Dec. 28, 2010

Family of Barb Tarbox wants her deathbed image on cigarette packs

he family of an Alberta anti-smoking activist is pushing to have a photo of the woman on her deathbed used on cigarette packages in Canada.

Tarbox, who died of lung cancer in 2003 at 41 years old, spent her final days as the poster child for Alberta's anti-smoking movement. Before she was confined to a hospital bed, Tarbox spent almost every waking moment lecturing students and working for anti-smoking groups.

A similar health warning using the same photo of Tarbox was recently proposed for American cigarette packages by the U.S. Food and Drug Adminsitration. The best choise for your health is to quit smoking cigarettes.

"It is very disheartening to know that Barb's warning may not see the light of day in Canada while (possibly) appearing on millions of cigarette packages in the United States," said her husband Pat Tarbox.

"One of Barb's last wishes was to have her dying image conveyed on cigarette packages. Barb was selflessly committed to preventing others from experiencing her fate. It would be a terrible shame if Canadians are deprived of Barb's message. The Prime Minister has the ability to get these warnings approved and to provide Canadians with further protection from the deadly consequences of tobacco use."

According to Les Hagen of Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, the federal government has put any decision to use the image on hold indefinitely.

He says the Commons Health Committee doesn't know if the image would be effective with children and teens, and that the more pressing issue is contraband cigarettes.

The issue has been on the table in Ottawa for seven years, he said, adding the government should be embarrassed that the U.S. is moving much quicker on using the image of a Canadian victim of lung cancer.

Pat Tarbox said the image of his wife in her final moments is the first time a real person would be used on cigarette packaging, and that it's a message that will reach children and adults.

Meanwhile, he's calling on all Canadians to contact the Prime Minister's office or Health Canada to get the issue back on the agenda.

Health Canada has invested millions of dollars in the development of the new health warnings including 60 focus groups held across the country.

Research has revealed that the current health warnings have lost their impact over time.

Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of premature death in Canada—resulting in 37,000 deaths annually.

Dec. 22, 2010

When Doctors, and Even Santa, Endorsed Tobacco

PEOPLE who remember when tobacco advertising was a prominent part of the media landscape — and others who recall what they learned in Marketing 101 — probably recollect that actors like Barbara Stanwyck and athletes like Mickey Mantle routinely endorsed cigarettes.
But how about doctors and other medical professionals, proclaiming the merits of various cigarette brands? Or politicians? What about cartoon characters in cigarette ads? Or children? Babies? Even Santa Claus?

Those images — some flabbergasting, even disturbing — were also used by Madison Avenue to peddle tobacco products. An exhibit that opens on Tuesday in New York presents cigarette ads from the 1920s through the early 1950s in an effort to demonstrate what has changed since then — and what may not have.

The exhibit, of hundreds of print ads and television commercials, is titled “Not a Cough in a Carload: Images Used by Tobacco Companies to Hide the Hazards of Smoking.” The first part of the title is borrowed from a slogan for Old Gold cigarettes, a brand that subsequently boasted in its ads of being “made by tobacco men, not medicine men.”

The exhibit will be on display through Dec. 26 at Healy Hall at the Science, Industry and Business Library of the New York Public Library, 188 Madison Avenue, at 34th Street. It can also be viewed online (

The exhibit is the brainchild of Dr. Robert K. Jackler of the Stanford School of Medicine, who described himself in an interview as “an accidental tourist in the world of advertising.”

“The very best artists and copywriters that money could buy” would work on cigarette accounts, said Dr. Jackler, who is also chairman of the department of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery.

“This era of over-the-top hucksterism went on for decades,” he added, “and it was all blatantly false.”

The genesis of the exhibit was an ad from around 1930 for Lucky Strike cigarettes, which shows a doctor above a headline proclaiming that “20,679 physicians say ‘Luckies are less irritating.’ ”

“That captivated me,” Dr. Jackler said.

The Luckies doctor was joined in Dr. Jackler’s collection of about 5,000 ads by scores of scientists and medical professionals — doctors, dentists, nurses — making statements that are now known to be patently untrue. “Not one single case of throat irritation due to smoking Camels!” is a typical assertion.

“I was struck by the noble depiction of the medical profession, bemused and surprised, actually,” said Kristin McDonough, the Robert and Joyce Menschel director of the Science, Industry and Business Library.

“Some of the claims being made in the ads, you did not have to be a scientist in a laboratory to dispute,” Ms. McDonough said, citing ads that smoking certain brands “does not cause bad breath” or “can never stain your teeth.”

