A look back at the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking tobacco control treaty


A very interesting article from Foreign Affairs on something I knew very little about, honestly — the World Health Organization’s groundbreaking Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, a treaty signed by most of the nations on Earth.

The FCTC was the first-ever WHO worldwide treaty. The agency had gone 50 years without using its treaty-making power and when it did, it chose to direct its power at the growth of tobacco products in international markets.

This is important because of greater awareness in the West, much higher tobacco taxes and more regulations banning smoking in workplaces, the smoking rate has dropped through most Western countries. However, the tobacco industry has adapted by turning its energies toward emerging markets in India, Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

The FCTC came on the heels on the release of the so-called “cigarette papers,” millions of millions of internal memos and studies from the tobacco industry dating back to the 1950s which became public knowledge through the discovery process in various lawsuits against Big Tobacco. The treaty provides assistance to smaller, developing countries to battle the worldwide Big Tobacco industry in putting together tobacco control programs. The treaty, which took three years to negotiate and was first ratified by 40 countries in 2005. It has since been ratified by 180 countries representing over 90 percent of the people on Earth.

The FCTC gives smaller, poorer countries information and resources from richer countries as those nations face uphill battles with Big Tobacco in trying to implement laws regarding tobacco packaging, marketing and use in public areas. These battles have been talked by a lot by John Oliver and others with his “Jeff the Diseased Lung” campaign. Big Tobacco, oftentimes with assistance from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as its hammer, has fought tiny countries such as Togo and Uruguay (and not so tiny Australia) whenever those countries try to pass laws controlling tobacco marketing and packaging.

Some of the basic things the FCTC helps smaller nations with include some of the same things that have worked in the West to reduce tobacco use:

•    Adopt tax and price measures to reduce tobacco consumption;
•    Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship;
•    Create smoke-free work and public spaces;
•    Put prominent health warnings on tobacco packages;
•    Combat illicit trade in tobacco products.

Asian casino mecca Macau seriously considering smoking ban


Here’s a bit of a surprise. Macau, a huge casino and gaming resort city in Southern China near Hong Kong, is apparently seriously considering a total smoking ban in its casinos.

Surprise because the People’s Republic of China isn’t big on environmental or health regulations.

According to a study done by the local government, casino revenue, which has already been dropping the last few years, would be cut by about 4.6 percent if the ban was implemented. The study concludes that about 23 percent of the people who visit Macau are smokers and about 30 percent to 50 percent like to smoke while they are gambling.

james bond
Remember this scene from “Skyfall”? That’s Macau

SSM (A Chinese Health Agency) Director Lei Chin Ion made these estimates based on the assumption that 20 percent of the smokers who travel to Macau to gamble would go elsewhere if they couldn’t smoke.

According to this Macau News, smoking is already banned in mass gaming areas, but smoking lounges are allowed in casinos. A law being proposed would ban smoking on all casinos premises.

Clemson University, in the Deep South, bans tobacco products on campus


Great news from South Carolina.

Clemson, the heart of tobacco country, recently announced that all tobacco products are banned on campus. The ban includes chew and e-cigarettes.

Many colleges and universities now ban tobacco products, even in deep red states like South Carolina, which have low taxes on cigarettes and lax tobacco control laws in general. No state in the Deep South has a full smoking ban, and only a few such as Georgia and Louisiana, even ban smoking in restaurants.



Teen smoking rate in Florida plummets; teen vaping rate skyrockets


Good news, bad news out of Florida.

According to a state study, only 6.9 percent of Florida kids under 18 are smoking cigarettes, the lowest level ever recorded. However, NOT a coincidence, 15.8 percent are now using e-cigs. That number is up from 5.4 percent in 2013.

This follows a similar trend all over the country in which the teen smoking rate has plummeted in the past five years; at the same time the teen vaping rate is skyrocketing. Kids are simply ditching cigarettes for a different nicotine delivery system, one that is easy to buy and ultimately cheaper than cigarettes. And studies show kids who vape are three times MORE likely to ultimately take up cigarettes, which makes total sense to me — they got the nicotine Jones already and they gotta keep getting their little nicotine fix somehow.

