Friday, July 31, 2009

FDA media blitz to discredit e-cigs

On July 22, 2009, a press release from the US FDA declared the electronic cigarette to be hazardous based on tests that concluded the cartridges of some e-cigs contained “detectable” levels of tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). But, in fact, the FDA offensive against the e-cig actually began many months prior to the July 22 press release.

In March, FDA actions led to shipments of the e-cig being denied entry into the US by customs officials. Health Canada followed a similar course of action.

The FDA unilaterally declared the e-cig to be a drug-device, the drug being the nicotine also found in cigarettes and NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) products such as Nicorettes and Nicoderm. But, they had done so without public notice or public comment and, apparently, with little or no discussion with distributors of the device. So, long before their press release, efforts were underway to scuttle the fledgling e-cig industry.

One odd thing about the FDA move to restrict import of the device was that the action was taken before the results of the tests which found detectable (but not hazardous) levels of carninogens were known. That report was dated May 4, 2009, several months after the import restrictions imposed by the FDA.

The import restrictions meant distributors could not fill orders from consumers interested in purchase and use of the e-cig. Faced with the prospect of losing their business, one distributor, Smoke Everywhere (SE), filed a lawsuit against the FDA on April 28, 2009. They claimed that the FDA had no authority to regulate the e-cig because it was a smoking product, not a drug therapy. In May, a second distributor (Njoy) joined the lawsuit.

This lawsuit was referred to in an e-mail sent to anti-smoking activists by the FDA on April 29, 2009: “Other background, hidden factors: Action involves three largest distributors. One of the distributors has just sued FDA seeking a restraining order to prevent us from holding their product at the border.”

The FDA e-mail advised anti-smoking activists of the plan for “enforcement action” to be taken against distributors. The correspondence, from Heather Zawalick, set the planned release date of the campaign as May 5, 2009. The plan was described in the e-mail.
“Extensive rollout planned including press conference at HHS, press release, fact sheet, video for upload to YouTube, podcast, consumer article, consumer Q &A, key message points, internal media Q & A, Op-Ed, photos of products for posting on Internet.”

The FDA was, in effect, contemplating a full scale media blitz to discredit the e-cig and discourage it's use. The still unanswered question is why?

Many well known public health advocates had recognized the potential health benefits from the e-cig, and were endorsing it's use as an effective means to reduce the alleged harm of conventional cigarettes. So, why was (is) the FDA so intent on discouraging the distribution and sale of electronic cigarettes with their import restrictions and scare-mongering tactics ?

After receiving the e-mail outlining the agency's pending assault, some notable anti-smoking activists are known to have protested the proposed action.

Among them was Dr. Joel Nitzkin, the chair of the AAPHP (American Association of Public Health Physicians) Tobacco Control Task Force. His written response to the FDA began: “I must vigorously oppose the proposed FDA ban on electronic cigarettes”.

In his May 1, 2009 e-mail to Heather Zawalick , Dr. Nizkin pointed out the dismal success rate of NRT in smoking cessation (a 95% failure rate at 12 months). He also noted that: "As best we can tell, on the basis of currently available research data, these products promise a risk of illness and death well under 1% of the risk posed by cigarettes."

To put that number into perspective,Health Canada estimates 37,000 smoking related deaths annually in Canada. Reducing that number by 99% leaves a total of 370. The numbers are far greater in the US. The obvious question to be asked: Is ignoring the enormous potential to save tens of thousands of lives really in the best interests of the consumer?

Nitzkin also pointed out there there were other ways to deal with the FDA contention that the e-cig might encourage teens to become addicted to nicotine:
“there are ways to address this . . . that would inhibit teen use of such products while allowing current adult smokers who are unwilling or unable to quit to enjoy the health benefits this product can offer.”

Dr. Nitzkin and other like-minded professionals were ignored.

The FDA press release, originally scheduled for May 5, 2009 was postponed to July 22, 2009, possibly to allow for passage of legislation giving the FDA regulatory control over tobacco products as well as drugs. Or, perhaps it was postponed to allow the FDA to complete preliminary tests to support their strategy of condemning the e-cig as unsafe.

By coincidence, the tests conducted by the FDA were conducted on samples of cartridges taken from the two distributors who had launched a lawsuit against the FDA (although only SE was party to the lawsuit at the time) .
“The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research through the Office of Compliance (OC) has requested that the Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis (DPA) evaluate two brands of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) for nicotine content and other impurities.”

