E-cig legislative roundup: Possible ban on e-cig sales to minors in Montana; Michigan governor vetoes e-cig bills; Island of Hawaii bans e-cigs in public places


A bill was introduced during this session of the Montana State Legislature to ban e-cigarette sales to minors. I find this is a tad odd because the Food and Drug Administration is considering rules to ban e-cigarette sales to minors nationwide. However, I have no idea what the timeline is for those final FDA rules — it could be another year or more. The FDA draft rules released several months ago generated 135,000 comments which the FDA is still sorting through.

According to this Independent story on the bill, Montana is just one of 10 states in the country that still allows e-cigarette sales to minors. This story is pretty sympathetic to a local vaping store. The owner claims that he will sell e-cigarettes to kids under 18 only if they have a permission slip from their parent and that he never sells nicotine products to kids. (Colour me cynical …. but my bullshit alarm was going off somewhat on that one. In any case, I’ve seen plenty of kids buying e-cig products pretty easily at Montana minimarts, all this guy has to do is sell the inhaler.)

“I do know of quite a few kids that have curtailed their [tobacco] habit or quit it all together by replacing it with something that’s not nearly as harmful as the tobacco products,” said store co-owner Mark Townsend.

Well, maybe, but again, my bullshit alarm is going off. The data is pretty sketchy about whether or not e-cigs help people quit smoking. I can believe for a 20- or 30-year smoker who has tried everything else, why not use e-cigarettes to quit? But, where the store owner is wrong is studies have shown that more kids are using e-cigs now rather than cigarettes not to quit smoking, but because they are easy to get and kids have been given the idea they’re harmless. They’re going straight to e-cigs to begin with. And that’s nicotine. And that’s still turning them into nicotine junkies.

Anyway, according to Alex Clark, legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, his group has a concern with language in the bill lumping e-cigarettes in with tobacco products. Clarks calls this “an intentional, almost politically motivated mischaracterization.” The whole issue of lumping e-cigs in with tobacco products is pretty controversial, as we will see in Michigan.

Michigan bills vetoed

Gov. Rick Snyder this week vetoed bills regulating e-cigarettes and it sounds like a good thing, because it sounded like some sneaky kind of pro-e-cigarette industry end-around. I don’t have all the details, but one of the problems with these bills is they specifically designated e-cigs as a non-tobacco product, but would exclude other non-tobacco nicotine products from this definition (like nicotine gum or other types of inhalers, I assume). The legislation would have banned e-cig sales to minors. Like I said earlier, this is happening soon on a national level anyway.

Snyder vetoed the bills, saying the bills did not go far enough and would have just created confusion about e-cig regulation when the FDA is addressing this on a federal level. It’s telling to me that health organizations praised the vetoes, while the loudest critic was a Republican legislator, which makes me suspicious about what his real motives are.

“We need to make sure that e-cigarettes and other nicotine-containing devices are regulated in the best interest of public health,” Snyder said in a statement. “It’s important that these devices be treated like tobacco products and help people become aware of the dangers e-cigarettes pose.”

According to this story, the Michigan State Medical Society, which represents 15,000 doctors, praised Snyder.

“These bills would have been a giant step backwards, and Gov. Snyder was wise to veto them,” said James Grant, M.D., the group’s president.

Hawaii bans e-cigs in public places

The Island of Hawaii (not the whole state, just the Big Island), recently passed an ordinance banning e-cigs in public places islandwide. Essentially, e-cigs will be treated the same as cigarettes. Not only can you not use an e-cig in a bar or a restaurant, but they are banned at beaches and parks. (Maybe a bit much since e-cigs don’t have the littering issue that cigarettes have.)

More and more cities are banning e-cigs in public places as people simply don’t trust that the steam from e-cigs is completely benign. I don’t think there is a statewide public ban on e-cigs yet, but I like that they are getting people’s attention.

ER visits for heart attacks, asthma went down in North Carolina 21 percent after smoking ban was passed


Oh, man, I remember back in the day on those old Topix forums, this story drove the smokers’ rights crowd crazy. It just sent them into a tizzy of “lies! lies! lies! Junk science!”