So, I consider it mixed news. Kids getting addicted to nicotine sucks no matter what the delivery system. This just adds more fuel to the fire to have the Food and Drug Administration crack down on e-cig marketing to teens. The agency was supposed to issue new regulations on e-cigs months ago, but for some reason is dragging its feet. In draft regulations released a year or two ago, the agency made no recommendations to control e-cig marketing and instead recommending simply banning e-cig sales to minors (which is already banned in most states — but kids can still easily buy e-cig products, especially online.).

From an article out of West Palm Beach, Florida:

The use of e-cigarettes, and this dramatic increase that we’re seeing among youth, threatens to normalize smoking again,” said Shannon Hughes, director of the Florida Health Department’s Community Health Promotion Division. “We have worked for decades to de-normalize smoking.”

New study: No, e-cigs aren’t harmless, they give off high levels of formaldehyde


In the most recent case of dueling studies on e-cigarettes, the latest — from the Center for Environmental Health — strongly suggests that e-cigs give off a high dose of carcinogenic formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. A dose so high, it violates California law.

This isn’t the first study to raise alarms about the level of formaldehyde in e-cig steam. Another study about a year ago said that when e-cigs are turned up to their highest heat level, e-cigs actually give off more formaldehyde than cigarettes. (This study was roundly downplayed by the industry and e-cig advocates, who pointed that people rarely if ever charge their e-cigs at that high of a temperature.).

Formaldehyde is one of the most infamous nasty carcinogenic chemicals and substances known to be given off by tobacco cigarettes.

According to this article from the International Business Times:

An independent laboratory analysis looked at 97 e-cigarette products from two dozen manufacturers and found most emit higher levels of these cancer-causing gases than allowed under California’s Proposition 65, the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.

Anyway, this latest CEH study completely contradicts a study done recently in the UK suggesting that e-cigs are safe and recommending that they be treated as an effective tool for helping people quit smoking cigarettes. It was a study loved by the industry and by e-cig advocates.


The Oakland, Calif.-based CEH obviously strongly disagrees. The group is planning litigation in California courts citing the state’s consumer protection act to crack down on e-cigs. The CEH cites the exceptionally blatant marketing of e-cig products to teenagers in its response to the study.

From a Guardian article:

“For decades, the tobacco industry mounted a campaign of lies about cigarettes, and now these same companies claim that their e-cigarettes are harmless,” said Michael Green, executive director of CEH.

“Anyone who thinks that vaping is harmless needs to know that our testing unequivocally shows that it’s not safe to vape.

“This is especially troubling given the reckless marketing practices of the e-cigarette industry, which targets teens and young people, and deceives the public with unfounded health and safety claims. Our legal action aims to force the industry to comply with the law and create pressure to end their most abusive practices.”

FDA blocks four new RJ Reynolds brands, including Camel Crush Bold

Camel brush bold

This is a really interesting story.

The Food and Drug Administration, which for the most part has taken a pretty milquetoast approach to administering tobacco products ever since the agency was given regulatory authority over nicotine, just banned four new RJ Reynolds brands.

RJ Reynolds, long known to tobacco control advocates as the truly sleaziest tobacco company out there, will be forced to pull the brands — Camel Crush Bold, Pall Mall Deep Set Recessed Filter, Pall Mall Deep Set Recessed Filter Menthol and Vantage Tech 13   — and to stop selling them because they are new “formulations.” (Camel Crush Bold is the only one I’m familiar with.).