Nor was the FDA free of outside influence when making their decision to denounce the electronic cigarette. In April, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a rabid anti-smoker organization, filed a legal petition demanding the FDA begin regulatory proceedings over the e-cig.

And, US Senator Frank Lautenberg wrote to the FDA in March:
“I am writing to request that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take immediate enforcement action against manufacturers of “electronic cigarettes” and take these products off the market until they are proven safe.”

This overly-long ramble does not prove a conspiracy to undermine the electronic cigarette, nor is it meant to.

But, it does suggest that the FDA response to the introduction (and growing popularity) of the e-cig is not based on credible science. It does suggest that the FDA actions are driven by pressure from political and special interest groups, rather than concern for the public health. In fact, all the major anti-smoker groups, the ALA, CTFK, ACS, etc., support the FDA in their opposition to electronic cigarettes. And, the question, in light of all the evidence, remains: why?

At most, the preliminary tests conducted by the FDA demonstrate that there may be some (easily resolved) quality control issues with some e-cig manufacturers. But FDA efforts to cripple the industry are not in the best interests of the consumer.

The biggest fear of the FDA and the anti-smoker crowd appears to be that the electronic cigarette walks and talks like a duck. It looks like a cigarette, and to many, those who use it look like smokers. And, that's unacceptable to the anti-smoker crowd.

Additional reading:
Michael Siegel - FDA and Anti-Smoking Groups are Committing Medical Malpractise on a Massive Scale
StandFAST - Why anti-smokers oppose the e-cig

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

E-cigs and the FDA's lies of omission

Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to manipulate public perceptions thereby eliciting a response which will achieve the desired intent of the propagandist. Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus lying by omission), in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented.

Nothing better illustrates this propaganda technique than the July 22, 2009 press release by the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), designed to demonize the electronic cigarette.

The press release stated that electronic cigarettes contained toxic and cancer causing chemicals. On the surface, it's an honest claim. But the big lie is not in the claim itself; it's in the omission of certain facts which would have served to put the FDA claims into proper perspective.

In fact, the level of deceit and deception in the press release issued by the FDA is appalling; public health scaremongering at its most devious.

Bill Godshall, an anti-smoking activist and director of Smoke Free Pennsylvania, had this to say in a comment on Dr. Michael Siegel's blog: “Wednesday's scare mongering press conference by the FDA and CDC (Centre for Disease Control) was the single most egregious conspiratorial action ever taken by a federal health agency to intentionally mislead the public about scientific evidence and to prolong the leading cause of disease, disability and death.”

Godshall, a proponent of less hazardous tobacco products, fears that the banning of the e-cig will force smokers who have managed to reduce or eliminate cigarette consumption with the e-cig, to return to conventional tobacco products. And, there can be little doubt that the press release was deliberately designed to mislead the public as Godshall claims.

The FDA message, stated clearly and unequivocally in their press release: “These tests indicate that these products (electronic cigarettes) contained detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed."

But, according to Dr. Michael Siegel, an anti-smoking activist, and Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, “it would be nearly impossible not to have detected these carcinogens in the cartridges because the nicotine is derived from tobacco and there are residual traces of carcinogens even in nicotine replacement products.” (Emphasis his)

The FDA failed to mention, thus lying by omission, that nicotine replacement products (NicoDerm, Nicorettes, the inhaler, etc.) were also found to have detectable levels of the same tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA). A fact that has been known for many years. Why attack the e-cig because of the presence of trace amounts of TSNAs while ignoring their presence in NRT products?

Nor did the agency report the actual levels of TSNAs, ignoring one of the most basic tenets of medicine: the poison is in the dose. Reporting only whether TSNAs were detected or not provides little of value. The important question is whether the carcinogens are present in sufficient quantities to represent a health hazard. And, according to many experts they aren't.

In addition, the content and tone of the press release suggested that the e-cig is being deliberately marketed to minors because the flavoured nicotine cartridges appeal to children. “These products are marketed and sold to young people and are readily available online and in shopping malls” And this:. “They are also available in different flavors, such as chocolate and mint, which may appeal to young people.”

But, there are other, more appropriate methods of dealing with the possibility of minors acquiring and using the e-cig. There are ways to control use by minors while allowing the adult population to continue their use of a product that has potentially enormous health benefits for those unwilling (or unable) to quit smoking.

