Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Suckers and Smoke

President Obama must be making e-cigarette users, cigar connoisseurs and their addiction-promoting suppliers choke up with joy. That's because his administration has either burnt restrictions on sales right down to the filter, or else drowned health warnings in the burbley grave of a hookah pipe. It seems that Big Tobacco lobbyists flacks converged on the White House and pitifully wheezed that regulations meant to protect the public health would hurt their bottom lines.

You know the drlll. We must not let the perfect pair of lungs be an enemy of the free market good.

Despite pleas from health organizations, the Obama administration has tossed FDA concerns about the dangers of electronic cigarettes with the usual cavalier promise to "revisit" the e-cigarette issue at such time that more scientific studies prove harm. And regarding cigars,  a cost-benefit analysis conducted by now-HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell concluded that that the human lives saved by issuing warnings are just not as important as corporate profits.

You read that right. The person who stomped all over public health to placate the lords of carcinogenic capitalism has just been confirmed to a major cabinet position designed to protect the public health.

Obama seems to have ignored a letter sent to him and signed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Legacy. Reports of poisonings from candy-flavored nicotine containing "e-liquids" have already tripled from 2012 to 2013, with sometimes deadly results.

But lest you think Obama is a complete wimp, you should also know that he did not give in to the poison-peddlers without the pretense of a fight! Even though kids will still be allowed to buy their electronic ciggies both online and over the counter, he and Burwell bravely drew a red line in the sand on those dangerous vending machine sales to minors. If young folks want their e-ciggies, they'll have to show their gumption by asking for them directly. Inserting some coin and pushing a button is taking the easy way out, and not showing enough grit and determination and personal responsibility.

And thus, for the profitable time being, the youth of America can suck away to their lungs' content. If they start succumbing in greater cost-benefit analytical numbers, then the government can always revisit a clampdown on the manufacturers. Or so soothed an FDA spokeswoman who did not dare criticize her boss because of that whole Insider Threat anti-whistleblowing program that Obama has got going. Meanwhile, the public can still feel free to comment... if they

To repeat, and to be fair, when Burwell decided to blow away the proposed regulations, she hadn't yet been confirmed as the new protector of the public's welfare.  She was merely acting as one of the main protectors of corporate welfare during her stint as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

It was Burwell's job then (and, let's face it, now) to crunch the numbers, weigh business profits against human costs, and then to decide whether proposed regulations in the public interest are really worth the plutocratic aggravation. As Reuters explains,
The FDA has authority under a 2009 law to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco, but must issue new rules before regulating e-cigarettes, cigars, hookahs, water pipes and other tobacco products.
In April, the FDA issued a proposal which would subject the $2 billion e-cigarette industry to federal regulation for the first time. It would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to people under the age of 18 and vending machine sales.
The proposal disappointed public health advocates who criticized the agency's failure to restrict flavored products or television advertising, which they say attracts children, and criticized the agency for not moving to restrict online sales, where it can be harder to verify a person's age.
In its draft, the FDA had proposed "prohibition of non-face-to-face sales (e.g. vending machines)." That would have opened the door to a ban on online sales. But OMB edited the sentence so that the prohibition refers only to vending machines.
So, I guess the FDA rationale was that if they made their regulatory language fuzzy enough, that would eventually put the kibosh on the very lucrative internet e-cig marketplace. How very naive of them, thinking that they could sneak in an anti-capitalist gateway regulation drug of this sort! The FDA obviously didn't know their OMB from a hole in the wall. You do not pull a fast one on Sylvia Mathews Burwell or the ruling class racketeering world from whence she came.

Oh, and let's not forget about those designer cigars and the plutocrats who smoke them. Apparently, putting a health warning on filthy cigars would outrageously mar the pleasures of the filthy rich.... who like to indulge their expensive passion on their very special occasions. It just would not do to tamp down their enjoyment. It would totally waste the post prandial Downton Abbey smoking rooms to which the gents retire with their glasses of Port.

  It's not like the Rockefellers and the Trumps chain-smoke their stogies, for crying out loud! But anyway,(again via Reuters) let the Republican Cigar Caucus tell it in their own hack-neyed way:

In a December 2013 letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who was director of OMB at the time and is now Secretary of Health and Human Services, 24 Republican lawmakers asked that premium cigars be exempt.
"As you know," they wrote, "premium cigars are a niche product with an adult consumer base, much like fine wines. The majority of people who enjoy a cigar do so occasionally, often in social or celebratory settings."
When the proposed rule came out in April, some public health advocates expressed dismay.
"The part of the proposal we are deeply troubled by is the sweetheart deal for the cigar industry," Erika Sward, assistant vice president for national advocacy at the American Lung Association.
As the Lung Association and the American Cancer Society both point out, the Obama administration's exemption of cigars from FDA rules will also enable sellers of those candy-flavored cigar-like products popular with minors to also take advantage of the deregulation. Put something in a fancy box and put a label on it and a ring around it, and presto chango -- a cigar is a cigar is a cigar.
Meanwhile, the Tobacco lobby is bribing assuring Congress that their e-cigarette ads only target adult smokers. And if the kids happen to watch them, it must be the parents' fault for owning a TV.


