Friday, May 29, 2009

More attacks on elderly smokers

San Lorenzo Park Apartments is a 78-unit senior’s housing complex, subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In February, smoking tenants were given 90 days to quit smoking or face eviction from the Santa Cruz, California facility. As a small concession to smokers, they will be permitted to light up in a small corner of a garden, more than 50 feet from the complex, in weather fair or foul.

Mary Tustin of the John Stewart Co. (managers of the building) says: "It's just been problematic for the non-smokers with asthma and those who find the smell offensive.”

According to the article, “management was bombarded with complaints of secondhand smoke” and decided threat of eviction was “the only way to force everyone to comply.” Everyone meaning smokers. But, there was nothing in the article to suggest that the management company did any investigative review of the alleged problem.

For example, when they say they were bombarded with complaints, what exactly do they mean? Were the complaints from 10 individuals complaining once or one individual complaining multiple times? How many of the complainants actually suffered from asthma where cigarette smoke was a known trigger? How many were just “offended by the smell”? What other actions were considered or taken by management to alleviate the concerns of non-smokers? Or did they just follow the anti-smoker playbook and resort to a smoking ban as their first response?

Tustin is quick to point out that there is no "right to smoke," and smokers are not a protected class under fair housing laws. This, of course, makes this draconian action against the half-dozen or so smokers at San Lorenzo Park Apartments perfectly acceptable in the judgment of Tustin.

Dorothy Del Mar, 82, and Alice Welch, 85, are both life-long smokers who reside at the complex. And, the threat of eviction has obviously added a significant amount of stress to the lives of these octogenarians. Says Welch: "This warning has fouled up our health. We're thinking, where are we going to go? We have nowhere to go."

But as callous as the building management might be in the persecution of the elderly smokers in the complex, some of the comments made by readers are even more inconsiderate.

Said one comment: “Evict these elderly chimneys! They are ruining the health of the non-smoking residents. Send them down to the river and let them smoke with the other indigents under the bridge. Face the facts Gramps, if you smoke, you can’t live here. We don’t want you or your lousy cigarettes any more.”

And another: “Smoking seeps through all the cracks, vents, doorways, and from window to window. It’s crazy to think that we should let seniors in government assisted housing contribute to the ongoing health issues of seniors in the complex.”

And, this: “Prohibition doesn't work. But restrictions do. Restrict cigarettes to a small corner of hell where they belong.”

This kind of shoddy treatment of the elderly and infirm is not new. It’s happened before and it will happen again.

The de-normalization campaign launched by the anti-smoker cult is obviously having the desired effect. The cultists have succeeded in convincing a large portion of the population that secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard rather than a mere nuisance. The constant repetition of suspect science and exaggerated statistics has exhausted the public’s ability to apply any measure of common sense.

The propaganda of the cultists has created an irrational fear of SHS which has led to the blatant persecution of all smokers, not just the residents of the Santa Cruz senior’s complex.

Mary Tustin may be correct; there is no legal right to smoke. But, the lack of any specific right to smoke should not be used as an excuse to discriminate against the most vulnerable members of society; the elderly and infirm.

It should not be used to ignore the moral obligation to reach a reasonable compromise and allow these aging smokers a measure of dignity in their final years. But then, compassion and thoughtfulness are unknown among the disciples of the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Smoking cessation & SCHIP, a catch-22

The SCHIP bill (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) in the US which became effective in April, 2009, raised taxes on cigarettes, cigars, and other tobacco products to expand children’s health care for low and middle-income families. Federal taxes on cigarettes increased from 39 cents per pack to $1 and are expected to raise 33 billion dollars annually to fund the expansion of the federal health care initiative.

The anti-smoker cult in the US gleefully supports the shake down of smokers because, as they see it, it will force some smokers to quit. Uh-huh.

That’s the kind of circular logic that will have John Q Public scratching their heads and wondering if there are any politicians in Congress with an IQ higher than their age. Why would anyone with a modicum of common sense tie the expansion of a government health program to a declining revenue source?

