent of non-vapers did.

I would absolutely love it if the only use of e-cigs was by people trying to quit. But, the rate of vaping among teenagers is skyrocketing (it’s tripled since 2011). This study strongly suggest that it is not helping to steer kids away from actual smoking, e-cigs are actually helping to create more eventual smokers.

From an NBC News article:

This could simply show that some kids are more rebellious than others, or keen to try new things, the researchers said. Or it could be some are more easily seduced by nicotine — the active ingredient in both e-cigarettes and traditional combustible tobacco products.

“Adolescents who enjoy the experience of inhaling nicotine via e-cigarettes could be more apt to experiment with other nicotine products, including smokeable tobacco,” Leventhal said.

Researchers blame the marketing. E-cigs aren’t under the same rules as cigarettes, they can use cool cartoon characters to market to kids. And rock and roll music and  international superstar Steven Dorff (????) decked out in a hip racing uniform vaping his e-cig … and e-cig advertising on girls’ panties. No rules against any of that. Thank you, Food and Drug Adminstration for dragging your feet for two @#$%ing years on this.

From the NBC article:

“There is ample evidence that e-cigarettes are marketed in ways that appeal to children and adolescents. Prompt, effective action is needed to protect youth and reduce the demand for e-cigarettes by nonsmokers of all ages,” Dr. Nancy Rigotti of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School wrote in a commentary.



California Legislature finally considering raising cigarette taxes $2 a pack



I know this will surprise a lot of people, but California actually has one of the lowest state cigarette taxes in the U.S. Californians only pay 87 cents a pack on cigarettes, while the average state cigarette tax in the country is $1.60.

California legislators a couple of years ago chickened out and punted the issue of raising cigarette taxes to the voters and after Big Tobacco poured millions upon millions into fighting the ballot measure, The measure, Proposition 9, failed by a vote of 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent in 2012. That measure would have raised state cigarette taxes from 87 cents a pack to a still-very-reasonable $1.87 a pack.

Now, the California Assembly is considering raising the tax to $2.87 a pack. Be careful what you wish for, Big Tobacco and stupid Libertarians.

The tax proposal is part of a special session being considered by Gov. Jerry Brown to raise funds for crumbling infrastructure and health care needs in California. A proposed raise in the state gas tax would go toward fixing roads and bridges in the state and a proposed cigarette tax increase (up to $2 a pack) is being considered to help with Medicaid and other health care costs

According to the San Jose Mercury News, cigarettes contribute $18 billion a year to health care costs in California. This information comes from UC-San Francisco, where my hero Stanton Glantz, a pioneering tobacco control scientist, is a professor.

It still blows my mind that California has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the entire country — only a handful of states, mostly in the Deep South, are lower. In a few weeks, California in one fell swoop could become one of the most expensive states in the country to buy cigarettes.



Study: Smoking bans linked to drop in stillbirths, newborn deaths

The research suggests that almost 1,500 stillbirths and newborn deaths were averted in the first four years after the smoking ban was introduced in England in 2007
The research suggests that almost 1,500 stillbirths and newborn deaths were averted in the first four years after the smoking ban was introduced in England in 2007

A really important study from the U.K,  furthering bolstering the long-ago established benefit of smoking bans.

Many, many, many, many studies claim that smoking bans result in a drop in heart attack admissions in local hospitals. (These studies drive smokers’ righters and Michael Siegel out of their minds, but there are SO many of these studies that all reach the same conclusion, only a smoking fanatic would adore them.). A new study from the University of Edinburgh now suggests that stats back up the hypothesis that smoking bans result in lower rates of stillbirths and newborn deaths.  According to this study, stillbirths and newborn deaths both dropped 8 percent.

It’s well known that smoking is a huge risk factor for stillbirths. This study backs the idea that secondhand smoke also causes stillbirths.

From the University Herald article:

“This study is further evidence of the potential power of smoke-free legislation to protect present and future generations from the devastating health consequences of smoking and second hand exposure to tobacco smoke,” Aziz Sheikh, co-director of the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Medical Informatics, said in a statement.