Well, for whatever reason, that “junk science” has been confirmed repeatedly. ER admissions for heart attacks drop, and sometimes dramatically, after indoor smoking bans are put in place.

According to a study in from the North Carolina Department of Health, admissions at hospitals for heart attacks dropped 21 percent in the first year of that state’s statewide smoking ban. The state also says admissions for asthma dropped 9 percent after the ban was imposed. (A Fox station did a story on the five-year anniversary and of course Fox questioned those numbers. They found a doctor who didn’t believe the numbers. But, did that doctor have any data to back up that assertion other than his anecdotal opinion …? No, of course not. After all, it’s FOX! What do you expect?)

There was kind of a flurry of stories on this 21 percent drop-off from North Carolina because this month was the five-year anniversary of the full-fledged smoking ban in that state. If I remember right, it was the first full smoking ban in any Southern state … and in fact, North Carolina is still the only Southern state with a full smoking ban. Other Southern states such as Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana still allow smoking in bars. And Virginia has a funky, confusing smoking ban that in effect banned smoking in most bars and restaurants.

CNN report on the rise of e-cigarettes among teens — “Are e-cigs really the Wild West?”


CNN did a piece Dec. 31 (Hey, the report includes that sucky Blu ad I hate with the racecar-driving Stephen Dorff).

When asked by CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow if e-cigs are “really the Wild West,” Mitchell Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products, responds, “Absolutely. They are currently unregulated.” Zeller goes on to say, “it took us way too long to get the proposed rule out.”

That “proposed rule” Zeller is referring to are FDA regulations being developed to govern the sale of e-cigs. Unfortunately, as they currently stand, those regulations pretty much only do one thing — ban the sale of e-cig products to kids under 18. That’s a good start, but other than that, nothing of substance. No control over that flashy, sexy e-cigarette advertising and no controls over the sugary and fruity nicotine flavours. I know the FDA is getting pressured to crack down on e-cig marketing and candy flavours, but who knows if their final rules will change from the draft the agency released a few months ago.

Zeller was also asked if the recent boom in e-cig use by kids threatens to create a whole new generation of nicotine addicts. (Nicotine is not the most toxic substance in cigarettes, but it is shockingly physically addictive.)

Wow, I didn’t know this. There are actually cotton candy and Gummy Bear e-cigarette flavours. Harlow asks a tobacco industry lobbyist if he could defend those kinds of flavours and even a lobbyist said he can’t.

“I wouldn’t go into a member of Congress’ office and say we need to protect candy-like flavours,” said tobacco lobbyist John Scofield.

Not real new information for me, but I’m glad to see CNN jumping on this story.

New Orleans considering a smoking ban


The City of New Orleans, famous for its iconic smoky blues and jazz clubs, is considering a full smoking ban which would apply to all bars and casinos.

This would be a great accomplishment for the anti-smoking movement. The political will behind smoking bans has withered in the past few years. I don’t believe there’s been a new statewide ban anywhere for at least three or four years (I believe Indiana was the last state to impose a restaurant smoking ban — in 2012. Thirty-nine states have partial or complete bans on indoor smoking, but over the past few years, the mantle of smoking bans has been passed on to cities and counties in those 11 remaining states, which are mostly in the South, all very conservative and have very anti-regulation state Legislatures.).

Anyway, Louisiana already has a statewide restaurant smoking ban. The New Orleans proposal would expand that ban to bars, clubs and taverns.

The American Cancer Society conducted a poll in mid-December finding that 67 percent of the respondents either “somewhat” or “strongly” support a total smoking ban for New Orleans, while only 32 percent “somewhat” or “strongly” oppose the total smoking ban.

Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they are more likely to go to bars or casinos if there is a smoking ban … and the number for regular smokers is higher — 64 percent (that doesn’t surprise me, plenty of smokers have told me they hate smoky bars, too.).

