Friday, December 31, 2010

All the best; see you in the new year

Some of you have noted that I've been taking a bit of a respite from my blog recently. I wish I could tell you that I spent the holidays someplace warm and cozy, maybe somewhere in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Without going into a lot of detail, I wound up spending Christmas in hospital. Not a pleasant experience. But, they finally chucked me out, with a nifty new gadget for monitoring my blood glucose levels and an even niftier new gadget for injecting insulin. Sometimes you just can't win for losing.

So, I guess the first order of business should be to offer a belated Christmas greeting to readers old and new, and extend my best wishes for the coming year.

But, since I didn't get to spend a lot of time with the kids and grand-kids over Christmas, I'll be spending the first few days of the New Year out of town enjoying their company. That means I'll be away from my computer for several more days.

But, I'll be back to blogging sometime in the first week of the new year. Don't forget to drop by.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A single cigarette could kill you . . . Honestly?

The (December 9, 2010) press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the latest report from the US Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin. But, anyone living in the real world, as opposed to the Alice in Wonderland creation of the anti-smoker fanatics, will see the press release for what it is; blatant fear-mongering.

The press release issued by HHS and the “fact sheet ” issued by the OSG (Office of the Surgeon General) appear designed to support the most fanatical claims of the anti-smoker cult. They are, by and large, propaganda documents meant to encourage anti-smoker hysteria rather than legitimate attempts to inform the public about the potential health hazards of smoking.

For example, the press release notes: “Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack.” Uh-huh. Welcome to Fantasy Land, ladies and gentlemen; please check your hat, coat and common sense at the door.

Smokers only develop heart disease after many years of active smoking. As noted by anti-smoking activist, Dr. Michael Siegel: “Even active smoking does not generally lead to heart disease unless you smoke for many years. Thus, it is simply untrue to assert that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Siegel claims, in the same article, that the press release “may be correct in suggesting that a brief exposure to tobacco smoke could cause a heart attack (although only in someone with preexisting heart disease).”

Of course, this is conjecture, not scientific fact. But, the preexisting condition would have to be severe. Theoretically, brief exposure to secondhand smoke might trigger a hearth attack in such an individual. But, so might any number of other factors; eating a heavy meal, emotional upset, excitement, smoke from a bar-b-que, taking a vigorous shower, etc.

Simply walking to the corner store in excessively hot or cold weather, or during a smog alert, could conceivably trigger a heart attack in someone whose health has already been compromised by heart disease.

So, the odds of someone actually dying from a heart attack after only a brief exposure to secondhand smoke are likely comparable to the chance of being struck by lightning. And, given the scare tactics and hyperbole in this latest propaganda effort from the US Surgeon General, we can't discount the fact that some poor schmuck with a serious heart condition might die of fright just from seeing someone light a fag.

The fact sheet from the Surgeon General claims that: “There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure to tobacco smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke – is harmful,” before going on to note that: “You don’t have to be a heavy smoker or a long-time smoker to get a smoking-related disease or have a heart attack or asthma attack that is triggered by tobacco smoke.”

Ah . . . finally. A grain of truth.

For the facts are that you don't have to be a smoker to get a smoking related disease or have a heart attack. The last SAM (Smoking Attributable Mortality) report prepared for Health Canada shows there were 40,627 deaths from IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) in 2002, but only 5,343 were “attributed” to smoking.

The Surgeon General's report lends credence to the empty-headed rhetoric of the anti-smoker cult by disparaging tobacco products which could reduce the harm associated with smoking. “The overall health of the public could be harmed if the introduction of novel tobacco products encourages tobacco use among people who would otherwise be unlikely to use a tobacco product or delays cessation among persons who would otherwise quit using tobacco altogether.”

Novel tobacco products? Like Snus? The electronic cigarette? The SG, it seems, would rather fight than let smokers switch.

And, the fact sheet contains the compulsory plug for NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) and smoking cessation drugs provided by anti-smoker allies in the pharmaceutical industry. “Smokers often make several attempts before they are able to quit, but new strategies for cessation, including nicotine replacement and non-nicotine medications, can make it easier.”

