Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lowering punitive tobacco taxes not in the cards

As expected, Dalton McGuinty's Liberals shot down MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) Toby Barrett's attempt to lower tobacco taxes in Ontario. His private members bill was defeated on second reading in the provincial legislature. Barrett's proposal would have cut the punitive tobacco tax by 33% and asked the federal government to do the same.

Barrett's proposed legislation was intended to help reduce the rapidly escalating problem of contraband in the province which he claims is now 50% of tobacco sales in Ontario.

Said Revenue Minister John Wilkinson: "We are with those who believe that we need to get our smoking rates down (and) that taxation is an effective deterrent..I think it's important that people understand when they buy illegal cigarettes, they are stealing from their neighbours."

Wilkinson is wrong on both counts. When people buy illegal smokes, they're not stealing from anyone; they're protecting themselves from the legalized extortion demanded by senior levels of government. And, taxation is no longer an effective deterrent to smoking. In fact, the usurious levels of taxation have become counterproductive and may be doing much more harm than good.

In 1994, federal and provincial governments saw that contraband tobacco was becoming a problem. They lowered taxes. But, around 2000, anti-smoker crusaders lobbied government to impose dramatic new tax increases, once again driving consumers into the welcoming arms of the black market.

In 1994, it was estimated that only 11% of tobacco was illegal; today it's 50% and, according to Barrett, some experts claim it could go as high as 80% by the end of next year.

And, tobacco taxes are no longer having the desired effect.

According to a 2007 study by PSC (Physicians for a Smokefree Canada): “The number of smokers in Canada has remained virtually unchanged over the past 5 years.”

PSC claims that, in 2005, there was an estimated 4,889,511 smokers in Canada; by 2007, that number had climbed to 5,165,376. Smoking prevalence went from 18.7% to 19.2% over the same period. Contraband sales went from an estimated 4% in 2002 to a whopping 40% in 2007. And now, they're estimated at 50% of the market.

In addition, tax revenue dropped from 1.453 billion dollars in 2004, to 1.217 billion in 2007. That's a 226 million dollar loss in provincial tax revenue. A loss that not only continues, but continues to grow. Latest estimates from the provincial Auditor General's report estimates Ontario is now losing $500-million in taxes due to contraband tobacco.

But, the provincial government, and their colleagues in Ottawa, are prepared to spend tens of millions more on policing contraband sales rather than admit that their tax-gouging policies have been an abject failure. The politicians prefer to kiss the collective ass of the anti-smoker brigade and punish 20% of the adult population in a futile attempt to impose a backdoor form of tobacco prohibition.

It's not working.

And, the reason it's not working is that a contraband smokes can be manufactured for less than $8.00 per carton of 200 cigarettes. In Ontario, provincial tobacco tax alone is roughly three times that amount per carton. Ottawa adds twice that amount. The potential for profit in the black market is huge; literally billions of dollars. It is this direct and indirect taxation on tobacco that makes the sales of contraband even more attractive to the flourishing black market.

The demand exists whether the anti-smoker fanatics like it or not. Government is unwilling to allow the legal market to fill that demand; at least not at a price the consumer is willing to pay. Dealers in contraband stand ready and willing to furnish the supply side of the equation. And, rake in sizable profits for their efforts.

Most politicians refuse to admit that tobacco taxes exceeded their effective limit years ago; that they are now faced with the law of diminishing returns. Heads buried firmly in the sand, they'd rather find fault with consumers for refusing to pay punitive, discriminatory taxes. No other legal product in the country is taxed to such extremes.

Yet, the provincial government seems poised to exacerbate the problem, rather than resolve it. They are prepared, once again, to allow the anti-smoker brigade to dictate public policy. OCAT (Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco), one of the more strident anti-smoker groups, continues to insist that penalizing smokers financially is the most effective way to force them to give up the habit.

Ottawa and Queen's Park will ignore the lessons learned in the early nineties when contraband threatened to get out of control. They'll ignore the lessons from the early part of the twentieth century when attempts to prohibit alcohol led to an upward spiral of illegal activity and violence.

And, they'll ignore the fact that it was following advice from rabid anti-smoker groups which is, in large measure, responsible for the current problem with contraband.

Politicians followed that advice, hoping to enhance government coffers with an opportunistic tax grab. But, every tax increase added greater financial incentive to the criminal element. And, the law of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences has done the rest.