One part of the problem with the new brands is that one of them had a new delivery system of adding menthol to the tobacco, while RJ Reynolds resisted the FDA on providing information on the sweeteners and formulations of the new brands. From the NBC News article:

The FDA said the Camel Crush product has a little capsule of menthol in the filter that’s new. After “considerable back and forth” R.J. Reynolds was unable to show that the menthol capsule didn’t change the product’s risk and didn’t change how consumer might view the brand. As for the Pall Mall products, the company wouldn’t give FDA enough information about sweeteners and other flavors added to the cigarettes, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, told reporters.

Retailers have 30 days to remove these brands from theirs shelves. After 30 days, the FDA has the power to simply seize them from the shelves.

From NBC News:

“Today’s decision sets an important precedent that almost certainly will apply to other brands. The FDA’s action is a critical step in preventing the introduction of tobacco products that may be more appealing to youth, more addictive or more harmful,” Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

“Tobacco manufacturers have a long history of continually modifying their products to make them more attractive and more addictive and introducing new brands and styles designed to appeal to specific segments of the market, including children. These tactics have been spectacularly successful in attracting new smokers, most of whom are children, and in discouraging current smokers from quitting.”

The FDA recently cracked down on RJ Reynolds for labeling its “American Spirit” brand of cigarettes as a “natural” cigarette. The agency is still holding off on regulations regarding e-cigarettes. Advocates have been waiting for months for the FDA to finally release final regs on e-cigs. So far, the agency has only proposed to disallow the sale of e-cigs to minors, which is already banned in most states. Tobacco control advocates want the FDA to ban Internet sales of e-cigs, crack down on e-cig marketing obviously directed at teens and ban sugary, fruity flavours of e-cigs.



China attempting to crack down on cigarette marketing


Another interesting story … the power of a world economic dynamo …telling Big Tobacco and trying to tell its own tobacco monopoly to “Piss off.”

China, the No. 1 tobacco consumer market in the world, yes, far, far beyond the U.S. (300 million Chinese smokers compared to 45 million Americans), is cracking down on cigarette marketing.

The Chinese government announced strict new rules about tobacco marketing this week. From now on, tobacco ads are banned in mass media, outdoors and public areas and transportation. I assume this means no tobacco ads on TV, on buses or cabs or on billboards.

What’s interesting about this move is that China has a monopoly on its tobacco market. Western Big Tobacco companies such as Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris only control 1 percent to 2 percent of the market (I covered this years ago. Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and Imperial Tobacco attempted to make serious inroads into China, but the Chinese weren’t stupid and rebuffed them. They realize there is too much money to be simply given away to non-Chinese corporations to allow that.). The rest of the market is controlled by a Chinese state agency. So you have one Chinese state agency more or less facing off against another.

Holy crap, according to this Reuters article, the Chinese tobacco administration control 7 percent to 10 percent of the revenue in China — as much as $127 billion a year (U.S.).

The whole thrust of this is to try and crack down on tobacco companies marketing to kids. So, China is facing some of the same marketing issues seen in the West during the past 50 or so years.

From the Reuters story:

In an interview, Liang Xiaofeng, deputy director of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said he expected the government to further hike taxes on tobacco, since teenaged smokers are more price-sensitive.

“We believe that hiking prices will impact minors in large part because they don’t have their own income,” he added.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

CVS bailing on tobacco sales results in impressive drop in cigarette sales overall


Very interesting story. CVS Pharmacies about a year ago announced it would no longer be selling any tobacco products.

It’s just one drug store chain, right? No big deal, right? Well, it turns out that decision resulted in a 1 percent reduction in cigarette sales in 13 states … that’s 95 million packs of cigarettes. That means smokers weren’t just running to other outlets; it actually helped cut the number of cigarettes being sold.

Hey, you see 1 percent, I see 95 million packs of cigarettes. Every little bit helps. 95 million packs is 1 percent. That gives you a clue to the shocking amount of cigarettes still being sold in the U.S.

From a Washington Post article:

Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS Health, said many people thought that smokers would simply go elsewhere to buy cigarettes once the chain stopped selling them. “What this research shows is that we were right,” he said. By removing a convenient place to buy cigarettes, he said, “we had an overall impact on sales of tobacco products.”