Denis Neville said...

Traveling about my local community, I began to notice a proliferation of vape shops and lounges, full service vaping stores with “vaporizers, vape liquids and juices, and vaping supplies for your vaping needs.”

I used to wonder why there were so many mattress stores, now I wondered, why are there so many “vaping” stores? And, what the hell was vaping?

The electronic cigarette market is booming both online and in retail outlets. A recent survey by researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine found that 10 new e-cigarette brands entered the Internet marketplace every month from 2012 to 2014, and that there are currently 466 e-cigarette brands online, offering more than 7,700 flavors!

As someone who spent his lifetime witnessing the horrible, destructive health effects of smoking, I was appalled at what I have learned.

Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF, says “We now have for the first time since 1972 nicotine addiction advertising back on television. A major concern is that e-cigarettes will make smoking seem more “normal” or socially acceptable again. A lot of people see these e-cigarette ads and think they’re cigarette ads. That to me is very, very bad. The net effect e-cigarettes seem to be having is to make the tobacco epidemic worse.”

Even worse, vaping threatens to reverse the last few decades of progress in steering young people away from smoking.

The shrewd marketing of e-cigarettes (aka e-hookahs) targets teens. Vaping manufacturers are now less inclined to promote e-cigarettes as safe. Instead, they portray them as modern and glamorous! Their marketing focus is on consumer choice, vap flavors and vaping models.

They offer a variety of “smoke juice products” in candy-sweet and fruit flavors – strawberry, cherry, blueberry, grape, peach, mango peach, apple - that appeal to kids, with names like gummy bear, kissable breath, lovely bubbly, snicker doodle, cherry crush, melon delicious, double apple, marshmallow, and piƱa colada.

Hooking kids on nicotine to once again make smoking fashionable!

According to Glantz, research shows that “once kids try e-cigarettes, they are more likely to also smoke traditional cigarettes. The kids who were e-cigarette users were actually heavier smokers.”

Yet they are not nearly as harmless as they want us to believe. They contain addictive nicotine and other toxic chemicals.

Nicotine is the drug in tobacco that causes addiction. It is particularly harmful to young people. The human brain continues to develop until the mid-20s. During that time, the brain is very sensitive to the influence of nicotine, which can change the physical structure of the developing brain and how it functions, which will leave lasting impacts. Because no one regulates e-cigarettes, there is no way of knowing how much nicotine vaping delivers.

Other chemicals in e-cigarette vapors are compounds called nitrosamines, the potent cancer-causing chemicals thought to be the main cause lung cancer in tobacco smokers. Other carcinogenic chemicals include formaldehyde and acrolein, sometimes used as a weed killer.

E-cigarettes also deliver high levels of nanoparticles, which trigger inflammation and have been linked to asthma, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes.

Vaping also exposes nearby non-users to the harmful vapors. This is called secondhand exposure.

Big Tobacco is vacuuming up e-cigarette manufacturers like a turbo-charged Shark vacuum cleaner! Some analysts predict that sales of e-cigarettes will eclipse sales of regular cigarettes.

We have always known that Big Tobacco has no shame. And, Barry shows, once again, that he too has no shame.

“I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.” - Jonathan Swift

Pearl said...

Denis:thank you for taking the time to give us this excellent, frightening report. It should be circulated widely.

So while Michelle is lecturing about eating more healthy (and more expensive foods), this is going on to negate any gains in keeping our children and family members healthy. Yes, drones and wars are also definitely not good for one's health.

Karen Garcia said...


Thank you for enhancing the post a thousand-fold. Your research results also make the cavalier, laissez-faire attitude of the Obama administration and their co-conspirators in Congress a thousand times worse in my mind. Their psychopathy knows no bounds, and it is getting hard to keep up with its myriad sick manifestations. (drones, scrapping of ozone rules, coziness with Wall St., etc, etc) It's fascism, all right.

Zee said...

I stubbed out my last cigarette on August 31, 1982, at approximately 7:30PM. That date is burned into my memory.

Quitting smoking was the hardest thing that I have EVER done, so when, some years ago, I saw tobacco company executives on television swearing before congress that cigarettes were not addictive, I almost threw a shoe through the screen.