And, they fail to mention that the FDA recently approved cinnamon and cherry-flavored nicotine lozenges. Nicorettes have come in different flavours for some time. And, they are just as accessible by young people. Just last week, a British lad was hospitalized after overdosing on nicotine gum distributed in his school.

Hypocrisy just oozes from the FDA press release. The double standard is blatant and impossible to ignore. And, the science leaves a lot to be desired. The press, as usual, pays little attention to opposing voices within the public health community, parroting the allegations of the FDA with little or no attempt to provide balance.

And, there is one more troubling, more ominous aspect to the FDA attempt to demonize the e-cig. But, I'll talk more about that in my next post.

Additional reading:
Prominent Public Health Physicians and Tobacco Researchers Expose Double Standard in the FDA's Recent Study of Electronic Cigarettes and Challenge the FDA's Alarmist Attitude Toward the Devices

Friday, July 24, 2009

Anti-smokers resort to century old tactics

There are many who may think the current anti-smoking campaign is something new. It's not. The humble tobacco leaf has been at the centre of controversy since Columbus discovered America and some of his crew members took the evil weed back to Spain.

Villagers at home, seeing smoke issue forth from the mouth and nostrils of one of the crew members, thought him to be a fire breathing dragon and had him slain by the Inquisition.

OK, OK. I made up the part about the fire breathing dragon. But history shows that Rodrigo de Jerez, a crew member of Columbus, became a confirmed smoker and took the habit back to his hometown in Spain. And, his neighbours were so frightened by the sight of someone smoking, he was imprisoned by the holy inquisitors for 7 years. Lucky for him he wasn't caught smoking a joint, God knows what they might have done to him.

According to an 1981 article by Gordon Dillow found on the Legacy tobacco documents site,.the first big anti-smoker campaign in North America was launched around 1890, although there were a few minor skirmishes before that. And, according to Dillow, in the early part of the twentieth century, the anti-smoker fanatics were no less inclined to exaggeration than they are today. And, they lied just as good too.

Dillow's article mentions a news item from the New York Times in 1890. "New Jersey - The death of eight-year-old Willie Major, a farmer's son, from excessive cigarette smoking is reported from Bound Brook. The boy had for over three years been a victim to the habit. He would stay away from home several days at a time, eating nothing but the herbs and berries of the neighborhood and smoking constantly. Sunday he became ill and delirious. He died Tuesday in frightful convulsions."

Judging from this unbiased example of investigative journalism, we must assume that the Times at the time supported the anti-smoker agenda. Some things never change.

Education magazine told its readers in 1907: "There are in the United States to-day 500,000 boys and youths who are habitual cigarette smokers. Few of them can be educated beyond the eighth grade, and practically all of them are destined to remain physical and mental dwarfs."

Don't laugh. There could be some validity to that statement. On a personal note, I stand six foot tall and tip the scales at 190 pounds. I've been smoking for 47 years. Standing beside my son, however, I look like a chimpanzee standing next to a gorilla (even without a cigarette in my hand). So, maybe smoking did stunt my growth. And, over the past half-century, I've had more than one individual question my intelligence.

The same publication cites several other cases which point out the serious impact smoking had on kids. "Case No. 1: Began habit at 4, taught by boys 6 and 7. Almost physical wreck now at 13. Sight poor, voice like a ghost, hearing impaired. Steals. In first grade."

Geez. Smoking the evil Indian weed turned the kid into a physical wreck; a half blind, hearing impaired shrimp of a thief who was too dumb to graduate from first grade. That's serious shit. And after only 9 years of smoking. I guess we can safely assume he was an orphan. Otherwise, his parents might have noticed he had a problem and done something to correct it.

And just like today, cigarettes were claimed to be the cause of every illness under the sun. Dillow notes in his article: “Among the maladies attributed to cigarette smoking were color blindness, "tobacco ambylopia" (a weakening of the eyesight), baldness, stunted growth, insanity, sterility, drunkenness, impotence (or sexual promiscuity, depending on the point to be made), mustaches on women, and that traditional bugaboo of nineteenth century America, constipation.”

And, anti-smoker crusaders were just as prone to the use of frightening and/or fraudulent statistics. Apparently, one Reverend George Trask, published an anti-smoking pamphlet entitled “Thoughts and Stories for American Lads", warning of the dangers of tobacco. In 1859 he wrote: "Physicians tell us that twenty thousand or more in our own land are killed by tobacco every year. German physicians tell us that of deaths of men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, one-half originate from this source."