Young people have greater access than ever to cheap cigarettes; from the trunk of a car, without the hassle of providing ID. Tobacco wholesalers and retailers are unable to compete with the far less expensive contraband. Tax revenue is declining despite the highest levels of tobacco taxation in Canadian history.

Politicians believe more stringent enforcement will resolve the issue. History, and common sense, suggest otherwise.

Unfortunately, Toby Barrett's effort to bring some common sense to the debate was doomed from the start.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Anti-smoker propaganda, not so subtle deceptions

Propaganda is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person”. Sounds fairly innocuous. Until you realize that misleading statements and the omission of pertinent information (even outright lies) are often used by the propagandist to convey a message that is not, in fact, accurate.

A recent example of propaganda is the FDA assault on, and efforts to ban, the electronic cigarette. The FDA informed the public that electronic cigarettes contained carcinogens. But they neglected to mention that the same carcinogens were present, in similar concentrations, in nicotine replacement products such as nicotine gum, nicotine lozenges, etc. They lied by omission.

Another example: the results of scientific studies, ostensibly showing a decline in heart attacks following the implementation of smoking bans, are released first to the media, prior to peer review and publication in a legitimate medical journal. And when the conclusions turn out to be unwarranted, the media have already disseminated the baseless conclusions. But, corrections are, more often than not, ignored, leaving the public to believe the original lie.

It's a process known as “science by press release”. And, it's simply another form of propaganda.

Even the more subtle forms of propaganda can alter public perceptions to troubling degrees. For instance, the anti-smoker claim that: “Smoking causes more deaths every year than homicide, suicide, car accidents and HIV combined”; or the many variations on that theme.

Most Canadians accept such assertions without question, especially when they come from government sources such as Health Canada or the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion. But, many such claims are deliberately intended to mislead the public. They fit the definition of propaganda.

The claim that smoking causes more deaths every year than homicide, suicide, car accidents and HIV combined is meant to suggest that there is only one cause for those deaths – smoking. But, no one actually dies of smoking; they die from so called “smoking related diseases”, which have been, to greater or lesser degrees, statistically linked to smoking.

There is no ICD (International Classification of Diseases) classifying smoking as a cause of death. Smoking may, or may not, contribute to deaths caused by ischemic heart disease (IHD), lung cancer, influenza, etc., but smoking is not the cause of those deaths. To claim otherwise is disingenuous and deceptive.

And, there are 20 individual classifications of death lumped together in the non-existent disease classification of smoking. These classifications include 11 different cancers (including lung cancer), influenza, stroke and pneumonia. It includes IHD which causes over 40,000 deaths annually, only 13% of which are attributed to smoking.

So those “smoking” deaths are the sum of 20 distinctly different causes of death, not smoking. Using a non-existent disease classification (smoking) obscures that fact. It is a propaganda ploy.

Even the term “smoking related diseases" is meant to mislead. It implies that these diseases are caused exclusively by smoking when the truth is that they are multi-factorial; they can be (and are) caused by any number of factors totally unrelated to smoking.

Health Canada and their anti-smoker allies don't mention the multi-factorial nature of smoking related diseases, however. They don't mention that slightly less than 1/3 of deaths from so-called smoking related diseases are attributed to smoking.

Along similar lines, Health Canada also claims that almost half of current smokers, unless they quit, will die of a smoking related disease – eventually. That may not be a lie. It is, however, misleading.

What Health Canada fails to mention is that “almost half” of all deaths recorded in Canada in any given year are likely to fall into one of the 20 ICD classifications designated as smoking related diseases: heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia, lung cancer, influenza, etc. StatCan's 2002 mortality tables, for example, show that, of the 223,000 deaths recorded in that year, roughly 110,000 (“almost half”) were caused by one or another of those “smoking related diseases”.

So, is it really surprising that “almost half” of smokers would also die from those same diseases?

This kind of propaganda has always been used as a tool to achieve political goals. It is not exclusive to any one form of government. Regimes of all kinds, communist, dictatorship, socialist and, yes, even democratic governments use propaganda to influence public opinion.

The inherent problem with propaganda, of course, is that it can be used by the unscrupulous to maliciously denigrate and demean targeted groups within a population. And, that's the case with the propaganda campaign being waged against smokers.

It is being used, not merely in an attempt to influence public opinion, but to create a public perception of smokers as abnormal, degenerate human beings. It is intended to promote fear and hatred of smokers through the deliberate distortion of facts. It endeavours to justify blatant discrimination against smokers in such areas as employment, housing, social interaction, parenting, etc.; all in the name of “public health”.