According to the article, the number of stillbirths and newborn deaths dropped by 1,500 in the U.K. in the four years since a smoking ban was put in in place. 1,500 lives saved, just in the U.K. How many thousands of lives have been saved in the U.S. and worldwide by similar smoking bans?



Australian study: Tetris good for something — reducing cravings for cigarettes

Jesus, move the block to the far left, you can take out four lines at once!

In the category of “I really can’t make this crap up,” a new study has shown that playing Tetris helps reduce cravings for nicotine (and food), possibly by stimulating the same part of the brain that controls cravings.

In this study from Australia, students were told to report when they had cravings for cigarettes, food and even sex. Half the students were given an iPad to play Tetris. Students reported that playing the game reduced their cravings “by a fifth.” (And how cravings are measured is beyond me.)

From a Daily Mail article:

The boffins from Plymouth University reckon playing the game works because it occupies the same mental processes used to imagine indulging in the craving.

The week-long study, which also involved Queensland University of Technology, Australia, focused on 31 undergraduates, aged between 18 and 27.

Professor Jackie Andrade, of Plymouth University, said: ‘This is the first demonstration that cognitive interference can be used outside the lab to reduce cravings for substances and activities other than eating.

‘We think the Tetris effect happens because craving involves imagining the experience of consuming a particular substance.

‘Playing a visually interesting game like Tetris occupies the mental processes that support that imagery. It is hard to imagine something vividly and play Tetris at the same time.’

So, in all seriousness, perhaps this could actually help people quit smoking. Whenever people get the urge to smoke, perhaps they should reach for their iPhone and start playing Tetris (and I imagine other video games would like have a similar effect.).

By the way, Tetris is one of those old school games that I actually find kind of addicting. I’m still trying to find an old MS-DOS game a roommate of mine had about 25 years ago called “Hustle!” that was ridiculously addicting. It was one of those snake games, but I’ve never been able to find the exact game she had.

The newest vaping trend — vaping caffeine


I’m not sure what to think of this, other than the less kids get hooked on nicotine, the better.

Because of the wild success of vaping (e-cigarettes), the latest trend in e-cigs is moving toward vaping caffeine.

Hey, if it makes vaping nicotine less popular, more power to them. Though I wouldn’t considering myself an expert in talking about caffeine, I have no doubt it is considerably less nasty than nicotine. The New York Times describes this as “Red Bull for the lungs.”

A typical cup of coffee contains between 95 and 200 milligrams of coffee. By comparison, caffeine vaporizers contains 2 milligrams of caffeine per puff, meaning you’d have to puff about 50 times to get the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.

Like nicotine e-cigs, the Food and Drug Administration hasn’t set any rules about caffeine vaporizers. In fact, it doesn’t appear the feds have even really studied it. (The FDA is working on final nicotine e-cig regulations … for like two years now.).

According to one writer who tried the caffeine e-cigs, the steam tastes like candy and little happened until the 10th puff.  From the New York Times:

In a recent test, I found the Eagle experience a far cry from smoking, or drinking coffee. The first drag on this cigarillo-size plastic tube produced a blue glow from the LED tip, and a mouth filled with a surprising hard-candy sweetness; it felt a bit as if one had been freebasing a Jolly Rancher Cherry Stix.

After the fifth hit, a promising tingle in the fingertips emerged. At 10 hits, it was an official buzz, albeit more the tingly, full-body caffeine glow one associates with Red Bull rather than the brain-focused coffee jolt.



Cigarettes not just bad for your health, they’re bad for the environment

Cigarettes are the most littered item on earth. (PRNewsFoto/DoSomething.org)
Cigarettes are the most littered item on earth. (PRNewsFoto/DoSomething.org)

Something that gets overlooked a lot about cigarettes — their effect on the environment.