Uh-huh. Apparently, the science was as suspect a century-and-a-half ago as it is today. Everything old, it seems, is new again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mama don't allow no e-cig smokin 'round here

As noted in my last post, using the e-cig has many health benefits and social advantages compared to smoking real cigarettes They can be used to circumvent smoking bans because they do not use tobacco. There is no smell associated with the e-cig, nor is there secondhand smoke to cling to clothing or furniture. So even your non-smoking friends should have no cause for complaint if you sneak a drag or two in their presence.

The health benefits are all too apparent. The e-gig is primarily comprised of nicotine and propylene glycol, without the thousands of “toxins” associated with tobacco.

And, according to the Nitroderm web site: “Cigarettes cause cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, and other disorders. It is the toxins in cigarette smoke, rather than the nicotine content, that is responsible for the majority of the harmful effects.” Of course they were talking about the use of nicotine in their smoking cessation products: the patch, the gum, the inhaler, etc.

Public health set out decades ago to eliminate or reduce the alleged adverse health effects of smoking. The e-cig has the potential to do just that. So why are the big players in the anti-smoker cult, like the ACS (American Cancer Society), not endorsing it's use. More importantly, why are some anti-smoker radicals attacking the e-cig with the same venom they usually reserve for smoking tobacco.

Suffolk County (New York) has launched a campaign to restrict use of the e-cig in the same manner in which smoking cigarettes is restricted. This includes banning use of e-cigs in bars and restaurants. The headline on the press release proclaims: “(County Legislator) Cooper Seeks to Keep High-Tech, Unregulated Smoking Devices Out of the Hands of Young Smokers”. Uh-huh. It's to protect the kids.

(Just to veer off topic for a moment, every time the anti-smoker crowd claims their actions are to protect the kids, I try to place my back against the wall and refuse to bend over without donning a pair of cast-iron trousers. It usually means that consenting adults are about to “get the shaft”.)

Now, many people would look at that headline, and nod their heads in agreement. Yes, they'll think, we have to protect the kids. But, take the time to read it again. The devices must be kept “out of the hands of young smokers”. Did they really mean to imply that young smokers are better off smoking genuine tobacco products?

Of course, the bullshit and bafflegab are apparent from the opening paragraph of the press release: “a new, high-tech smoking threat has emerged in the form of "electronic cigarettes."” But, the e-cig is not a smoking threat. It works on the same principle as the nicotine inhaler sold by the drug companies and recommended by the major anti-smoker groups, including such notables as Health Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health Propaganda, er . . . Promotion.

Paragraph two begins: “Marketed towards young smokers . . .” But, they offer no evidence to support that claim. And, from what evidence is available, the e-cig is being marketed to adult smokers who might want to cut down on their smoking or who are seeking a way to beat the smoking bans. In fact, all the sites I've visited have made special note that the e-cig would not be sold to minors. In addition, it was implicitly stated that it was designed for use by current smokers and not recommended for non-smokers. In addition, the price tag of $75 to $150 places the e-cig outside the average teen-age budget.

Paragraph four claims: “After inhaling, the user then blows out the heated vapors producing a "cloud" of undetermined substances that is virtually indistinguishable from traditional smoke.” We'll call this one a slight exaggeration. At first glance, the exhaled mist (mostly propylene glycol) does look like tobacco smoke. A second glance, however, shows the that the mist is not acting like cigarette smoke; it does not waft towards the ceiling and dissipates rather quickly.

And, anti-smoking advocate Dr. Michael Siegel notes on his blog: “The e-cigarette has been tested and the only two substances that are emitted and which might expose a bystander to any degree are nicotine and propylene glycol. It is unclear that electronic cigarette use causes significant exposure to either of these substances among nonusers."

Paragraph five reaches new heights in hyperbole. "These devices combine the appeal of an iPod with that of candy cigarettes. But they also have the potential to create a life-long addiction to nicotine. They’re just too dangerous to be left unrestricted. I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to be able to get their hands on them."

That statement was attributed to Suffolk County Legislative Majority Leader Jon Cooper, the sponsor of the bill to ban e-cigs. But, it has to be noted that no one, including the manufacturers and retailers of the e-cig, is opposed to restricting sales of the product to adults. It's the second part of the bill that has people concerned. The part that would “place the same public usage restrictions on e-cigarettes that are already in effect for traditional forms of smoking.”