And, whether you call it propaganda or bullshit and bafflegab, it means that 5 million Canadian smokers are getting the shaft.

Monday, September 21, 2009

More suspect science to justify smoking bans

Here we go again! Blaring headlines from the press declaring smoking bans an unqualified success. “Smoking ban has led to dramatic fall in heart attack rates” reads one; “Heart attacks plummet after smoking ban” reads another. The headlines say it all. Or do they?

Researchers,” claims a Mail OnLine article, “say the number of heart attacks in England plummeted by 10 per cent in the year after the ban was imposed in July 2007.”

And, they offer as evidence . . . the unsubstantiated claims of anti-smoker researchers. Uh-huh. The Mail OnLine article points out that the study itself will not be released until sometime next year. So the allegations of the researchers are unverified, have yet to be peer reviewed and remain unpublished by any reputable medical journal. Yet, journalists are ready to distribute the results of the study as fact.

The Daily Mail article notes: “Anna Gilmore, from Bath University, is leading the research into heart attack rates in England.” But, Anna Gilmore is not simply a researcher “from Bath University.”

Reviewing her profile on the University web site finds the following: “I am a member of various expert groups including the WHO Expert Committee on tobacco industry interference with policy, the Royal College of Physician’s Tobacco Advisory Group, the Council of ASH and the South West tobacco control alliance strategy group. I am also Theme director and Specialist Faculty Adviser for UICC’s Tobacco Academy and from January 2009 will move from the Editorial Advisory Board of Tobacco Control to become one of the journal’s senior editors.”

Among her funding sources, she lists: “The Health Foundation, Cancer Research-UK, Smokefree Partnership, Department of Health, US National Institutes of Health, European Commission, Canadian Institute of Health Research. Recent consultancies for the American Cancer Society, the Union (on behalf of the Bloomberg Global Initiative To Reduce Tobacco Use) and the Polish Health Promotion Foundation.

Now, after reviewing her profile and funding sources, a laymen might be forgiven for suspecting that Ms. Gilmore has competing interests which could make her research somewhat slanted.

That doesn't mean that her research is deliberately biased. But, given her professional associations, it's obvious she has strong personal opinions on the subject matter. And, for a journalist to ignore the distinct possibility of bias and print her uncorroborated claims as fact is irresponsible.

And, in this case, the journalist, as is the case in most such studies, made no effort whatever to present his story in a balanced fashion. Only anti-smoker activists were quoted in his article

John Britton, identified as a Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at Nottingham University: “We always knew a public smoking ban would bring rapid health benefits, but we have been amazed by just how big and how rapid they are.”

Ellen Mason, identified as a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, is also quoted: “Exposure to cigarette smoke induces rapid changes in blood chemistry, making it much more prone to clotting. In someone who has narrowed or damaged coronary arteries, smoke exposure can tip the balance and cause a heart attack.”

Not a single dissenting voice. Not a single question raised as to the validity of Gilmore's conclusions. Of course, no one could possibly offer any informed criticism of the study itself, since it hasn't been published or otherwise made public yet.

And that, apparently, is the point. Without access to the study and the data it contains, no one can argue with the conclusions claimed by Ms. Gilmore. And, since the study won't be released until next year, Ms. Gilmore is free to make whatever claims she chooses in the interim with no possibility of censure.

It's a process Dr. Michael Siegel refers to as “science by press release”.

The conclusions of a study are released to the media and distributed to the public prior to peer review or publication At that point “it is impossible to judge whether the conclusions of the study are valid or not. And if the conclusions turn out to be unwarranted, then it will be too late to reverse them. The media have already disseminated the conclusion widely. Any correction given down the road would have little effect.”

Based on data obtained from other sources, Dr. Siegel and author Christopher Snowdon (Velvet Glove, Iron Fist) have already taken issue with the 10% decline claimed in the Gilmore study.

Says Dr. Siegel: “Unfortunately, because this is science by press release, we have no idea of how the researchers came up with their 10% figure, what methods they used, what data this figure is based on, and whether there is any validity to their conclusion that the observed decline in heart attacks is attributable to the smoking ban, rather than to the established secular trend of declining heart attacks over the past seven years in England.”

Science by press release is a dishonest way of presenting “scientific” information to the public. In fact, according to the Times OnLine, “Gilmore’s research is incomplete and she emphasizes the final results for England will not be published for several months.”

