Sep. 29, 2009

Browne defends alcohol and tobacco hikes

Government's move to increase to cost of alcohol and tobacco will help save lives, says Minister in the Ministry of Finance Mariano Browne. 
Browne defended the increases at the Senate sitting yesterday saying that Government intends to promote healthy living and in effect reduce the amount of money it spends on health care. 
He also said this measure would prevent young adults from consuming too much alcohol and tobacco
"We are acutely aware and we are sensitive to the fact that cheap booze puts it in easier reach of young adults and in some instances children. On this basis alone we consider that the new rates on excise duties on alcoholic beverages and tobacco are indeed long overdue and well justified," he said. 
He said this initiative will steer young smokers and drinkers away from these habits as they tend to be more responsive to price. 
"Raising the duties on alcoholic beverages and on cigarettes is justified because the $1.6 billion on tobacco and alcohol tax revenue over the past three years does not even come close to off-setting the staggering public health and safety cost of alcohol and tobacco consumption," he added. 
Browne stressed that alcohol consumption causes a number of diseases to the heart, stomach and liver. 
With respect to smoking, Browne said people who stop the habit even well into middle age avoid the risk of lung cancer. He said those who stopped smoking before avoid 90 per cent of the risks related to tobacco consumption. 
"It is in fact this Government's objective to reduce the financial budget of the State for health care treatment of medicinal or medical conditions associated with lifestyle health risks that emanate from alcohol and tobacco consumption," said Browne. 

Sep. 25, 2009

Tennessee attorney general warns against selling individual cigarettes

Lose the “loosies,” the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office warned today.
Removing cigarettes from the pack and selling them individually must be stopped, several state agencies warned the public and businesses.
Single cigarette sales pose a health threat to young people because they are usually easier and cheaper for them to purchase than a full pack.
Health officials are concerned that the availability of individual cigarettes may attract young people as an easy way to begin smoking.
The Attorney General’s Office recently sent 23 tobacco retailers alleged to have sold single cigarettes a warning letter, advising them to stop because such action is illegal in Tennessee. The letters were based on complaints received by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Tobacco retailers may be subject to penalties of up to $1,000 per violation under the law for selling single cigarettes.
“We will prosecute those who ignore the law by continuing to sell single cigarettes after we’ve warned them not to do so,” Atty. Gen. Bob Cooper said.