Other approaches that could cause double takes (if not whiplash) among contemporary consumers include ads featuring Santa Claus, for brands like Pall Mall; senators like Charles Curtis of Kansas, who endorsed Lucky Strike before he was elected vice president in 1928; cartoon characters like the Flintstones and penguins, for brands like Winston and Kool; children, who appear as accessories for their smoking parents; and babies, for brands like Marlboro cigarettes.

•The exhibit also includes copious examples of more traditional cigarette endorsements by athletes — occasionally in uniform — and entertainers. Some promoted multiple brands during their careers; for example, Mantle, the New York Yankees outfielder, pitched brands like Camel and Viceroy, while the actress Claudette Colbert endorsed at least five, Dr. Jackler found.

A primary purpose of the exhibit, Dr. Jackler said, is to connect the dots between now and then. He likened ads from decades ago intended to encourage women to smoke — “Blow some my way,” for Chesterfield, and “You’ve come a long way, baby,” for Virginia Slims — to the campaign last year from R. J. Reynolds Tobacco to introduce a version of Camel cigarettes for women called Camel No. 9.

And there is a theme that runs from vintage tobacco ads to contemporary ones, Dr. Jackler said: “It’s all about youth marketing. The intent is to turn youth, ages 12 to 22, into youthful smokers.”

Documents from the George Arents Collection on Tobacco from the archives of the Science, Industry and Business Library will also be on display. The exhibit was seen in cities like Boston and San Francisco before arriving in New York.

Dec. 17, 2010

Outlook cools for menthol cigarette flavor

That cool, throat-numbing sensation some smokers find in their cigarettes could go the way of other products the federal government has deemed dangerous.
Menthol, a natural compound found in the mint plant, soothes sunburns, tempers coughs and helps tame an achy tummy, but on cigarettes, some health experts argue, it's a ruse. It makes the poison that is tobacco go down more smoothly, tricking the youngest and most foolhardy smokers.
Last year, Congress passed far-reaching tobacco regulations that, among other things, banned chocolate- or strawberry-flavored cigarettes, saying they lured kids to smoke by dressing up cigarettes as candy.

Cigarettes which contain menthol are considered to be more addictive than regular cigarettes. Regular cigarettes are Vogue cigarettes and Camel cigarettes.

But Congress passed on regulating menthol cigarettes, which account for one-third of cigarettes sold in the United States. Instead, it called for a study and more discussion by the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA took the debate to Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, when big tobacco executives met public health officials in a conference room at the Marriot Hotel downtown to discuss the new law on cigarettes and how the FDA would go about enforcing it.
Outside, dozens of workers from Greensboro, N.C., who make their living manning machines that make menthol-laced cigarettes, paced in the bitter cold. For Lorillard Tobacco workers, who produce Newport cigarettes, menthol is an ingredient that makes their brand pop with flavor, and those cigarettes have been their ticket to a middle class life.
"This is about my livelihood. I've got responsibilities," said Darsey Campbell, who has logged 40 years at Lorillard Tobacco, cleaning and servicing equipment. "We have to worry when the government starts messing with one more thing. Don't they have enough to do?"
The conundrum for federal officials is clear: Cigarettes are bad; jobs are good. Can there be a winner?
"Undeniably, this is a very controversial issue with a lot of moving parts," said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the FDA.
With cigarettes, the federal government is now engaged in an awkward dance. On one hand, America needs jobs more than ever, and government officials want to avoid jeopardizing the product, and market share, of a major U.S. manufacturer. Cigarette makers who use menthol insist that banning menthol will simply push production overseas or into an unregulated black market.
But the government also doesn't want people to smoke; it is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the U.S. Smoking attacks the lungs, making smokers prone to chronic sickness and heavily reliant on health care. The FDA is adamant about not wanting kids to pick up a cigarette and start the habit.
Public health officials want cigarettes to taste as bad as they are for a smoker's health, and menthol undermines that. The product, which can be made synthetically, tempers the burn cigarettes bring to the throat. If kids feel that burn, they may never pick up another cigarette, some health officials argue. Studies show that the biggest consumers of menthol cigarettes are young people and members of minority groups.
Campbell, the Lorillard worker, smokes Newports flavored with menthol. She has almost all her life and wants government to stay out of her business.
"I'm grown. It's my choice," she said.
Campbell's biggest concern, though, isn't her smoking habit but rather her job. She's one of about 2,000 people working for Lorillard in Greensboro, where generations of families have found jobs that pay enough for them to buy homes and take care of their families.
Lorillard executives won't predict what would become of the Greensboro plant should the FDA ban menthol in cigarettes. The company just started making a menthol-free Newport last month, but it's too soon to say whether it will catch on, said Bob Bannon, Lorillard's director of investor relations.
Lorillard's corner of the cigarette market depends on menthol, which workers spray on tobacco before rolling it in paper. They make a third of the menthol cigarettes sold in the U.S., accounting for about 10 percent of the total cigarette market.
"It's tough to say what impact we'll feel," Bannon said. "We're trying to measure what adult smokers' reaction would be in the scenario that it disappears. We just don't know, but we think the number of people who would quit altogether would be low."
FDA officials say they are a long way from having an answer to the menthol question. And they may simply decide to not answer it. Congress obliged them to study, and scientists have been meeting to do just that. A report is due to the FDA in March, but after that, there are no deadlines or expectations.
"The FDA has made no statements about potentially banning menthol," said Lawrence R. Deyton, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.
Campbell and about 30 of her co-workers didn't want to take chances. Outside the Marriot on Wednesday, they pushed signs into the air, reminding tobacco executives and FDA officials that they, too, have a stake in the future of menthol in cigarettes.
Menthol has been commonly used to flavor cigarettes since the 1950s. About 30 percent of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. contain menthol. A third of those are made by Lorillard Tobacco in Greensboro, N.C., which produces Newport cigarettes.
Scientists have reported that menthol dulls the senses and makes smoking easier for new smokers and harder for regular smokers to quit.
How does menthol do it?
-Soothes the respiratory tract
-Masks harshness of smoke
-Anesthetizes the throat
-Tastes good
-Increases production of saliva