The press release goes on: “To make matters worse, the current lack of governmental testing and regulation means that e-cigarette manufacturers and marketers can make whatever claims they want about these dangerous devices.”

Hmmm. Of course, if there's been no testing, just what evidence is Mr. Cooper and his cohorts relying on to label e-cigs dangerous. And, the real question is not whether the manufacturer can make claims, but whether they have actually made any claims which are untrue or which misrepresent the facts.

No. The real threat is not to the kids. From the Suffolk County press release: “So now, after nearly a decade of progress on public smoking bans nationwide, e-cigarettes are being used where traditional forms of smoking are outlawed. This is causing distress from non-smokers worried about the health effects of second-hand smoke.”

Yeah. That statement puts opposition to the e-cig in some perspective. The real threat is to the anti-smoker cult and their war on smokers.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why anti-smokers oppose the e-cig

A recent post on Dr. Michael Siegel's blog takes the ACS to task over their opposition to the electronic cigarette. But, efforts to stifle the fledgling e-cig market are to be expected.

Many people dislike the smell of tobacco smoke. That's not something new, those opposed to smoking have been complaining about the smell for decades. In a letter to the New York Times dated November 10, 1911, Dr. Charles Pease of the Non-Smokers' Protective League of America wrote: “The right of each person to breathe and enjoy fresh and pure air - air uncontaminated by unhealthful or disagreeable odors and fumes is a constitutional right, and cannot be taken away by legislatures or courts, much less by individuals pursuing their own thoughtless or selfish indulgence.”

Just look at the names of some of these anti-smoker groups today. Clean air this, smoke free that. Everything old is new again. In fact, without the smell, the fanatics would have a very difficult time garnering support among non-smokers who comprise the majority of the population.

A case in point. The Japan Tobacco Company recently applied for a Canadian patent on a technique that would practically eliminate the tobacco smell from cigarettes. It was (is) opposed by the anti-smoker crowd on the grounds that it would mislead the public into believing that, since they could no longer smell the tobacco, they were safe from the alleged (and grossly overstated) hazards of secondhand smoke.

To the rabid anti-smoker, that's one strike against the e-cig. It has no noticeable tobacco smell; nothing to raise the ire of non-smokers.

Smoking bans are intended to eliminate smoking in public (and many private) venues. The e-cig is a nicotine delivery system, not a tobacco product. Therefore, it is not subject to the profusion of draconian smoking bans that have sprouted up around the world in the last decade. Smokers can turn on the e-cig in restaurants, bars, casinos, etc., without breaking the law.

Smokers can rely on the e-cig in those venues where smoking is prohibited, while continuing to enjoy the real thing in private and the few places where smoking has not been declared sinful or illegal. This, of course, defeats the real purpose of smoking bans, which is to force smokers to quit. The anti-smoker crowd can't even fall back on their strategy of claiming that bans are necessary to protect workers or “the kids”.

Strike two against the e-cig. It can be used by smokers to circumvent smoking bans without actually quitting.

Another reason why the growing popularity of the e-cig is troublesome to the anti-smoker, is that it's use closely mimics the actions of smoking. In appearance, it resembles a cigarette. In addition, all the physical actions of smoking are present;puffing (drawing the vapour into the lungs); exhaling the vapour which, to the casual observer, looks like smoke; holding or playing with the cigarette, etc. The only thing associated with smoking you don't have to do with an e-cig is light it.

And, most readers will be aware that the very sight of someone smoking is anathema to the anti-smoker. They claim that the sight of someone smoking could encourage those who have quit to return to the nasty habit. Worse, in the eyes of the anti-smoker, is the belief that if the kids should see someone smoking, they might perceive smokers as normal and/or become instantly addicted.

And, if the sight of someone smoking is so dangerous, can the sight of someone pretending to smoke be any less harmful?

Whoops; that's strike three.

And, did I mention that, since the e-cig is reusable, there's no butt left to dispose of; no litter for the anti-smoker crowd to whine about. But, I guess that's immaterial since we're all out of strikes.

And, I've mentioned in other posts the potential adverse financial impact of the e-cig on the anti-smoker crowd.