On the one hand, the government levies a tax on smokers to fund the health care initiative, while with the other they hand out huge amounts of cash to anti-smoker fanatics to wage war on smokers. But, by forcing smokers to quit, and preventing others from taking up the habit, they reduce the tax base required to support the initiative. Catch-22.

This paradox was not lost on the Heritage Foundation. Prior to approval of the bill to expand SCHIP, they pointed out the shortcomings of the legislation. In an article, by Michelle C. Bucci and William W. Beach, they noted that: “To produce the revenues that Congress needs to fund SCHIP expansion through such a tax would require 22.4 million new smokers by 2017”.

The article suggests that the expansion of the SCHIP program will likely run into difficulty within a few years. By 2013, for example, the Heritage Foundation estimates the initiative will need 9 million new smokers to maintain the revenue level required to sustain the program.

Of course, they could simply increase the tobacco tax to compensate for the lost revenue, thus forcing more smokers to quit or find alternative, less expensive sources for their tobacco products. But this approach has already been responsible for the creation of a very lucrative black market which cuts into both tax revenue and the profits of legitimate business enterprises which depend on cigarette sales to stay in business. And, the number of smokers who will actually quit due to the tax increase is debatable.

Of course, there are other solutions. One is to terminate the SCHIP program and leave millions of people without health care; the other is to transfer the tax burden to non-smokers. Neither will be popular among the general population.

After reading the article from the Heritage Foundation, it seems pretty clear that by expanding the health care program through increased tobacco taxation, the government has painted themselves into a corner.

Increasing tobacco taxes is a short term, band-aid type answer to a problem which requires long-term, sustainable solutions. And, it's bad public policy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Let's sue somebody, government hypocrisy

Provincial governments are lining up to file a class action suit against the tobacco companies, ostensibly to recover costs for treating “smoking related” illness.

Back in March, Ontario’s Attorney General, Chris Bentley, proposed legislation that would give the province legal standing to sue tobacco companies. Bentley claims the annual cost to the health care system in Ontario is 1.6 billion dollars and the government wants the tobacco companies to foot the bill.

And, a week or so back, the Calgary Herald was reporting similar legislation was being considered which would allow Alberta to climb aboard what many provincial governments see as a potential gravy train. They should take a second look; the potential adverse consequences could be catastrophic.

As the Herald article points out, the government already collects more in tobacco taxes that it alleges it spends on health care for smokers.

According to the figures provided on their web site, Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada estimate that the total cost of medical treatment for smokers was $4.36 billion in 2006. For the 2005/2006 fiscal year, combined revenue for the two senior levels of government was $7.09 billion from taxes on tobacco products, not including sales taxes and taxes paid directly by the tobacco companies.

Yet, the provincial governments, perhaps driven by the constant badgering of the anti-smoker cult, are determined to extort even more money from Canada’s 5 million smokers. And, no doubt about it, it will be smokers who pay the price.

When state governments in the US settled their lawsuit against the tobacco companies, the price of cigarettes was raised to offset the cost. Only an insignificant fraction of the multi-billion dollar settlement, called the MSA (Master Settlement Agreement), was spent to benefit smokers. And, even that amount was directed to anti-smoker groups to “encourage” smokers to quit through a campaign of harassment and intimidation.

But, if provincial governments are hoping to emulate the US agreement, they’re in desperate need of a reality check.

Point number one: As noted in the Herald article, claims that the industry misrepresented the potentially harmful effects of “light” cigarettes are somewhat disingenuous. Dr. Michael Siegel points out on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, the introduction of low tar and nicotine (light) cigarettes was a recommendation made by the National Cancer Advisory Board in the US. The tobacco companies implemented the advice voluntarily. To turn around over 30 years after the fact and accuse the industry of misrepresentation is a stretch.

Point number two: If the government really believes that cigarettes and other tobacco products are as lethal as they claim, they should have shown the courage of their convictions and banned cigarettes from the marketplace. Instead, they treated tobacco like a cash cow, milking consumers for every penny they could extract.