Heavy smokers or cash addicts? Suspects steal store's tobacco products

SAN ANTONIO -- Suspects broke into a west-side convenience store. Surprisingly, they weren't after the ATM.

This time, they got hundreds of dollars in cigarettes. The incident took place at a Valero convenience store on a major thoroughfare, right near Loop 410.

San Antonio police got the call for this alarm just after 4 a.m. Wednesday in the 7300 block of Culebra Road.

The store was selling brands like Pall Mall cigarettes or Winston cigarettes.

They arrived to find that the thieves pried the door open and walked in. Once inside, they broke into the cigarette cabinet and raided the place of other tobacco products.

Clerks are still taking inventory of the stolen merchandise. The items will likely be sold on the black market. Retailers sell cigarettes for close to $6 a pack. No one is sure how much the bandits could make off of this illegal yield.
Either way, police believe a video camera caught the tobacco theft.

Dec. 2, 2010

The ugly truth

We already know that tobacco can kill us. So why is the federal government about to require all cigarette packages and advertising to include graphic — if not downright gruesome — reminders of that fact?

Well, we already know what’s in a box of breakfast cereal or a can of chicken noodle soup, too. That doesn’t stop purveyors of those products from dressing up their appearance to make them appear more delectable than the next brand on the shelf.

Image matters. It moves people to buy things. Now, finally, we’ll have laws to move people not to buy things that not only kill them, but add huge costs to the health care system that non-smokers pay for. The tobacco companies have long known that images matter. They didn’t invest all that money in Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man just to throw money at graphic artists and rugged actors.

So, now that Congress has finally given the Food and Drug Administration the power to really regulate tobacco sales and marketing, the FDA and its parent agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, are rolling out the proposals for the new warning labels for packs and ads.

They include photos and drawings that illustrate directly and sometimes harshly what happens to smokers: A skeletal cancer patient obviously on death’s door. A body with a huge scar down the middle of its chest. A person who has already lost his larynx to throat cancer and still smokes. A middle-aged man clutching his chest, his face twisted in pain.

By the proposed rules, now out for public comment, cigarette packs sold after Oct. 22, 2012, will have to devote half of the surface of every cigarette pack to one of those images. Cigarette advertising will have to include the images, too.

It’s about time.

For years, the tobacco industry has used its considerable clout over Washington to keep its products free of the same level of regulation that has long been considered minimal for everything from baby food to automobiles. The result has been an industry devoted to marketing a product that kills 1,200 Americans every day.

An outright ban on tobacco products would be unworkable. There are too many addicts out there, and any attempt to put the law between them and their smokes would create a black market the size of a small nation.

But it is clearly in the public interest for the government to act in ways that help smokers quit and, more importantly, stop the next generation from picking up the habit. We just can’t afford it.