Incomplete? But, she's already drawn her conclusions. The press has already informed the public. Just when did Ms. Gilmore arrive at her conclusions? Before the study began perhaps?

It's sad to see the scientific process subverted to justify smoking bans and other discriminatory practices directed at smokers. It's even more disconcerting to see the media complicity implicit in the tactic of “science by press release. But, I wonder how long it will be before an indifferent public grows wise to the subterfuge?

Dr. Siegel concludes his latest post on this issue by saying: “The scientific integrity of the tobacco control movement is imploding before my very eyes.”

Uh-huh. My question for the Doc. What scientific integrity?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

MPP seeks to roll back tobacco taxes

Toby Barrett has seen the light. Tobacco taxes are too high and have reached a level where they have become counter-productive. A politician exhibiting common sense? Or a modern day Don Quixote?

According to the Ontario MPP (Member of the Provincial Parliament) for Haldimand-Norfolk, contraband cigarette sales in Ontario “now account for more than 50% of cigarettes on the street.” He's pegged the cost to Ottawa and the provinces at 2.5 billion dollars in lost tax revenue in 2008 alone.

So, as noted in the Brantford Expositor, he's introduced a private members bill (The Tobacco Tax Reduction Act) to reduce tobacco taxes in Ontario by 33%. And, he wants Ottawa to follow suit.

And, Barrett's website points out that: “It was this type of cooperation that shut down illegal tobacco in 1994. During the 1980s and 1990s, high tobacco taxes and retail prices fostered smuggling and by 1991, it was believed that one in every nine cigarettes in Canada was contraband, yielding $709 million to smugglers.”

The government should have learned a lesson. They didn't. Instead, they allowed the self-appointed, unelected saviours of public health to set public policy; to lead them around by the nose and once again raise tobacco taxes to even more usurious levels. Did they really expect a different outcome?

Of course, Barrett's private members bill hasn't got a snowball's chance in hell of gathering support in the Liberal dominated provincial legislature. In fact, I'd be surprised if he receives anything beyond token support from his own Conservative colleagues. Political correctness trumps common sense every time in the Alice in Wonderland world of politics.

And, pointing to lessons learned from past mistakes will prove equally futile.

One drawback to Barrett's plan? In 1994, Canada and the provinces could make the decision to lower taxes in the national interest. But, since then, the country has signed on to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Tobacco policy is no longer decided in Ottawa, or Queen's Park in Toronto. It is dictated by the WHO (World Health Organization) in New York.

And, just in case politicians at the federal or provincial level should forget that fact, you can expect the anti-smoker crowd to remind them of their “international treaty obligations.”

The anti-smoker pressure groups, funded in large measure through taxpayer dollars, will shoot down Barrett's bill just as surely as "Wop" May shot down the Red Baron. He'll be lucky if he has a chance to rev his engine, let alone get into the air.

Barrett complains that: “The McGuinty government has spent $13 million on Smoke-Free Ontario and $7 million on cessation ads in recent years and yet the number of smokers does not seem to be going down.”

Nor is smoking prevalence likely to go down anytime soon. Excessive tobacco taxation has created a multi-billion dollar black market willing to provide smokers with the product they want at a price they are willing to pay. And, as long as smokers remain the target of unjustified, punitive levels of sin taxes, they will ignore the law intended to make smoking cost prohibitive and buy the cheaper contraband product rather than quit. Government has declared war on tobacco . . . and smokers, by extension, are the enemy.

Says Barrett: “This is an opportunity for the Ontario Liberals to do something positive for the people of Caledonia, for tobacco farmers, and for corner store operators across the province.”

Fat chance. Barrett seems unaware that Ontario's tobacco farmers have already been royally screwed; there's no chance of recovery. And, convenience store owners will see little benefit in a 33% tax reduction.

Smokers have had several years to see and appreciate the full extent of the tax gouging at both the federal and provincial level. And, they know why they're being targeted. They'll be reluctant to return to legal, taxable tobacco product knowing full well that, a year or so down the road, the government extortion will begin anew.

The anti-smoker crowd will continue their efforts to turn smokers into second-class citizens. They'll continue their efforts to denormalize smokers; to turn them into something unclean. They'll continue to demand government funding to finance their moralistic, discriminatory campaign. And, the politicians will continue to kiss the collective ass of the anti-smoker activists because that's the prevailing public sentiment.