In a quote in this story from “Gambit,” a New Orleans news Website:

“We ask the New Orleans City Council to pass a comprehensive smoke-free ordinance protecting all workers,” said Amber Stevens, a cancer survivor who has volunteered with the ACS for 17 years. Stevens’ mother and husband also are cancer survivors. “I’m more likely to go into more places without breathing heavy smoke. … Why do we have to be punished? We love New Orleans entertainment as much as anyone else.”

There is opposition to the proposal, from the French Quarter Business League and (for some reason) the Louisiana State Police. The crux of their opposition is fear over lost revenues and lost taxes.

From the story:

In a Nov. 12 statement, Chris Young of the French Quarter Business League (FQBL) said the measure “will have a devastating impact on badly needed tax revenues that provide police and fire protection, maintain the streets, pays government employees and keeps the city moving ahead.” He added that the ordinance “cuts against New Orleans’ strong tradition of tolerance and diverse lifestyles.”

The Louisiana State Police projects a loss of $100 million in tax revenues over 2 years from the ban. A loss of $50 million a year? Seriously? Tourists will stop going to New Orleans because of a smoking ban? When most of those tourists are coming from parts of the U.S. that don’t allow smoking anywhere (39 states, remember)? Pshaw! (The American Cancer Association essentially said the same thing…)

“When the answer proves elusive … never rule out Ninjas!” Freeman’s Mind — a testament to epic comedic perseverance

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After 71 episodes (68 of them official), 7 years, legal hassles and a couple of long hiatuses, Freeman’s Mind came to a climax on Dec. 31, 2014. Freeman’s Mind was the YouTube creation of Ross Scott on his YouTube Channel Accursed Farms. Scott does game reviews of old, obscure video games, he did a video series called “Civil Protection,” but his masterpiece so far, truly one of the most enormous projects ever undertaken on YouTube, was Freeman’s Mind. Scott’s technique has been copied by many, many people, and in fact, live video game commentary is pretty common now on YouTube. But, no one as far as I know kept up their projects anywhere near as long as Scott did and no one has created a character as memorable as Gordon Freeman.

Freeman’s Mind is a machinima (machine + cinema), essentially a film made from a video game. Scott started this series way back in December 2007. It’s a series of videos released roughly once every three or four weeks (averaging about 10 minutes each … so we’re talking maybe 700 minutes total) of the musings of Gordon Freeman, the otherwise silent protagonist of Half Life and Half Life 2. Gordon Freeman is mythic in gaming circles as being one of the most unique and iconic video game protagonists ever. He’s a 27-year-old physicist with a goatee and glasses who has to fight himself out of endless battles, often times armed with nothing but a crowbar.

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Scott puts himself into the head of Freeman, often times yammering mostly to himself about mundane things such as trying to avoid getting blamed for things at Black Mesa going wrong,  wanking about his coworkers and trying to figure out ways of getting away with petty crimes. (I’m including a number of Scott’s Gordon Freeman quotes. These quotes are literally endless over 70-plus videos, I’m only including a couple of dozen that I actually wrote down. Warning, the humour is R-rated, with plenty of bad language.).

“Coffee coffee coffee! Coffee! It’s not as strong as methamphetamine, but it lets you keep your teeth.”

“Whoa … a human skull. That’d go great with the rest of my collection.”

“Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to be me. I’m a physics-crunching badass. I’m the complete package.”

“Through the power of hypnotic suggestion and a tank, I was able to convince all these people they were dead.”

“Heyyyyy … wait, I don’t know you. Don’t confuse me!”

“This is why I’m such a good theoretical physicist. I solve problems that shouldn’t even exist.”

“I have to blow everything up! It’s the only way to prove I’m not crazy!”

I never played Half Life, it came out in 1998 when I wasn’t into gaming, but I did enjoy Half Life 2, part one and having a pet ant-lion and Half Life 2, part two (and really enjoyed the Portal game that came with those games), so the Half Life universe and story of Gordon Freeman was familiar to me. I first stumbled onto Freeman’s Mind by total accident way back in 2011 (So I’m a bit late to the party, the series had been around for four years already). I think I was trying to find some way to beat a level in Portal 2, when I stumbled onto a Freeman’s Mind copycat that wasn’t very funny. The guy at the end of the video said, “what do you expect, Freeman’s Mind?” I wondered what that meant, so I searched for Freeman’s Mind on YouTube and I found about 30 episodes. I started watching, and I was hooked. It’s a huge, monstrous game.