Sep. 23, 2009

For cigarette smokers, a more bitter taste

In less than a week, clove cigarettes and all other flavored tobacco will be pulled from the shelves, substantiating the Food and Drug Administration's first directive controlling the sale of tobacco products. "It continues to be a shock every day for customers," said Co-owner of Davis Newsbeat, Janis Lott. 
On June 22, President Barack Obama signed into law, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, effectively giving the FDA wide ranging authority to regulate tobacco. 
Flavored tobacco was the first targeted because critics say artificial additives like cherry, grape, chocolate, and spiced cigarettes such as cloves, appeal to youths and lays the groundwork for a smoking addiction. The law only applies to rolled cigarettes, and menthols were spared in this particular prohibition. 
In other words, mint is out, but menthols are acceptable. According to Lott, Nat Sherman's Hint of Mint packaging will soon read "menthol," but it's contents will be unaffected. As for cloves, Lott said, "there is a contingent of people who buy these cigarettes," adding that flavored tobacco constitutes about 15 percent of the cigarettes sold at Newsbeat. Kretek International Inc., which imports Djarum-brand cloves from Indonesia, holds a 97 percent U.S. market share with its line of Djarum clove cigarettes, a staple of Indonesian smoking culture. The U.S. market for clove cigarettes is about $140 million annually, with about 1.25 million clove smokers.Cloves have been imported to the U.S. since the 1960s and are mostly smoked by people younger than 30. 
With America as Kretek International's fifth largest importer, the company has found a loop hole in the FDAs ban. Kretek is now manufacturing cigars, close to the size of a cigarette and flavored with clove, vanilla and cherry. The difference? Cigarettes are wrapped in thin paper, cigars in tobacco leaves. While the cigars also are made with a different kind of tobacco, the taste is similar. The cigars come 12 to a pack, rather than 20 for cigarettes, but cost nearly half as much. 
But the Djarum-brand facelift may not appeal to all smokers. Andy Singh, owner of the Tobacco Store in Woodland, said a customer recently purchased ten packs of the clove cigarettes in anticipation of the prohibition. 
Oddly enough, that same customer first told Singh that selling flavored cigarettes would become illegal on Sept. 22. 
"I don't smoke so the customers know better than I do," Singh said. But delayed notification from either the FDA, or state and county agencies that manage tobacco licenses, according to Lott, means little time to inform customers and scale back on purchasing from vendors. 
It wasn't until Monday that the FDA issued a letter to members of the industry warning of prosecution to those selling what they labeled as "adulterated products," beyond Sept. 22. 
The letter reads, "manufacturers, distributors, and retailers may be subject to injunction actions, civil money penalties, and/or criminal prosecution for violating the requirements of the Act." 
Lott ordered several cartons of cloves requested by customers, but for the most part is pairing down purchases. Singh has stopped purchasing the cigarettes and said he will throw away what remains after the cutoff date. 
Lott said the decision to ban flavored tobacco is politically driven and indicative of a "nanny state." "Eliminating tobacco products all together will never happen because it's easy to vilify and it's easy to tax," she said. "I don't know what's right or wrong, I just have to go with the flow." 
Future directive under the FSPTCA include the revision and strengthening of cigarette warning labels that will also contain a list of ingredients, as well as the elimination of the terms light, low, and mild on tobacco products.

Sep. 21, 2009

A Pennsylvania tax idea goes up in smoke

HARRISBURG - When it came to raising new sources of desperately needed revenue, stogies and chaw appeared to be the lowest-hanging fruit.
Every other state imposes excise taxes on smokeless tobacco, and all but one other - Florida - do so on cigars. And the idea was widely popular in the Keystone State, public-opinion polls showed.
So how did the ripe-for-the-picking products avoid being affected by the cornucopia of taxes that top lawmakers announced last week would balance the state budget?
Johnna Pro, press secretary for the House Majority Appropriations Committee, has a theory.
"Because the majority of people negotiating the budget are cigar-chomping men," she said. "It's sexism."
That tongue-in-cheek reasoning aside, Pennsylvania lawmakers have clearly rebuffed an idea that most agree could have generated $38 million in new tax revenue this year.
Last week, leaders of three of the four caucuses announced that they had reached a budget agreement on a $27.9 billion spending plan. They said the package provided $1.2 billion in new revenue that the state could count on for years to come, including a 25-cent-per-pack hike in the cigarette tax.
But still no tax on smokeless tobacco or cigars - a proposal that seven out of 10 Pennsylvanians support, polls have shown.
Antitobacco groups said they were stunned that the products were not included in the plan as they had been led to believe by top legislators.
"It makes zero sense," said Kevin O'Flaherty, the Northeast advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. "It's fine to raise the price of cigarettes. . . . But it increases the disparity in price between cigarettes and other tobacco products, and that encourages kids to use those products."
Already, he said, the rate of 16- to 25-year-olds in Pennsylvania using those products is twice the national average.
Senate Democrats supported taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco, and Brett Marcy, a spokesman for House Democrats, said that caucus had supported the proposal but was unsuccessful getting Senate Republicans to sign off.
"We agree that it is a commonsense tax and a ready source of revenue," he said. "But the political realities being what they are dictated that it may not be possible this budget year.
"There was just not an appetite in the Senate Republican caucus to look at those options."
Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware), said leaders dropped the cigar and smokeless-tobacco tax because of its minimal effect on closing the budget deficit.
"The amount which would be raised . . . is so relatively small that it is immaterial to producing a balanced budget," Arneson said.
Yet the parties did reach compromises on other, even smaller, budget items. For instance, they agreed to take $25 million annually from the profits of the state-run liquor-store system and use it for general government functions.
Gov. Rendell has vowed to veto the three-caucus compromise budget, arguing that it is built on "phony" and overly optimistic revenue figures that, when they don't materialize, will put the state in this very position next year. He also said the spending plan shortchanged education.
Legislative leaders from the three caucuses spent much of yesterday in closed-door talks with administration aides in hopes of ending the budget standoff. Senate Republican leaders said late yesterday that a final budget agreement could be hashed out today, setting the stage for approval by the bipartisan conference committee as early as tomorrow. The state, which began its fiscal year July 1, has been operating under a stopgap spending plan.
Rendell repeatedly has said that taxing snuff, chewing tobacco, and cigars was a no-brainer, and he has expressed frustration that the General Assembly hasn't agreed with him.
"It is a special interest that continues to be treated as special," said Gary Tuma, Rendell's press secretary. "The administration favors taxing these products as other states do. Not doing so defies logic."
The tobacco taxes also weren't in the revenue mix in another compromise plan offered by Rep. Sam Smith (R., Jefferson), the leader of House Republicans, who were not party to the three-caucus budget agreement.
"When you listen to the governor and the Democratic leaders, they are literally saying 'tax it because it is not taxed,' " said Steve Masking, Smith's spokesman. "We don't believe that something should be taxed just for the sake of taxing."
Sharon Ward, director of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said she believed Republicans were sticking to their "no-new-tax pledge" and "listening to their inner Rush Limbaughs" when they decided to forgo the smokeless-tobacco and cigar taxes.
"It's discouraging that they would bypass a revenue idea that has virtually no impact on Pennsylvanians and minimal impact on industry," she said.