CVS did its own study that showed the pharmacy chain once controlled 15 percent of the drug store tobacco sales market in 13 states.  Most of these states were in the Deep South.


From the Post article:

“I think people would be surprised that a single store, even one as large as CVS, could have a direct and measurable effect on tobacco use in the community in which it has a significant presence,” said Matthew Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

A 1 percent drop in sales may not seem like a big number, he said. “But given the number of smokers, it’s an extraordinary impact,” he said. He said the organization will be calling on other major retailers to take similar action.
I’m putting my money, as little as it is, where my mouth lies to the best of my ability. I go out of my way and buy all my allergy and sinus medication at CVS now.

Boston bans chewing tobacco in Fenway Park — MLB Players’ Association, your move


Boston has joined San Francisco in banning chewing tobacco in all ballparks, including Major League Ballparks like Fenway.

The move is, I believe, part of a push to force the Major League Baseball Players’ Association to accept a league-wide ban on chewing tobacco. Chewing tobacco is already banned by the NCAA and in Minor League Baseball. MLB can’t ban chewing tobacco on the field or in the dugouts without the cooperation of the MLB Players’ Association. The issue of chew is set to be negotiated between the Players’ Association and MLB during the next contract discussions this off-season.

This legislation, which will take effect in April 2016, won’t really affect fans, because tobacco use is already banned within the stadium, according to the Boston Globe. It is a somewhat symbolic measure directed at the players and coaches on the field and in the dugouts.


In addition to San Francisco and Boston, the city of L.A. is considering a similar ban, which would affect players and coaches chewing at Dodger Stadium. There is also a bill in the California State Assembly to ban it all ballparks in the entire state.

From the Boston Globe article:

“These great baseball cities have set a powerful example that should be quickly followed by all of Major League Baseball,” said a statement from Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Chewing tobacco is deeply entrenched in the culture of baseball. One recent survey showed that about 30 percent of baseball players chew tobacco, while only about 7 percent of men overall chew.

Red Sox owner John Henry supports the ban. It will be interesting to see if David Ortiz will drop the chew once the ban takes effect next year. Ortiz is beloved in Boston for not putting up with authority and he is a known chewer.


Truth! ad talk of VMAs … new Truth! ads damned scary as crap!

It's a trap

You can tell the people who have created some the latest Truth! ads grew up watching John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” which I remember as one of the scariest movies of all time.

The Truth! anti-smoking campaign got a lot of attention at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards for its puking unicorn ad. I actually found this ad pretty funny. This ad does a very witty take on various Internet memes to point out that “social  smoking” and hookah smoking is a trap. You don’t just smoke a few cigarettes and then quit. It’s all still got nicotine and it’s all incredibly addictive. Today, you’re smoking a few cigs, tomorrow you’re smoking a pack a day. 30 years from now, you’ve failed to quit and now you have COPD or cancer.

Here is the “It’s a Trap!” ad:

However, over the past few months, I’ve seen an ever better ad campaign, that I know came from “The Thing” remake from about 1981. In these commercials, a really disgusting monster/giant spider attacks a teen or science teacher while someone explains how toxic and full of poisons it is.

As a bunch of teens scream and run away from it, the monster retreats into a pack of cigarettes. The point is, “if you really knew how scary cigarettes were, would you smoke them.”

Those commercials always reminded me of the damned head-crap scene from The Thing that completely freaked me out when I was about 17. This movie got panned reviews when it came out, but it’s now considered a cult horror classic with some of the most gruesome special effects imaginable for the day:

I love these commercials because kids love to be scared to this day and age. There aren’t as many horror movies geared to kids today as there were when I was a kid but it’s a great way to get the message through to kids that they can relate to — cigarette are scary. In a very gross and disgusting way. If you’ve ever watched someone die from COPD or cancer, it is very, very scary to see what it does to a person.