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Scott’s videos are very addicting. His video begins with Gordon in the tram to work, as he’s complaining about being late and getting in trouble with his bosses. His main concern is sneaking into work without being caught by his supervisors. Gordon is already kind of paranoid, snapping, “who is that?” when a voice comes on the Intercom. Of course, we all know things go horribly wrong from a resonance cascade being created and aliens from Xen arriving and Earth, and Gordon has to kill them as he tries to slog his way out of his lab, Black Mesa.

“Kind of sad though, here we have this giant underground complex and all these lasers, and instead of having a rave, we’re using them for evil.”

“When the answer proves elusive, never rule out ninjas.”

“This is Innsbruck all over again. Go back to nothing!”

“‘Oh … [this is] my shit is getting wrecked face.'”

“Chess doesn’t prepare you for this. You can’t say that a rook and three pawns flanked your knight, but he laid down suppressing fire and punched through them anyway. You’d get disqualified if you tried that. Maybe I’ve been disqualified from reality.”

“The ghosts didn’t tell me to kill you, so you get to join the Freeman Fan Club.”

Gordon never speaks once in the video games, but Ross Scott creates 700 minutes or so of stream-of-consciousness ramblings and he manages to create an actual character. Scott’s Gordon Freeman is utterly amoral and narcissistic, pats himself on the back quite a bit and doesn’t have a strong sense of right or wrong and doesn’t show much concern for others in the video game. When they are killed, he will often say something to the effect of “better them than me” or “I’m sure they had it coming.”

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Gordon also every once in a while will reference some shady character in his life known as “Eddie.” Eddie seems to have a lot of drugs and skulls for sale. He sings show tunes from the HMS Pinafore along the way and for an entire episode, he talks like a pirate. He comments on the illogical quirks of his situation at Black Mesa, such as being able to blow up a tank with bullets … and guards lurking right around a corner apparently not hearing gunshots and explosions.

“That’s right. Moan. Moan! That noise is exactly what I’ll be thinking of when I try to go to sleep tonight. And I’ll be dreaming of you sucking out my eyes out with your tentacle face, while I’m nestled up against a stack of rotting corpses, then my intestines will burst with insects crawling out of them!”

“You’re the reason we have napalm. There’s no excuse for you being what you are.”

“OK, so we have some more dead people. But, we’ve established that I can murder an unlimited number of people and the universe won’t be affected in any measurable way.”

“I can’t tell if you’re just a voice in my head. So you don’t count.”

“I don’t need another Hell inside my existing Hell. Hell squared is still Hell …. what the hell is this?”

“Ohhhh … what happened? Besides me being awesome!”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could take this place over. It’s ripe for colonisation. I just need to find the leader, blow his head off, and then they’ll start bowing to me.”

“You’ve been downsized … with a bullet.”

You obviously can’t watch all these videos at once; there’s simply far too many of them. You have to watch one here and watch one there. Before I knew it, I had managed to plough through all 30 of the original videos. I was disappointed that the series ended anti-climatically  with Gordon Freeman literally swimming around underwater. I didn’t realise at the time that there were apparently some legal issues with Valve or Steam, the owners of Half Life, over the use of their game to make a series of YouTube videos.

After a hiatus of several months, I noticed that Scott had started making Freeman’s Mind videos again. Whatever legal issues there were apparently had been resolved.

I was hooked again, until September 2012 when there was another long hiatus, this time on episode 44, with Gordon Freeman stuck high on a ledge on a cliff. This hiatus lasted 8 full months.

Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find out in June 2013 (I don’t even remember how I found out) that Scott had started making Freeman’s Mind videos again. His videos had been hosted on a channel called Machinima, but there were apparently some legal hassles with Machinima, so Scott formed his own Website and YouTube channel called Accused Farms. This time, he was all on his own.