The debate on his bill is scheduled for September 24, 2009. But, there will be little actual debate. Members of the legislature will rise one by one to support the continued discrimination against smokers. They will repeat the fraudulent statistics, declare that secondhand smoke kills and that the debate is over and, eventually, the bill will die a slow death as is perhaps intended.

For surely, Barrett is aware that he is proposing a bill with absolutely no chance of success in the current climate of fear-induced hatred created by the anti-smoker cult.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Making tobacco cheaper & more accessible for kids

There are few Canadians who would disagree with the proposition that otherwise legal commodities such as alcohol and tobacco should be kept out of the hands of children. The logic behind such restraints is perfectly understandable.

The time frame between birth through the teen years is generally acknowledged as an educational period. And, although one might argue about the arbitrary age attached to adulthood, there is little debate on the need to support children and teenagers during this youthful period in their lives. Hopefully, during these formative years, parents and our educational system are providing children with the tools they'll need to meet the challenges of modern day adult life.

Protecting children and teenagers includes encouraging them to refrain from adopting lifestyle behaviours which may adversely impact them in later life; drugs, alcohol, smoking and promiscuous sexual activity. Each of these carries consequences of which young people should be made aware.

This is primarily a responsibility of the parent.

But, it must be admitted that some state regulation is justified to minimize the risk of young people making inappropriate lifestyle decisions; at least until they reach a level of maturity where they can make informed decisions for themselves.

In Canada, the age at which one can legally buy tobacco, like alcohol, is set at 19. Convenience stores don't sell cigarettes to minors. Therefore minors have a difficult time supporting a smoking habit. By keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors, youth smoking prevalence can be kept to a minimum.

To be sure, some teenagers will find ways to acquire cigarettes or booze with which to conduct their experiments in “adult” lifestyles. But, by and large, strictly enforced regulations prohibiting the sale and distribution of tobacco to minors is sufficient to accomplish the task.

Enter the anti-smoker cartel. Proclaiming an epidemic in youth smoking prevalence, they insist that additional, stronger measures are required to control the perceived problem. And, these measures include taxing cigarettes to the point where they are cost prohibitive to the average teenager.

Unfortunately, there are some very real concerns with this prohibitionist tactic.

First, tobacco taxes unfairly target adult consumers of a legal commodity, not just minors interested in experimenting with something considered taboo. And, because tobacco taxes are regressive in nature, they impact the poor much more than they affect the well off. So the first ones to feel the impact of regressive taxation are low income wage earners, pensioners, those dependent on various forms of social welfare, etc.

This reality is lost on the anti-smoker, of course. They are as much, if not more, interested in reducing smoking prevalence in the adult population as they are in preventing children from acquiring the habit.

The government, salivating at the very thought of billions in additional tax revenue, are quick to acknowledge the need to control the mostly imagined epidemic and impose the punitive levels of taxation demanded by the anti-smoker cult; for the public good and to protect the children, of course.

But, there is growing evidence that repressive tax measures are counter-productive.

Laws prohibiting sales of tobacco products to minors are no longer effective. Children and teenagers are no longer dependent on legal retail outlets to access a regular supply of cigarettes. The high cost of tobacco, driven by punitive levels of taxation, has created a blossoming black market.

In this underground economy, kids have hassle free access to tobacco products. They don't have to concern themselves with producing ID or proof of age, because the sellers of contraband don't care. And the contraband product is much cheaper than the legal option.

Thanks to the excessive levels of taxation imposed by government, at the insistence of the anti-smoker cult, kids now have greater access to tobacco than ever, at a substantially lower cost.

The government will never realize the revenue windfall expected from tobacco taxes while smokers are buying cheaper, untaxed contraband. And, enforcement of customs and excise law is rapidly becoming a very costly (and largely futile) venture. The profit potential from black market sales is just too great.

It was a predictable problem, with over 5 million alleged addicts ready and willing to avoid paying the legal extortion demanded by their government. And, as in the days of prohibition, the government, not the dealers in contraband, are seen as the enemy.

And, the problem of youth access to tobacco products, rather than being curtailed, has been exacerbated.

Pure stupidity.

See also: Australlian smokers face $20.00/pack cigarettes

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why are anti-smokers afraid of the truth?

Several tobacco companies in the US recently launched a lawsuit claiming new FDA legislation abridges their rights under the First Amendment to the US Constitution: the right to freedom of speech. The legislation, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, actually muzzles tobacco companies to the point where they are prohibited from telling the truth.