An organization called DoSomething.org, (Seems to be related to Truth.com) is highlighting the truly shocking and amazing impact cigarettes have on the environment — mostly from the filters being tossed away on the ground. The group is starting a campaign to the get the word out about the damage done from cigarettes, using a series of Internet memes to get its point across.

For instance, cigarettes are the No. 1 most littered item in the entire world resulting in 1.7 billion tons per year of trash in the environment.

That may sound like a shocking number, but keep in mind just how many cigarettes get smoked each year. In the United States alone, about 45 million people smoke. Say those 45 million people average roughly one pack a day — that translates into 900 million cigarettes a day and more than 300 billion cigarettes a year. And that’s just the U.S. It’s bad enough that that’s in the waste stream, but a lot of cigarette butts end up in the environment, not just landfills. Say just a measly 10 percent of those cigarette butts end up on beaches, parks and sidewalks — that’s 30 billion cigarette butts a year being dumped into the environment.

1.69 billion pounds of butts end up as waste each year. (PRNewsFoto/DoSomething.org)
1.69 billion pounds of butts end up as waste each year. (PRNewsFoto/DoSomething.org)

Other effects on the enviromment: One tree is chopped down to create just 15 cigarettes. Again, do the math — that’s 20 billion trees a year to feed the U.S.’s smoking habit.

Also keep in mind that the filters in cigarettes are not made of cotton like they appear. They are actually made out of plastic, which takes forever to break down in the environment.

The huge problem of littering is the biggest reason why smoking bans have been expanded to include many public beaches and parks. Smokers’ rights people go nuts over outdoor smoking bans, but my attitude is smokers honestly have no one to blame but themselves for the really massive cigarette butt littering problem on beaches and parks. I can find a million links online showing that cigarette butts are far and away the No. 1 trash problem on beaches. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 32 percent of the trash cleaned up on beaches is strictly cigarette butts.


Study: Indoor air pollution levels in New Orleans have dropped 96 percent because of smoking ban


A predictable result, but still a stunning number when you think about it.

According to a study done by the Roswell Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., the level of small particulates pollution in New Orleans has dropped 96 percent since the city imposed a ban on smoking in bars and clubs in April

Ninety-six percent. Man. That’s a lot of crap people were breathing before. In casinos, traditionally the most smoky venues of all, the small particulates level dropped 99 percent. So, all that’s left is like a few dust motes.

From a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids press release:

“We’ve heard from so many people in our bars, restaurants and casino who say they feel better and can breathe easier now without the stress of knowing they are in an unhealthy environment,” said New Orleans Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, the ordinance’s chief sponsor. “The air is definitely cleaner in New Orleans – and the city has made a very smooth transition to this improvement. This makes it clear that we did the right thing.”

“The smoke-free law has always been about protecting people’s health by creating healthier air for all to enjoy,” said Tonia Moore, associate director, the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco-Free Living (TFL). “This study demonstrates conclusively that the law is protecting the health of New Orleans hospitality workers, entertainers and patrons who were previously endangered by the harmful air pollutants in secondhand smoke. They and their families have to be thrilled that they have significantly reduced their exposure to the harmful health effects of secondhand smoke, including increased risks of cancer and heart disease.”

Now, the law was fought tooth and nail by a coalition of New Orleans restaurants, bars and casinos (including some restaurants that are already smokefree 😕 …. which is really curious to me.) The coalition filed suit against the law passed last year, but the lawsuit was dismissed. The businesses behind the lawsuit were concerned that the smoking ban would cost them customers and revenues.

Next, I would love to see the data on how the smoking ban is affecting tourism and business in New Orleans. It would probably be at least December until we could see some preliminary 6-month data on sales taxes, hotel taxes, etc., in the city.

This month is also the 10-year anniversary of the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. I found a bunch of stories on how tourism in the city is thriving, even if some neighbourhoods have not been rebuilt (and may never be rebuilt).

Here’s a nice tidbit about the tourism business in New Orleans from the Times-Picayune:

From a tourism perspective, here are the facts from UNO’s Hospitality Research Center.  In 2006, the city hosted 3.72 million visitors (a 74 percent decline) who spent $2.89 billion, a 42 percent decline from pre-disaster numbers. In 2014, visitors numbered 9.52 million and their spending was $6.81 billion.