In fact, if the e-cig manages to penetrate the market, it threatens the financial well being of all parties. The tobacco companies face reduced sales of their tobacco products, the pharmaceutical industry loses their stranglehold on NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) products and governments stand to lose billions in direct (and indirect) tobacco taxation currently being extorted from smokers.

The cult-like anti-smoker industry also stands to lose financially. Their funding is dependent on tobacco sales (through the MSA), the pharmaceutical industry (largely through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) and government largesse (which would likely drop dramatically should tobacco tax revenue decline).

The truth is that the anti-smoker cult perceives the advent of the e-cig as a threat to their very carefully laid plans to denormalize smokers and perhaps force some of them to quit.

So they've placed themselves in the blatantly hypocritical position of demanding a ban on e-cigs, while actively promoting similar products (nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers, etc.) distributed by their partners in the pharmaceutical industry.

And, now they want to ban e-smoking (called vaping) in the same way they banned cigarette smoking. But, that's for my next post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A smoker's health & anti-smoker hate

Denormalization refers to efforts to force smokers to quit by branding them as a sub-human, nicotine addicted species, unworthy of common courtesy or consideration.

It started with smoking bans; first on commercial flights, then all forms of public transit. Bans, first implemented in public buildings, were then expanded to private establishments: bars, restaurants and private clubs. Now, bans have grown to include privately owned automobiles where minors might be present. And the zealots are now pushing (and, in some cases succeeding) to ban smoking in public parks and even in private homes.

The smoking bans were predicated on the contention that secondhand smoke was a health hazard rather than a mere nuisance to non-smokers. But the evidence was, and still is, flimsy, at best.

But, the real reason for the smoking bans is to force smokers into social isolation. In a blatant attempt at behavioural modification. The anti-smoker cult reasons that, if they can reduce the number of places a smoker can light up, they can reduce the number of people smoking. Cultists, you must understand, hate smoking, and by extension, they hate smokers.

The campaign of denormalization is intended to stigmatize smokers, by making them appear, in the eyes of the public, as abnormal individuals engaged in a filthy habit that is injurious to both themselves and those around them.

And, denormalization was implemented by the anti-smoker cult with the full consent of Canadian governments at both the provincial and federal level. And, both levels of government have not only condoned the constantly escalating degree of discrimination, in housing, employment and even medical care, they have actively engaged in the process.

Punitive levels of taxation, readily imposed by greedy politicians, are another form of discrimination directed at smokers. The intention is to force smokers with low incomes to quit by pricing cigarettes out of their reach. It's a regressive system of taxation which strikes at the most vulnerable in society. Billions of dollars are extorted from smokers every year.

The government approved tactics of the anti-smoker cult are designed to denigrate, demean and discriminate against smokers. They would not be tolerated if they were used against any other minority; not blacks or homosexuals or Jews. And, these tactics have been justified by the constant repetition of a web of lies, deceit and deception; a propaganda campaign the likes of which has not been seen since the dirty thirties.

The majority of Canadians, including roughly 7 million former smokers, are non-smokers. CTUMS (Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey) estimates that the smoking prevalence rate is just under 20% of the population over 15 years of age. That's roughly 5 million Canadians who smoke; a sizable minority within the population. 5 million Canadians who have been reduced to the status of second-class citizens.

And, the anti-smoker cult, buoyed by government support and the complacency of non-smokers, are reaching new lows in their campaign against those who choose to smoke.

Two recent news reports demonstrate clearly and convincingly that the anti-smoker campaign of denormalization is not about health; it's about spreading a message of hate.

From Britain comes a vile comment which shows just how much contempt anti-smoker cultists have for the health of smokers. Jane DeVille Almond, a British nurse and anti-smoker zealot, told a radio audience, in essence, that smokers should have to quit or be denied medical procedures offered to the non-smoking population. Said Jane: “They'll just have to die.”

And, another repugnant storycomes from India. Doctors at one hospital have posted a sign which reads: “ Smokers will be beaten up.” Uh-huh. No namby-pamby fine, for smoking in a no smoking zone. These idiots are threatening violence. Says Dr. Abhijit Chowdhury, “we want to send a cultural shock so we can do wonders of behavioural modification.”

Uh-huh. It's dangerous being a smoker these days.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chantix, smoking cessation and unwanted help

Champix is back in the news. Or perhaps I should say “Still in the news.”

Champix (or Chantix, as it's known in the states) is a smoking cessation drug manufactured by Pfizer. The main ingredient, varenicline tartrate, works by blocking nicotine receptors to the brain and reducing the pleasure which comes from smoking..