Despite the fact that the new legislation unequivocally places regulatory responsibility of tobacco and tobacco products in the hands of the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the tobacco companies are forbidden from clearly communicating that incontrovertible fact.

The Act authorizes the FDA to regulate tobacco products, including reducing or eliminating any constituents used in the manufacture or processing of tobacco, if they believe it is likely to protect public health. But, should the FDA take any action they believe will make cigarettes safer, the tobacco companies will be prohibited from truthfully telling consumers that the FDA has done so.

The legislation was sold to the US Congress by claiming that FDA regulation would make cigarettes safer. But, this provision, specifically denying tobacco companies the right to inform their customers of any such action, makes a mockery of that claim.

In the eyes of the anti-smoker cartel, cigarettes can't be made less hazardous. So, if the FDA demands that the cigarettes companies alter their manufacturing process or remove specific constituents by claiming that it will make cigarettes safer, they will, essentially, be lying. And, even if they're telling the truth, and action taken by the FDA does make cigarettes safer, the tobacco companies will not be permitted to tell their customers lest they be misled into believing that FDA actions have made cigarettes safer. Have I lost you?

The circular logic is both inescapable and ludicrous.

The facts are that the FDA now regulates cigarettes, sets product standards, and tobacco companies are expected to comply with those standards. But, tobacco companies are prohibited from telling consumers what is already public knowledge; a clear violation of their first amendment rights.

Anti-smoking advocate Dr. Michael Siegel pointed out the absurdity of this provision in the legislation in a recent post on his blog. “The FDA legislation is so overly broad in the scope of its speech restriction in this area that a tobacco company executive could not even give a speech at a shareholder meeting in which he reports that the company in the past year has complied with all FDA tobacco product regulations. A company annual report would risk a violation of the law by stating that the company's products comply with FDA standards.

Back in June, 2009, I posted a piece on the Japanese smoking paradox. The Japanese have a substantially higher smoker prevalence rate than North Americans or Europeans. Yet, their lung cancer rates are much lower. Among the factors offered by way of an explanation of this paradox is higher efficiency of filters on Japanese cigarettes and lower levels of carcinogenic ingredients.

But, if US tobacco companies were to introduce such changes to American cigarettes, and thereby reduce lung cancer rates associated with smoking, they would be in violation of the law if they were to make that information available to the public. Even if cigarettes were made safer, tobacco companies would be prohibited from telling anyone.

And, that's the real absurdity of the FDA legislation. It prevents tobacco companies from telling the bloody truth. It's bizarre in the extreme.

According to the brief submitted by the tobacco companies, they are even prohibited from “making truthful statements about their products in scientific, public policy, and political debates—speech that receives the highest level of protection and is subject to strict scrutiny review. For example, one key provision of the Act prohibits Plaintiffs from making truthful statements about the relative health risks of tobacco products to “individual tobacco users,” if the FDA determines that such truthful statements would not “benefit the health of the population as a whole.”

The lawsuit by the tobacco companies also contests restrictions on advertising and government-mandated graphic warnings on cigarette packs. “Another restriction renders completely ineffective the one place where such color imagery can be used: Plaintiffs’ packaging. The top half of the front and back of all cigarette packaging is appropriated by a Government-drafted anti-tobacco message, including shocking, color graphic images and other mandated information, leaving Plaintiffs with just a small portion of the bottom half of their cigarette packages to communicate with adult consumers. The obvious purpose of this is to force Plaintiffs to stigmatize their own products through their own packaging.”

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit unfolds.

Similar provisions in Canada's Tobacco Act were contested by Canadian Tobacco Companies under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states: “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: 2(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

The government conceded that the provisions were an infringement on the right to freedom of expression under the charter, but argued that limits on that right were justified to protect the public health.

In 2007, Canada's Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Tobacco Act provisions denying the rights of the tobacco companies.

Will American courts place greater value on constitutional rights than their Canadian counterparts?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chantix works on a smoker's brain

Varenicline is a smoking cessation drug developed by Pfizer. It is sold under the brand name Chantix in the US and Champix in Canada and Europe. And, thousands of users consider its use a recipe for disaster.

It is thought to work by reducing the smoker’s urge to smoke and by relieving craving and withdrawal symptoms because it is apparently capable of mimicking the effects of nicotine to some degree. And, by binding to nicotine receptors in the pleasure centre in the brain, it can also reduce the pleasure derived from smoking.