Sep. 17, 2009

Ministers accused in tobacco display ban row

Retailers claim government misled Lords over cost to shops of placing cigarettes out of sight.

The government has been accused of misleading parliament over the cost for retailers of implementing the controversial tobacco display ban.
Internal documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that officials at the Department of Health (DoH) were warned by manufacturers that they had dramatically underestimated how much it would cost retailers to modify their shops to comply with the ban.
The display ban is part of the health bill, which is due to come before parliament in October. Under the proposals, cigarettes would still be available to buy but would be placed out of sight. Customers who wanted to purchase them would be given a list of products for sale.
The legislation will ban the display of cigarettes in supermarkets from 2011 and small shops from 2013.
Lord Darzi, the health minister, told the House of Lords this year that shops would pay as little as £120 each to install sliding screens in their premises. In a Lords debate in March, the government minister Baroness Thornton said that the cost "could be as little as £120".
The figure was also quoted in government briefing notes sent to peers in the Lords who oppose the display ban. The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats are both likely to vote against it.
But according to the internal documents, which have been posted on the DoH website, the £120 figure was calculated in January this year after a quote had been obtained from a Canadian manufacturer, 4 Solutions Display. When Phil Beder, the company's vice-president, was made aware of the figure being quoted, he wrote to the DoH and to Ash – an anti-smoking pressure group, which had also quoted the figure in its literature – to ask that it be withdrawn.
In an email sent to Ash, dated 29 April this year, Beder said that the price quoted was based on a bulk order and did not include shipping or installation costs. He forwarded the correspondence to the DoH on 30 April, saying that he wanted to "clarify" the company's position.