In an October (2008) post , I noted that both Health Canada and the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) had issued alerts advising that serious neuropsychiatric symptoms had occurred in patients using the drug including the possibility the drug could lead to suicidal ideation and may have been responsible for a number of suicides and attempted suicides.

On July 1, 2009 came news that the FDA had strengthened their warning. “The FDA has mandated a " Black Box Warning" requiring Pfizer Inc., manufacturer of Chantix, to strengthen warnings about the health risks and dangers associated with using the drug. The FDA Advisory also requires new "Black Box" warnings to be included on packages of another smoking cessation drug, Zyban (buproprion).”

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) banned pilots and air traffic controllers from using the drug. Commercial drivers were also banned from using Chantix last year.

But, despite the potential for adverse reactions to Champix, the pharmaceutical industry (and the Tobacco Control industry) tout the benefits of both these drugs as aids to smoking cessation. And, they (correctly) point out that millions have used the drug with no discernible adverse consequences.

A cynic might point out that, since it's only smokers who will use drugs such as Champix and Zyban, only smokers are at risk. Which leads to the conclusion that smokers lives are expendable, and any risk is acceptable if it helps smokers quit the habit.

But, as long as use of the drug is a matter of choice, and consumers are made aware of the possible dangers inherent in the drug, then there's no foul . . . right?

Wrong. Intense social and economic pressure is being applied to smokers in an effort to force them to quit. Draconian smoking bans limit the number of social venues in which a smoker feels comfortable. Punitive levels of tobacco taxation severely impact the finances of the most vulnerable members of society.

There is a growing list of employers demanding their employees be non-smokers, efforts to declare residential apartment buildings smoke-free and a host of other measures designed to de-normalize smokers. All are coercive measures which have a tendency to curtail freedom of choice.

For example, smokers faced with the prospect of losing their jobs or seniors faced with the prospect of losing their subsidized apartment if they continue to smoke will be very susceptible to the ultimatum to “quit or else”. And, given the severe consequences of either scenario, they could easily be coerced in using suspect smoking cessation drugs against their better judgment.

In a November 2008 post, I noted that Dr. Gerry Brosky, a researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax was planning a study to determine if Champix (varenicline) could be used to “help” a smoker to quit even if he didn't want to. Uh-huh. A study to determine if smokers who didn't want to quit could be given medication to induce them to quit.

In the same article, I noted that Dr. David B. Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder National Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at the American Legacy Foundation, said in an interview with the New York Times, “The real hope is that we could give pre-adolescent kids a vaccine, just like we do for childhood diseases.” Uh-huh. He was referring to a vaccine that would prevent kids from taking up the habit.

Now, this post should not be construed as a suggestion that there is a conspiracy afoot to force or otherwise coerce adults or children into taking drugs which they may not want to take. But, the de-normalization campaign, led by anti-smoker crusaders, has had a devastating effect on the social, economic and physical well-being of smokers. This deliberate stigmatization makes smokers susceptible to many forms of coercion.

And, just for the record. A December 2008 press release from Nabi Biopharmaceuticals announced it has reached agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on a Special Protocol Assessment (SPA) for a pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial of NicVAX. NicVAC is “the company's innovative and proprietary vaccine to treat nicotine addiction and prevent smoking relapse.” Could this be the vaccine contemplated by Dr. Abrams . . . to be administered to pre-adolescent children?

Paranoid? Maybe. I don't expect they'll strap smokers to a gurney and forcibly inject them with a vaccine or Champix.

But, it's unlikely the pharmaceutical companies are developing these smoking cessation drugs for the benefit of mankind. And, it's equally unlikely they are providing massive amounts of funding to the anti-smoker crusaders without expecting some return on their investment. The more smokers who can be forced or coerced into quitting, the greater the demand for drugs, be it pharmaceutical nicotine in the form of patches, gum or lozenges or potentially deadly drugs like Champix or Zyban.

I guess we really have little to fear. After all, the drug companies and their anti-smoker allies are conducting their war on smokers for our own good. They're determined to “help” us quit smoking whether we want them to or not.

Even if it kills us?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Australlian smokers face $20.00/pack cigarettes

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH, New Zealand) director Ben Youdan is taking aim at a new initiative by British American and Imperial Tobacco to reduce the price of a pack of some of their cigarette brands. Says Youdan: "It's well documented that increasing the price of cigarettes was one of the best things you can do in terms of reducing use and therefore improving health."