The Imperial Tobacco web site notes that out of the estimated $55.46 average cost of a carton of value brand cigarettes, the government collects $42.93 in taxes. Over 75% of the cost of a carton of cigarettes goes to the government in one form of taxation or another. This misguided and hypocritical lawsuit is merely another cash grab by money hungry politicians.

Point number three: The high cost of cigarettes, due to usurious levels of taxation, has led to a huge black market in contraband smokes. Federal and provincial governments easily generate four times the revenue of the tobacco companies every year. And, with each new tax grab, contraband activity increases. Despite huge increases in taxes in recent years, government revenues from taxation have actually declined. Tobacco consumers have turned, justifiably, to the black market to provide their tobacco needs. Nobody likes to pay extortion, legal or otherwise.

Point number four: Canadians who approve of ill-advised tobacco tax policy designed to control personal behaviour should give their support some serious second thought. It’s a very slippery slope. Governments in the US and Britain are already contemplating an obesity tax on soft drinks, junk food and increased sin taxes on alcohol.

The tax grabs won’t stop with tobacco. And, if the government succeeds in bankrupting the tobacco companies, or forcing smokers to quit in great numbers, someone will have to make up the billions in lost revenue currently being extorted from smokers.

Canadians riding the anti-smoker bandwagon should start thinking about where the government will turn to replace that lost revenue, especially if they’re a little overweight or enjoy a cold beer on a warm afternoon.

Because they're next on the hit list.

Friday, May 15, 2009

No smoking, no e-cigs, it's Nicorettes or nothing

It looks like the Nicorettes or nothing crowd in the anti-smoker brigade have got their knickers in a knot . . . again. This time the wailing and gnashing of teeth is over the test marketing of several new products by RJ Reynolds Tobacco.

The manufacturer of Camel cigarettes is testing consumer interest in dissolvable tobacco products. One such product, Camel Orbs, comes in the form of a pellet which is designed to “melt in the mouth". Others include Camel Sticks, a twisted stick the size of a toothpick and Camel Strips, a dissolvable film strip which is placed on the tongue.

All three products are designed to deliver nicotine to the user in much the same way as Nicorette gum and lozenges, free of the toxins allegedly found in conventional tobacco products..

Reynolds spokesperson Maura Payne says: "Consumer research has found that adult tobacco consumers have wanted another option for using tobacco where it wasn't comfortable or they weren't permitted to smoke."

And, thanks to the anti-smoker extremists, the number of places where smokers are forbidden to light up has grown considerably over the last couple of years.

But, why are the fanatics already denouncing the new products and demanding they be banned? After all, they will reduce the use of conventional tobacco products and that’s in the best interests of public health, isn’t it?

Not according to Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Says Myers: "These products appear to be part of a continuing effort by RJR and other tobacco companies to get around the growing number of smoke-free laws and give smokers new ways to sustain their addiction in places they cannot smoke.”

But, aren’t Nicorette gum and lozenges also marketed for the same purpose; to provide a nicotine hit in circumstances where smoking is prohibited? What’s the difference? Why should pharmaceutical nicotine products be pushed by the anti-smoker cult while they demand similar products from the tobacco industry be banned?

And, if dissolvable nicotine products circumvent smoking bans, so what? The purpose of the smoking bans was, supposedly, to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke, wasn’t it? And, won’t Camel Orbs and other products do just that?

The truth is smoking bans weren’t meant to protect anyone from next to the non-existent hazards of secondhand smoke. They were meant to force smokers to quit. But, that’s another issue.

Says Myers: "These products are flavored and packaged like candy, and very likely will appeal to children."

But, Nicorettes also come in a wide variety of flavours; cherry, mint, etc. Why should Camel Orbs be any more appealing to kids than Nicorettes?

I suspect the real reason for the opposition to the new product line is the same as their opposition to the electronic cigarette. They represent serious competition for nicotine products sold by the drug companies. And, if smokers are provided with any choice, it is the drug companies which are likely to suffer most.

The anti-smoker cult receives a substantial amount of funding from the pharmaceutical industry. If the drug companies start losing sales of their nicotine products to the electronic cigarettes or other reduced risk tobacco products, that funding will be in jeopardy.