Beder told Ash that he wanted "to make sure you are not making additional assumptions on costs to suit your internal needs. 4 Solutions cannot produce, deliver and install for the minimal dollars you are publishing. I trust your organisation will ensure the entire financial story is told to all."
Ash responded by telling 4 Solutions that it was confident its figures were correct.
The Canadian manufacturer also wrote to the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, which is opposed to the ban, confirming that the full cost would be far higher than the figure quoted by the DoH. When the federation emailed the DoH on 15 May to highlight the discrepancy, an official replied saying: "We are confident of the validity of the estimates that ministers have been quoting."
Small retailers have been lobbying against the display ban, arguing that independent shops cannot afford to refurbish their outlets at a time when many of them are already suffering a fall in sales as a result of the recession.
The Association of Convenience Stores, which represents more than 33,000 local shops, estimates that the new equipment required to remove tobacco from customers' view could cost the convenience industry as much as £252m.
It claims the minimum a single store could expect to pay is £1,850 but that this could rise to as much as £4,985. Small shops say that the ban will benefit larger retail chains and supermarkets, which can afford to implement the changes.
When asked about the allegations a spokeswoman at the DoH said that the government remained committed to introducing the ban.
The DoH said: "Point-of-sale displays have already been removed in a number of countries, including Canada, [where] removing point-of-sale display has coincided with a fall in smoking prevalence rates among 15 to 19-year-olds from 29% in 2002 to 19% in 2007."

Sep. 15, 2009

Why Does Lung Cancer Occur in Non-Smokers?

While cigarette smoking is an undisputed cause of lung cancer, not all cases of lung cancer occur in smokers or former smokers. Gani Fawehinmi, who is reportedly a non-smoker, died of lung cancer on September 5, 2009. Although not every non-smoker suffering from lung cancer will have an identifiable risk factor for development of the disease, a number of conditions and circumstances have been identified that will increase a non-smoker’s chance of developing lung cancer.

Passive smoking, or the inhalation of tobacco smoke from other smokers sharing living or working quarters, is an established risk factor for the development of lung cancer. Non-smokers who reside with a smoker have a 24% increase in risk for developing lung cancer when compared with other non-smokers.

Radon gas, a naturally-occurring gas that forms when uranium decays, is another known cause of lung cancer. Radon gas can travel up through soil and enter homes through gaps in the foundation, pipes, drains, or other openings.

Asbestos is a compound that was widely used in the past as both thermal and acoustic insulation material. Microscopic fibers of asbestos break loose from the insulation material and are released into the air where they can be inhaled into the lungs. Asbestos fibers can persist for a lifetime in lung tissue following exposure to asbestos. Both lung cancer and a type of cancer known as mesothelioma are associated with exposure to asbestos.

Air pollution from vehicles, industry, and power plants, can raise the likelihood of developing lung cancer in exposed individuals. It has been estimated that up to 2,000 lung cancer deaths per year may be attributable to breathing polluted air, and many experts believe that prolonged exposure to highly polluted air can carry a risk for the development of lung cancer similar to that of passive smoking.

Sep. 11, 2009

Cigarette thieves hit councillor's business

A Wanganui businessman and district councillor is several thousand dollars out of pocket after burglars smashed into his Westmere service station.
Ray Stevens, who owns Double S Motordrome on State Highway 3, said the two burglars took less than two minutes to break into the station, grab cigarettes and tobacco, and leave.
“They were definitely professionals – they knew what they were after.”
Mr Stevens said he has video footage of the break-in early on Thursday, which the police have seen. Several weapons, including a hammer, were also found near the service station.
Mr Stevens is offering a $1000 reward -- $500 for return of the stolen goods and $500 for information leading to an arrest.
Senior sergeant Dave Kirby from Wanganui police said that in the past two weeks there had been several Wanganui premises targeted for cigarettes, tobacco and cash.
“These things go in phases and we seem to be in a phase where [burglars] are after cigarettes and cash.”Mr Kirby said it was a timely reminder for businesses who kept cigarettes on their premises to ensure they had adequate security. 
Meanwhile, Manawatu police are investigating a possible link between a service station burglary yesterday morning and a series of other burglaries in the region recently.
One man appeared in Palmerston North District Court and another is due to appear next week after two men broke into the Ashhurst Service Station and stole a cigarette stand.
Police chased the men for 30 minutes before they were finally stopped by road spikes in Foxton.
Detectives were investigating whether the burglary was linked to service station ramraids and burglaries in Rongotea, Foxton and Sanson in recent months.
Police spokeswoman Kim Perks said the Westmere burglary was some distance from the Manawatu burglaries, but there were some similarities between them that had police interested.
“At this stage we can’t say there’s a link but we will certainly be looking into it.”