One of my few recurrent nightmares is that I dream that I have decided that I can have “just one” cigarette, promptly burn through an entire pack and am hooked again, throwing away 32 years of restraint in an instant.

I still enjoy the smell of second-hand smoke, and if I were told tomorrow that I was terminally ill, the first thing I would probably do is buy a quart of really, really good single-malt Scotch and a carton of smokes.

That's how addictive nicotine is.

My libertarian side tells me that if someone wants to kill him/herself with alcohol or nicotine (not that I'm a teetotaler by any means), well, let 'em, as long as they are old enough to make an informed choice.

But such products should be controlled, properly labeled, and most definitely NOT marketed to people under the age of 21.

PS: It is perhaps ironic that I “learned” to smoke tobacco as a university sophomore as “practice” for being able to smoke weed. I quickly lost interest in pot, but I was unable to quit cigarettes for another dozen years, by which time I was up to two packs per day and couldn't breath in Albuquerque's thin, mile-high atmosphere.

Denis Neville said...


Congratulations on quitting that many years ago.

Many ex-smokers have told me similar stories – the exact day they quit, the enjoyment of being around the aroma of secondhand smoke, missing a cigarette most while enjoying a good drink or after a job well done.

Over the many years I have witnessed how hard smoking cessation for so many people. Many who wanted to quit often could not kick their habit. Many smokers who said they didn’t get any enjoyment from smoking couldn’t quit. Others said the only real pleasure they received was from just the rituals of lighting up and twirling the cigarette in their fingers.

Smoking is a severe and complex addiction which consists of physical, mental, behavioral and social dimensions. It is for this reason, as Mark Twain once said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.”

Quitting smoking makes life so much better. Not starting is even better.

That is why the Obama decision is so abominable. Would he want his daughters to vape?

stranger in a strange land said...

Ron Swanson: The whole point of this country is if you wanna eat garbage, balloon up to 600 pounds and die of a heart attack at 43, you can! You are free to do so! To me, that's beautiful.

Karen, slightly off topic - I'm curious if you have any thoughts about the recent Supreme Court ruling on Aereo, the startup company that allowed customers to watch/record over-the-air broadcast television on personal electronic devices.

Pearl said...

Some interesting economic facts:

httCash stash may reflect fear of wealth going out of fashionp:// via @reuters

Isaiah Earhart said...

@Denis Neville
Thank you, that was pretty awesome, very informative, and thoughtful.

This administration has been a neoliberal wet dream, and I don't believe there will be a "carve out" for tobacco regulations in the TPP for which Obama works very hard to get fast track authority.

Big Tobacco has been setting its sights on poor countries' children for the purpose of expanding their markets. Regulations are weak, nonexistent,or go unenforced, hence- market tobacco to children. I believe one of the TPP's primary objectives is to prevent foreign governments and local populations from protecting their children and citizens from massive corporate plunder.

What we do abroad, regardless of how vicious, will eventually come home to roost:

Kat said...

Oh no. You do miss it. Being in Europe after quitting was torture-- so many people enjoying their cigarettes outside. I remember being at the top of a mountain in Switzerland that had a restaurant and watching three men approach-- they had hiked up the mountain. They put down their large packs, headed to the stand that was serving beer settled in and lit up. I thought that must be heaven!
Back in the states, I remember lighting up outside and having a woman-- a total stranger-- say to me "you're going to kill yourself with that filthy habit". That's the US for you. I most definitely did not think "wow! This woman really cares about my healt". It was more like "something to lord over me".
In the summer months my husband does enjoy a post prandial cigar outside in our modestly sized yard-- not a Downton Abbey smoking room. I like the smell of them.
I suppose Europe is becoming more Americanized though. Too bad. I've never been to the UK, but I've read that smoking bans have done a number on pub culture.

James F Traynor said...


It's hard isn't it? Saying it. That it's fascism. When I was a kid you never said "It's cancer." For a working class, Irish Catholic kid at that time, it was a withholding of God's beneficence - a kind of curse.The afflicted had to have been guilty of some crime against the deity,or against Mother Church.

But you got it right, kiddo, it's fascism.

Fred Drumlevitch said...


Not to minimize the addictive power of tobacco, but nonetheless, my late father quit cold-turkey one day in the 1960s --- as a result of a $5 bet with a co-worker. At least for him, not wanting to lose the bet --- obviously, more about not wanting to lose face than about money, since the bet wasn't a large one --- was enough motivation. And he stayed completely off tobacco despite my mother being a smoker.

My mother quit about a decade later. That, however, required some intervention on my part. Without her knowledge, I went into her cigarette packages and shortened each cigarette by a considerable amount! Obviously, she noticed with the first one that she took. But she did not buy new ones. And the reduced size probably worked much as step-down nicotine patches do today.