“Your death will go toward a greater good … me.”

“I guess I’m going to have to consort with the dark powers here, because I’m out of ideas. OK, thank you, oh, dark ones … I pay homage.”

“I probably should keep moving because the aliens will teleport behind me and then collapse the building. And then they win, because they’re aliens, so who cares … and I’m dead.”

“At least this shotgun won’t deceive me. It’s filled with pellets … not lies.”

“The quality of my life is going straight up … now that I have a shotgun.”

“Comic book writers know as much about science as I know … well, I’m not a good example since I know almost everything.”

“Monkey on a stick! We’re getting fingered by Godzilla!”

Now there were few hassles with Freeman’s Mind, other than a lot of technical computer problems Scott talked about a few times that I didn’t totally understand. I know it’s hard to emulate 15-year-old games on today’s computers. But, he kept plugging along, and his fans kept eagerly awaiting his new videos. Along the way, he started up another series called “Ross’s Game Dungeon,” reviews of really, really obscure video games that I’m sure Scott will keep going.

Over the next 18 months, Scott released another 24 episodes, rushing a little bit at the end because he promised his fans he would complete the game by 2015. And sure enough, he kept his promise, loading the final Freeman’s Mind episode on Dec. 31, 2014. Along the way, Gordon Freeman had become a little more frantic and stressed out, prone to screaming fits of profanities, as the aliens got tougher and faster and harder to kill. I’m not sure if that’s Ross Scott’s evolution of the character over 7 years or if he consciously made Gordon Freeman more wigged out as the action gets more intense near the end of the game. You can see how tense and demented Gordon is becoming toward the end:

“Shoot away the madness! Shoot away the madness!”

“Die! Die! Die! Die again! Die more!”

“Stop shooting your white spiderweb hell milk at me!”

“A wise man once said: ‘Jesus tap-dancing Christ.'”

“OK, don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. I said don’t freak out, dammit! I’m totally not freaking out right now! Because this is me not freaking out. What do I have to freak out over anyway?”

“Fuck you reality! You’re full of shit!”

“I really hope I did kill their prophet or oracle or whatever. … if I get up there and find some religious symbols, I’m going to wear them like a hat. If I’m lucky, they’ll bow down to me, but if not, I might at least demoralise them. If I want to go the extra mile, I could cut off the leader’s head and wear it around my neck. I think even among complete aliens that still sends a pretty universal message. Aww, I probably won’t do that. It would smell awful … and I don’t have enough rope.”

“Dead explorers leave the best mementos. If it’s not supplies, you get a long, detailed log of what happened.”

“I’m totally not fighting an elder God! No, no, no, that’s not what’s happening! It’s just really big, levitates and looks like an elder God.”

“Stop being assholes! I know you can do it! I just have to teach you with my bullets! You’re not learning! Open your mind!”

I was sincerely impressed with the amount of time, energy and even heart Scott put into the project. His videos receive on the average of maybe about 100,000 hits apiece, so we’re talking probably more than 7 million hits total on the series. Along the way, several other Freeman’s Mind clones came and went on YouTube — Barney’s Mind, Chell’s Mind, etc., but none of them were as funny or well-thought out to me as Scott’s original Freeman’s Mind (there is even a video of a bunch of the people who have made these “Mind” videos getting together to discuss their work). I’m sincerely thankful for all the laughs and entertainment over the years. In the end, Scott thanks a number of people who helped with the series in a long series of credits and also highlights some of the goofy comments on Accursed Farms, including a few dozen comments of “What game is this?” (Apparently, even Half Life 2 is becoming obscure for some YouTubers today.)

Scott has hinted that he has other projects in the works. A number of people are pressuring him to continue with Freeman’s Mind through the Half Life 2 games, but if he’s burnt out on playing Gordon Freeman, that’s fine by me. After 7 years and 71 episodes, if he wants to make a clean break and do other things, more power to him. Freeman’s Mind has moved on to legendary status on the Internet.

Here is the original Freeman’s Mind from December 2007. Careful, if you watch, you might get sucked in!