So, in short, the number of tourists visiting New Orleans and the amount of money they spend has more than doubled since the year after Katrina. I mean, compared to where New Orleans was in 2006, businesses are worried about some kind of perceived hit from a smoking ban? Please. I mean, in 2005, it looked like the city would never recover. Be thrilled with how New Orleans is doing. Don’t be freaked out by a little thing like a smoking ban … that’s a pretty trivial challenge compared to Katrina.


Boston mayor proposes ban on chewing tobacco at Fenway Park, other ballfields


Well, right on the heels of my story about the New York Times writing about San Francisco’s ban on ballpark chewing tobacco, the major of Boston, Martin Walsh, is now proposing a similar ban on chewing tobacco at Boston parks and ballfields, which include Fenway Park.

Walsh said he is proposing an ordinance banning smokeless tobacco beginning April 1, 2016, in time for next season (San Francisco’s ban is taking effect Jan. 1, 2016.)

There’s been a big push to ban chewing tobacco on baseball fields since the death last year of Tony Gwynn. Gwynn, a longtime chewer, died of salivary gland cancer in his early 50s. Boston pitcher Curt Schilling also had a very public battle last year with a serious bout of oral cancer. Schilling, likewise, used to chew tobacco.

From the Boston Globe article:

“A lot of times, young people will copy what their sports heroes do, and clearly there is a connection between chewing tobacco and cancer,” Walsh said in an interview. “This sends a strong message throughout Boston, and hopefully many other towns around Boston, and across the country.”

Chewing tobacco is deeply, deeply ingrained in the culture of baseball for some mystifying reason. According to the Globe, 21 out of 58 Red Sox players surveyed at Spring Training said they use smokeless tobacco. That’s pretty close in line with a survey of professional baseball trainers, who estimate that about one-third of ballplayers chew. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of adult males among the general population chew.


According to the Globe, Red Sox owner John Henry supports Walsh’s idea.

Interestingly, Schilling, an openly conservative Republican, also supports Walsh’s idea. From the Globe:

Schilling, who is expected to attend the mayor’s announcement at Joe Moakley Park, said he supports the prohibition on chewing tobacco.

“I have seen cancer take the lives of people very important to me like my father, a lifelong smoker, and I have endured the insufferable agony of radiation to the head and neck,” Schilling said in a statement. “If this law stops just one child from starting, it’s worth the price.

The Boston Globe also added an opinion piece, written by Dr. Howard K. Koh and Dr. Alan C. Woodward, in favour of the ban.  Koh and Woodward point out that not only did Tony Gwynn die likely as a result of his chewing, but Babe Ruth, who chewed and smoked cigars, died in his early 50s from throat cancer.

From this opinion piece:

Despite this progress, the national rate of smokeless tobacco use in high school has stayed disturbingly steady. In the US, nearly 15 percent of high school boys currently use smokeless tobacco. More than half a million youth try smokeless tobacco for the first time. Smokeless tobacco companies annually spend $435 million on marketing. A key message of such advertising is that boys can’t be real men unless they chew. Also, scores of Major League Baseball players who chew or dip in front of fans provide invaluable free advertising for the industry. Impressionable kids stand ready to imitate their every move.

For too long, the tobacco industry has normalized and glamorized products that cause drug dependence, disability, and death. Leveraging the prestige and appeal of baseball has been an essential part of that strategy. It’s time for baseball to start a new chapter that reclaims tobacco-free parks as the new norm — and for Boston, home to so many sports achievements, to lead the way.

Ultimately, in order to really drive tobacco out of Major League baseball, it would take the cooperation and agreement of the Players’ Association. Chew is already banned on the field in Minor League and NCAA baseball. However, the Players’ Association has opposed banning it at the Major League level. The issue is expected to be negotiated during the players’ next collective bargaining agreement with Major League Baseball.