ASH, along with other anti-smoker groups, is concerned that price cuts of up to a buck a pack by tobacco companies will make smoking more affordable and lure former smokers back to the habit. But, even worse in the eyes of Youdan, they're reducing prices on cigarette brands that are smoked by those on the lowest incomes. “They're not taking premium brands and making them cheaper," said Youdan.

And, of course, the reduced prices are viewed as detrimental to the health of the kids. After all, if poor people can afford to buy smokes, then the kids might be able to buy them too. “Price plays a very important role in reducing tobacco use, particularly among young people who are the most price-sensitive group in the population. The higher the price, the less people smoke," said a health ministry spokesmen. Uh-huh.

I wonder how much the price would have to increase to force smokers in the higher income brackets to give up the habit?

It's disheartening to see how truly vindictive these anti-smoker cultists can be; vindictive and myopic. If they would just take off the blinders, they might see that a policy of high tobacco prices, especially when it's accomplished through punitive levels of taxation, actually becomes counter-productive.

Of course, it's possible that they don't have the same problem with contraband in New Zealand as they do here in Canada. But, I doubt it.

As taxation rises to confiscatory levels, the potential for profit in the black market economy grows exponentially. Sales of legal tobacco product may go down, but the sales of contraband go up accordingly. And, that usually means that the kids they're allegedly trying to protect from the perils of smoking will be able to get smokes easier and cheaper from the bootleggers who have no qualms about providing cheap black market smokes to underage young people.

And, the latest news from Australia, is that the government there is poised to double the taxes on cigarettes.

ASH (Australia) chief executive Anne Jones, spouts the usual anti-smoker rhetoric claiming that a tax increase will reduce consumption by four per cent for every 10 per cent increase in price. And, of course, it would also reduce the number of children taking up the habit. Says Jones: "We're right behind the recommendations for doubling the price to $20 (a packet) and using that revenue to then drive down smoking rates."

Of course, when she says “using that revenue to then drive down smoking rates”, she means providing funding for the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker, of which her group is an esteemed member of the congregation. And, it should be pointed out that the increase would raise an estimated $1.97 billion a year for government coffers; at least, theoretically.

But, the politicians should give the issue some serious second thought.

Here in the Great White North, with the highest levels of tobacco taxation in North America, the ever-increasing price of cigarettes has created a well entrenched and formidable black market. As a result, governments have actually seen tax revenue decline by billions of dollars.

In Ontario and Quebec, Canada's most heavily populated provinces, it's estimated that over 40% of cigarettes sales are contraband.

But the effects of usurious levels of tobacco taxation reach far beyond the decline in tax revenue.

For example, convenience stores, which rely on tobacco sales for 30% to 70% of their revenue, also suffer adverse economic consequences. And, it's not just tobacco revenue they lose. Smokers buying cigarettes from the trunk of a car also spend less on impulse items, confectioneries, soft drinks, etc., because they're no longer making regular visits to the local corner store to pick up their fags.

And, actions taken by the anti-smoker crowd to limit the availability of tobacco products to minors are also compromised. Individuals selling cut-rate smokes from the trunk of a car are unlikely to ask for ID. So, increases in tobacco tax are likely to have a detrimental affect on youth smoking rates.

In addition, there's the added cost of policing contraband activity.

The effects of a public heath policy which relies on penalizing adult smokers for engaging in a legal activity are becoming glaringly obvious. And, the prevarication that anti-smoker efforts to punish smokers with vindictive smoking bans and punitive taxes is “for the good of the kids” is wearing a little thin.

Also wearing thin are most of the other lies being touted by the anti-smoker cult. For instance, an Australian Health group, Quit, says increasing the cost of smokes will save thousands of lives. And, Quit policy manager, Kylie Lindorff, makes the audacious claim that 60 per cent of smokers supported jacking up prices. Uh-huh.

Can't you just hear the victims of the Inquitition demanding of their tormentors: “Turn the screws up a notch, it'll help me confess my indiscretions.” If 60% of Australian smokers feel that guilty about their habit, they should simply quit. Tens of millions worldwide have done just that, without the need of NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy).

What's really amazing is the number of people, including smokers, willing to buy into the bullshit and bafflegab.