The Chantix website explains: “CHANTIX is different from most other quit-smoking products. It targets nicotine receptors in the brain, attaches to them, and blocks nicotine from reaching them. By activating these nicotine receptors, it is also believed that CHANTIX causes less dopamine – compared to nicotine – to be released.”

It is believed that . . . ? Are they really saying they don't know? Some might consider that somewhat akin to a chemically induced frontal lobotomy for smokers.

Since its introduction to the market, there have been a continually growing number of complaints about this latest “wonder drug” from the pharmaceutical industry.Thousands of people have complained of serious side-effects associated with the drug, the most disturbing of which is suicidal ideation, which may have resulted in 100 or more actual suicides.

The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recently advised the manufacturers of the smoking cessation drug to carry a suicide warning. But, Chantix, despite concerns of the FDA and the public, has not been pulled from the market.

In many respects, it is getting the same kid-glove treatment afforded another smoking cessation drug, Zyban, and an anti-depressant medication, Wellbutrin, both of which are distributed by Glaxo-Smith-Kline under the trade name bupropion. Zyban has also been implicated as the cause of serious side-effects, including suicide, among users.

The drug manufacturers are permitted to keep marketing the drugs in the US by simply including a cautionary “black box” warning (the FDA's most serious caution) on the packaging and instructions for use, advising users of the possible side-effects.

The warning, of course, does little to reduce the potentially life-threatening side-effects of Chantix (or Zyban). It does, however, reduce legal liability for Pfizer, the manufacturer of the drug. They can now claim that they followed the directives of the FDA regulators (or Health Canada, or Britain's NHS, etc.) and warned consumers of the potentially serious side effects of the smoking cessation drug.

But, Pfizer needed FDA approval to market the drug in the first place. And, to obtain that approval, they were required to conduct clinical trials. So, why weren't the life-threatening side-effects noted during those trials?

Well, according to a synopsis of the study released by ASH (UK),
“Trial entry criteria included good health, male and female smokers aged 18 to 75, smoking at least 10 cigarettes per day during the past year, no prior use at all of varenicline or bupropion for any indication, and being motivated to stop smoking. Smokers were excluded if they had had serious or unstable disease within six months, weighed less than 7st 2lbs (100lbs / 45kg) or had a BMI of less than 15 or more than 38, had a history of drug or alcohol abuse in the past year, had used another form of tobacco, or marijuana, in the past month, had used NRT, clonidine or nortriptyline in the past month, had received any treatment for major depression in the previous 12 months, had a history of or current panic disorder, psychosis or bipolar disorder, or had contraindications for bupropion (Zyban and ellbutrin).”

In other words, the study participants did not accurately reflect the demographic for which the drug was intended. Only comparatively healthy individuals with a strong motivation to quit were included in the trials. The drug trials ignored the fact that a substantial portion of the smoking population for whom Chantix would be prescribed would likely suffer from the full spectrum of heath concerns which were deliberately excluded from the studies.

Even the authors acknowledge the limits of the trials.
“First, participants who volunteer for clinical trials of investigational drugs tend to be in better general health and are by definition more motivated than those in a typical primary care population. The external validity of the trial is also limited by the fact that individuals with serious medical illness or current or recent depression were excluded from the trial.”

The recent FDA ruling means that both the makers of Chantix and Zyban will be required to conduct clinical trials to assess the mental health risks associated with the drugs. Oh, well. Better late than never, as the old saying goes.

But, despite the alleged risks to users, Chantix (Champix) is still widely advertised on television and in other media. And, supporters of the drug in the anti-smoker cartel continue to aggressively promote the drug.

Dr. Curtis J. Rosebraugh, director of the drug evaluation office at the FDA which approved the drugs, is quoted as saying:
“Stopping smoking is a goal we should all be working towards. We don’t want to scare people off from trying a medication that could help them achieve this goal. You should just be careful.”

Just be careful? The logic (or lack of it) is mind-boggling. Smokers must be helped on their way to smoke-free Nirvana, even if it means killing off a few hundred and making life miserable for thousands more. But, what the Hell? Only smokers will suffer the alleged adverse consequences of using these drugs.

And, as Clive Bates, of ASH (UK), told BBC News Online: "Most of these people would have died anyway.” Uh-huh. Smokers, it seems, have become expendable; sacrificial lambs to be offered on the altar of the Great God, Public Health.

So what else is new?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Evaluating the statistics Part 2

As noted in my last post, the method of calculating smoking attributable deaths raises a lot of questions.