In addition, the e-cig and the dissolvable nicotine products represent another threat to the anti-smoker cult. They have the potential to substantially reduce conventional cigarette consumption. The result would be a significant loss in tax revenue on taxable tobacco products, from which comes another major source of funding for the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker.

Alternative nicotine delivery systems have the potential to save lives. Why are these “public health” groups so opposed to their introduction into the marketplace? Are they really willing to continue exposing the public to the alleged hazards of conventional cigarettes to protect the bottom line of their pharmaceutical sponsors?

The new nicotine delivery products should be tested for safety on the same basis as those sold for smoking cessation. It should be done as quickly and efficiently as possible. And, marketing of both should be restricted to adults.

But an outright ban is most likely not in the best interests of public health.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Banning the e-cig

The US Congress is considering legislation that would give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory responsibility for cigarettes and other tobacco products. It is expected that the legislation will be approved by the end of the year.

The regulatory bill was a compromise reached between the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, with support from many other anti-smoker groups, and Philip Morris, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the US. But not all anti-smoking advocates support the legislation.

Michael Siegel is a physician and a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at Boston University School of Public Health. He has spent many years as a passionate tobacco control activist. And, he strongly opposes the pending FDA legislation, tackling the subject on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, several times over the past year.

Siegel contends that Philip Morris out-maneuvered Tobacco Free Kids and its anti-smoker allies and conned them into forging a piece of legislation which would protect the interests of the tobacco giant for many years to come. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the Boston Herald, Siegel said: “Proposed legislation would institutionalize all cigarettes now on the market and make it nearly impossible for new products - which might be much safer - from entering the market.”

Siegel’s article focused on current efforts by a number of anti-smoker groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, to have the FDA ban e-cigs (electronic cigarettes).

He argues that the proposed ban on e-cigs protects cigarette companies from competition from the much safer electronic versions of conventional tobacco products. Says Dr. Siegel: “Today, in extreme irony, these health groups stand as the most vigorous protectors of the current market of conventional cigarettes.”

He goes on: “It is clear that the real purpose and effect of the FDA tobacco legislation is to protect the conventional cigarette market from competition. And unfortunately, that competition - in the absence of FDA legislation - would come from truly reduced risk products, such as e-cigarettes. This is precisely why Philip Morris was brilliant in enticing the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other health groups into supporting FDA regulation of tobacco products."

Dr. Siegel’s piece in the Herald is a pretty stinging indictment of the pending FDA legislation and the anti-smoker groups who fashioned it in co-operation with Philip Morris. But, I think he gives too much credit to the US tobacco giant and their negotiating skills. And, perhaps in the interests of brevity, he omits some very pertinent information.

For instance, he fails to mention that the increasingly popular e-cig also represents significant competition to the drug companies peddling Nicotine Replacement Therapy. The makers of Nicorettes, Nicoderm, Nicorette Inhaler, etc. have as much, if not more, to lose than the tobacco companies. And, the drug companies provide a considerable amount of funding to the anti-smoker brigade pushing for the FDA legislation and banning of the e-cig.

And, protecting the cigarette companies from competition also protects tax revenue at both the state and federal level. In addition, any appreciable decline in smoking prevalence could also compromise funding for the new SCHIP initiative. And, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which provides billions of dollars in funding at the state level, is also highly dependent on the continued sales of tobacco products.

There’s a fair amount of irony in the fact that governments have made themselves heavily reliant on the continued robust sales of tobacco products which they ostensibly aspire to curtail “for the public good”.

A few weeks back Dr. Siegel posted an article on his blog supporting the contention of author Patrick Basham that “. . . Philip Morris skillfully hoodwinked a coalition of 'useful idiots,' including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Senator (Ted) Kennedy, and Congressman (Henry) Waxman, at every turn.”

But, that’s only one interpretation of how the proposed FDA legislation was hammered out. And, I think painting Philip Morris as the ultimate horse trader, duping the poor, ignorant farm boys, will be a hard sell.

Could all these anti-smoker types really be that dumb?