Sep. 7, 2009

Environmental cigarette company? You decide

 Environmental initiatives are often great. But when implemented by Altria’s Philip Morris USA, they beg the question of why and if a tobacco company can in fact lessen its environmental footprint. 
First, are they genuine? While Altria failed to comment, Danny McGoldrick, Vice President of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said the tobacco companies have a history of trying to shape their images with marketing ploys, “going green” is nothing new. 
"The target isn’t kids or smokers, and the objective isn’t to reduce smoking, the target is always policy makers and the objective is to stop policy makers from increasing tobacco taxes, passing smoke free laws, or funding tobacco cessation programs that we know work- their own documents tell us this", McGoldrick said. 
But the issue is not just about why Altria is going green, but is it really making a difference? Altria says it is, the tobacco company has reduced their packaging waste, water and emissions the last four years.
Eric Asche, Senior Vice President of Marketing at the American Legacy Foundation said that while reducing one's foot print is great, it does not balance out the 400,000 lives lost to tobacco every year or the 1,200 lost every day.
“Our job is to continue to point at what they are really up to and that is all the while they are trying to manufacture this new image- they are still addicting our kids and they are still selling a deadly product", said McGoldrick. 

Sep. 4, 2009

Nicotine does not cause cigarette addiction

An ASU professor is challenging widely held conceptions about smoking, including challenging the view that nicotine is addictive. 
Peter Killeen, emeritus professor of psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, presented his research findings for the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the Tempe campus Wednesday afternoon.
The talk was called “Reefer Madness: There ain’t no such Thing as Addiction to Nicotine.”
NIDA initially invited Killeen to look into ways to improve scientific research on drug abuse, specifically nicotine addiction.
“I came up with a shocking discovery,” Killeen said. “There’s no such thing as nicotine addiction.”
“It’s time to get our heads straight,” Killeen said. “What causes the tremendously addicting power of cigarettes is the drug cocktail of nicotine,” he said, not nicotine itself.
Before he got into his findings, Killeen said he wanted to make clear that tobacco kills. 
“[Tobacco] is the number one preventable cause of death in developing nations,” he said. “Half of the people who are lifelong smokers will die of smoking-related illness.”
And yet, he said, the mass addiction to cigarettes and the public knowledge of tobacco’s deadliness creates a paradox. 
There is something missing in the equation, Killeen said: A sufficient answer about what causes the powerful addiction.
For years, researchers have maintained that nicotine is the cause of tobacco addiction. 
But Killeen said new evidence suggests otherwise. 
“A large portion of the research on tobacco studies is done on nicotine. But the research has not been very reinforcing,” Killeen said. “Nicotine in itself is not very rewarding. You can go to any drugstore and buy a packet of Nicorette chewing gum.”
But people don’t overdose on Nicorette chewing gum, he said.
“Studies have shown that none of the nicotine replacement therapies — chewing gum, inhalers, patches — none of those are addictive,” he said. “Nicotine is not addictive. So what’s going on?”
The cause of addiction is the release of monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or MAOIs, along with nicotine, Killeen said. 
While nicotine affects the release of dopamine, or the “reward hormone” that affects emotions and movement, MAOIs help regulate dopamine levels, Killeen said.
“When you put together something that directly releases dopamine and another thing that helps the brain clean up excess dopamine, you’ve got a one-two punch,” he said. “It is my hypothesis that it’s a combination of nicotine with some of these other chemicals that causes the powerful addiction.”
Killeen said publicizing his research is important in moving forward with the study. 
“Not everybody knows that nicotine is not addictive,” he said. “This negatively affects both the research and public opinion.”
Many people are hesitant to accept the research’s implications, but Killeen said his hypothesis is hard to deny.
“I presented this position to 20 of the world’s experts,” he said. “And though some were shocked and insulted, no one could argue that my case was untrue.”
ASU Director of Campus Health Services Allan Markus said it would take a thorough clinical trial to further prove Killeen’s hypothesis. 
“The overall scientific evidence from research, going back many, many years, proves that nicotine is addictive,” Markus said.
Anthropology sophomore Marisa Rios said the social aspect of smoking appeals to her. 
“What makes me smoke is not the jonesing or need for a fix every 15 minutes,” she said. “What makes me smoke is stress or just wanting something to do.”
Killeen said even though the addiction to cigarettes is highly chemical, a large part of quitting comes from creating distance from these social smoking situations.
Of 100 smokers who decided to quit, only 10 are still abstinent after a year, meaning there is a 90 percent relapse rate, Killeen said.
“There’s no such thing as a cure, in the sense that there’s always a very small but real possibility of relapse [for successful quitters],” Killeen said. “You can’t ever let down your guard.”