By the way, when considering government's role in the history of tobacco use, including subsidies to growers and failure to regulate, we should not forget for how long government sold cigarettes very very cheaply in the base post exchanges, enabling generations of military and other PX users to more thoroughly harm themselves.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I didn't even realise e-cigarettes even existed! More junk for people to blow their money on! Yet so many of the same people will say organic food is too expensive and they can't afford to eat healthily and support organic farmers. Very interesting comments from Denis and Zee.

As for Obama and his ilk - I agree with Isaiah; the TPP will finish off any regulation of tobacco. These multinationals are never beaten, they just retreat to fight/tip the scales in their direction another day.

Zee said...


You got that right!

That woman wasn't concerned about YOUR health. She just saw an opportunity to feel superior to someone else.

As I was getting off my motorcycle one day-- out running errands--I had a total stranger come up to me and say " You know what e-room doctors call motorcycle riders? Organ donors."

And then he walked off.

Again, someone just looking for an opportunity to feel superior.

Jay - Ottawa said...

Off Topic Alert!

The Manchurian Candidate, that allegorical character refashioned by the bad side of the cold war to subvert the good side of the cold war, was a singular soldier, a prisoner of war made into a civilian robot for the wrong side. Well, whole nations can be –– and have been –– turned into “candidate nations” or robotic super teams acting in unison for reasons far from the simple love of one’s native land. National mindsets of leviathan proportions are shaped by mass exposure to slanted histories, followed by daily doses of propaganda, which are then celebrated across every quarter of popular culture.

The bulk of American history textbooks in high school and college serve to make a “candidate nation ” out of the USA –– the histories of Howard Zinn and David Brian Davis being notable exceptions. The newspaper of record, the New York Times (which even lefties feel they must refer to every day) takes care of the continuing day-to-day indoctrination while inculcating the illusion that it is still, all print and digital media considered, the best source of keeping up with the news. In big time sports, like the arenas of professional football and baseball, patriotic manifestations are becoming more and more elaborate. TV cop shows do their cultural best in explaining why conformity is the best course, otherwise life, even in the modern state, must of necessity again become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” Now do you see now why we need the NDAA and the militarized police?

As most of us know, Truthout is one of the best news aggregators around. It has just posted a remarkable essay. It is a key document in the contemporary struggle for justice. It should be copied down, printed, carried around in pocket, read and reread at every opportunity until it falls apart, all in the effort to counter a lifetime of indoctrination into the myth that capitalism is, despite faults at the margin, the best available economy in service to humanity.

Author Fred Guerin, a Canadian, is relatively new on the scene. He has a handful of past articles in Truthout. Although a PhD candidate he writes with elegance or, as Marianne Moore put it, in an English simple enough to be understood by cats and dogs.

Pearl said...

Jay: Before I delve into the obviously excellent article about Capitalism I want to thank you in advance for posting it. I promise to read it all carefully, not that I need persuasion but to honor someone who obviously speaks the painful truth.
Unfortunately, being a socialist in spirit, what is painful is to know that creating a better system for humans to live together well in, cannot truly be obtained in pure form.
The drives we have for survival will have to be changed somehow before ANY seemingly humane system can survive fairly without being taken over by certain members wanting more for themselves.
I would not like to have to lower my standard of living so that everyone else has more even if shared unless forced to.
But, I will wait for more comments to come in before chiming in further.
Thanks for the connection. I think Truthout is great but can only take some of it in at a time.
The truth hurts.

stranger in a strange land said...

Re: the Truthout article linked to by Jay - the author Fred Guerin writes in support of his central conclusion (that capitalism itself is so systemically flawed it cannot be redeemed):

We know today, from abundant empirical, sociological, psychological, genetic, archaeological and anthropological evidence, that Hobbes' theory of human nature as intrinsically "selfish" is deeply flawed. We are not "naturally" selfish - though we can, indeed, learn to be so.

Guerin goes on to ascribe the greed, narcissism, and selfishness of the "glorified masters" of capitalism to a kind of moral mutation.

His article is well written and persuasive regarding the flaws inherent to capitalism, but that one bit stuck in my craw.

Once upon a time I occasionally volunteered in the church nursery where congregants would drop off their sniveling toddlers during the service. My empirical takeaway from that experience tends to support the exact opposite: that humans are indeed naturally selfish (though capable, perhaps, of learning to be less so).


"Above all, the possibility of alternative economic visions, perspectives and practices have to be grounded in the reality that we share a limited world, and that we are and have always been capable of creating an economic system and public policies that preserve the health and well-being of the planet and all of the creatures that inhabit it."

Also true:

"Communism doesn't work because people like to own stuff." ~ Frank Zappa