For example, Health Canada managed to reduce the number of smoking related deaths by roughly 22%, just by changing the data set used in their calculations. In 2007, they were claiming 47,581 smoking related deaths, but by the summer of 2008, there were only 37,203 deaths attributed to smoking. But, there were no more, and no fewer, actual deaths. The reduction was in the statistical deaths attributed to smoking calculated by Health Canada.

No big deal you say? They found an error in their calculations and corrected them.

But, from 1998 to 2008, the inflated numbers were quoted by the anti-smoker crowd, the press and politicians as gospel. And, in fact, the exaggerated numbers are still being used by many in the anti-smoker brigade. Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada is but one example. And, the dramatic reduction in smoking attributable mortality was not considered sufficiently newsworthy to be reported by the major news media in Canada.

Had smoking related deaths increased by only half that amount, it would have been front page news.

According to Health Canada, persistent HPV infection with high risk types, is the major cause of cervical cancer. It is estimated that over 99% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

This contention is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society: “Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by persistent high-risk HPV infection. High-risk types of HPV are considered known cancer-causing agents. About 70% of cervical cancers are associated with high-risk HPV type 16 and 18. Other high-risk types of HPV are associated with the other 30% of cervical cancers.”

But, if you look in the smoking attributable mortality tables prepared for Health Canada, 34.7% of cervical cancers (126 of 362 deaths) are attributed to smoking. Is this claim even remotely possible? Was the data on HPV and cervical cancer too recent to have been taken into consideration in calculating smoking related deaths? And, even if that were the case, does it not point out the tenuous nature of the original data linking cervical cancer to smoking?

But, the inclusion of cervical cancer in the ever expanding list of smoking related diseases becomes even more suspect, when you realize that data suggesting HPV was likely responsible for all cervical cancers has been available since 1999.

A similar situation is developing with mounting evidence of a link between lung cancer and HPV. Health Canada claims that 88.6% of male lung cancers are caused by smoking. Another 1.5% are said to be caused by exposure to SHS. And, 10% of lung cancers are caused by exposure to radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking. That's 100% of male lung cancers for which the cause has, allegedly, already been found

But, that leaves no room for the deaths that may have been caused by exposure to asbestos or any of the other dozen or more risk factors associated with lung cancer. At least for men. Of course, any deaths associated with exposure to asbestos, beryllium, uranium, diesel exhaust, smog, etc. may be exclusive to the female component of the population. But, you'd think that was something someone should have mentioned.

So, what should we make of recent studies suggesting that HPV, not radon, may be the second leading cause of lung cancer. And, one study from Germany does just that: “The data suggest that HPV is the second most important cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking and strongly argues for additional research on this issue.”

The study also notes that: “Overall, the mean incidence of HPV in lung cancer was 24.5%. While in Europe and the America the average reported frequencies were 17% and 15%, respectively.”

Even the anti-smoker claim that 85% to 90% of all lung cancers are caused by smoking doesn't hold up to scrutiny. According to Health Canada, 13,401 of 17,188 lung cancer deaths were caused by smoking. But that's only 78%.

Nit-picking? Maybe . . .

Smoking may contribute to morbidity and mortality from some diseases. But, if Health Canada and the rest of the anti-smoker cult have to resort to deceptive statistics to convince the public of the hazards of smoking, how can anyone have any confidence in anything they say? And, the statistics are deceptive, both in fact and presentation.

Has anybody ever wondered how Health Canada can state with such precision how many deaths from IHD were caused by smoking, but they can't tell how many may have been caused by stress, diet or lack of exercise? How can they determine that exactly 13,401 lung cancer deaths were caused by smoking, but the best they can come up with for exposure to radon in the home is “about 2,000”?

How many Canadians know, for example, that despite the fact that smokers comprise 20% of the population, only 13% of the over 40,000 IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) deaths are attributed to smoking? How many are aware that, according to the Lung Cancer Alliance, “over 60% of new cases (of lung cancer) are never smokers or former smokers, many of whom quit decades ago.”

How many Canadians know that smoking related illness is a fiction; that people die from heart disease and lung cancer whether they smoke or not. How many are aware that smoking related statistics are based on speculation and conjecture; that they are being used as a propaganda tool by the health scare professionals in the anti-smoker cult?

But, perhaps the most important question is why the public, the press and politicians seem so eager to buy into the bullshit and bafflegab.