Sep. 2, 2009

Junk food tax is not much different from a cigarette tax

Forgive my friend, Gary, here. He prefers name-calling to actually making a point. The point is, like me, he doesn't mind a tax on cigarettes, because it will pull in revenue while also discouraging a harmful practice -- smoking, which despite Gary's splitting of hairs, is no longer the physical threat to his health he wants to make it out to be, since the proliferation of no-smoking zones (thankfully) has removed much of the concern about secondhand smoke.
No, just like obesity, smoking is a serious societal problem, because it creates huge health issues, which, excuse Gary's ignorance, does hurt him, and you and me, too. That's because obesity -- one of America's most serious and costliest health crises -- significantly raises health care premiums for everyone. Just like the idiots who ride motorcycles without a helmet, jacking up my rates every time they spill their brains on the highway. (By the way, I think Gary supports a helmet law, too.)
We are a nation on such a sugar high, most of us won't admit that we are the very fat people we make jokes about. Our kids are so fat, juvenile diabetes is one of the biggest health threats confronting tomorrow's leaders.
What are we going to do about it? Sit around and tell more fat jokes? Whine about the "nanny state" taking control of our choices?
Please. If you want to gorge yourselves on Oreos and Ding-Dongs, don't let me stop you. You want to stuff your kids' mouths full of French fries, pizza and soda, knock yourself out.
But taxing the poor choices you make, and the impact they have on the rest of us, is a smart strategy toward shaking some people out of their diabetic coma. And if it helps bring down the deficit along the way, all the better.
And please, don't get me wrong. I am not immune to sugar cravings. But I don't mind paying an extra dollar to indulge in my mint chocolate chip cookie ice cream, or yes, my Girl Scout cookies. Please, I pay out the nose for Thin Mints anyway, and happily, because they go toward a good cause.
That's the point here, too -- the cause: a healthier America. Personally, I'm willing to dig a little deeper to contribute toward the greater good. Isn't that the American way?
If you splurge every now and then on an unhealthy treat, it won't leave you too much the worst for wear, in the waistline or the pocketbook. But if you eat poorly every day, under the sin tax, it will cost you both ways. Creating a financial incentive toward healthier living is just smart economics. Money is the only thing that talks to some people.
And saying poor people will pay the price is knee-jerk liberalism at its worst. Anyone can eat healthy cheaply. Many people are just too lazy to try to figure out how, largely because they've never had a good reason. A tax on junk could be just the incentive they need.
Those of you who think it'll be so hard to figure out what's junk food and what's not, go back to elementary school. A kindergartner can tell the difference. It's not heart surgery.