The press release from HHS notes: “Fortunately, there are now more effective ways to help people quit than ever before. Nicotine replacement is available over the counter and doctors can prescribe medications that improve the chances of successful quit attempts.”

Nothing like providing a little free publicity for the drug czars.

Now, to be clear, I haven't read the entire report. But, judging from the press release and the fact sheet provided by the OSG, I expect little more than a rehash of the same, venomous anti-smoker rhetoric we've heard from the fanatics over the past decade or so. In fact, both the press release and the fact sheet could have been written by any number of anti-smoker fanatics, and probably was.

But there are other things about the latest SG's report which I find troublesome.

For example, this is number 30 in a long string of reports (beginning in 1964) on the smoking issue. Given First Lady, Michele Obama's commitment to fighting obesity, might that not have been a more current theme for Dr. Benjamin's first major report?

OK. OK. That was a snide remark. I simply couldn't resist. And, Dr. Benjamin does seem to have all the qualifications to fill her position. A medical degree, a masters in business administration, honours and awards galore. And, as noted in her biography, “some of her numerous board memberships include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the . . .”

Oh, shit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anti-smokers . . . immoral and irresponsible

Last year, two distributors of e-cigs sued the FDA over their efforts to regulate the product as a drug delivery device. The two companies were granted an injunction barring the FDA from having US Customs seize shipments of e-cigarettes manufactured outside the country, most notably China.

The FDA, under heavy pressure from anti-smoker zealots, appealed the ruling. A number of anti-smoker organizations filed a brief of Amicus Curiae supporting the FDA appeal. Amicus Curiae, literally “friend of the court”, is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it.

Anti-smoker groups supporting the FDA included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Washington Legal Foundation, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Legacy Foundation, the American Lunch Association, the American Medical Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Earlier this week, a US Appeals Court ruled that the FDA must regulate electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product, rather than a drug delivery device. Essentially, the ruling means the FDA can oversee the marketing of e-cigs, but not ban their sale as the zealots were demanding.

The anti-smoker crowd, of course, is up in arms over the ruling. And, several are clamoring for the FDA to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.

What is apparent, is that neither the media nor the politicians seem interested in why the fanatics seem so determined to deprive smokers of an alternative to conventional cigarettes; one which could offer significant protection against the death and disease they attribute to smoking. After all, if smoking is a public health issue, shouldn't the anti-smokers crowd be embracing alternatives with the potential to greatly reduce the morbidity and mortality allegedly due to smoking?

One reason the anti-smoker forces are so vehemently opposed to the electronic cigarette is the belief that smokers will turn to e-cigs to cut back on smoking or quit rather than using NRT products (the patch, nicotine gum and lozenges, etc) sold by their partners in the pharmaceutical industry. They don't want the massive amounts of funding, invested by the drug companies for the war on smokers, jeopardized.

A second reason is that many of the fanatics are driven by their pure, unadulterated hatred of smoking and, by extension, smokers. They believe that the electronic cigarette will undermine their attempts to denormalize smokers. If smokers can use the e-cig to thwart their draconian smoking bans and punitive taxation, they may not be “encouraged” to quit.

The anti-smoker crowd believe e-cigarettes will addict new “nicotine” users (including children); former smokers may resume nicotine use through e-cigarettes, or; current smokers may attempt to use e-cigarettes for smoking cessation instead of FDA-approved products provided by the drug companies.

Also of concern to the zealots is the fact that “vaping”, as those inclined to use the e-cig refer to it, so closely resembles smoking. If smokers should switch to e-cigs in great numbers, public sightings of the imitation fags might make it more difficult for the zealots to convince the public that smoking is an abnormal behaviour.

In short, they view the e-cig as a threat to their utopian dream of a “smoker free” society.

But . . . despite punitive tobacco taxes, smoking bans, and open discrimination against smokers, there is a significant number of the population in the US, Canada and around the world who continue to smoke. And, it is unrealistic to assume that they can be forced into quitting any time in the near future.

The “perfect solution fallacy” assumes that a perfect solution to a problem, in this case the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking, exists, and that any solution which does not resolve the problem in its entirety should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist.

The zealots have taken a legitimate public health concern, smoking, and insist that the perfect solution is to have smokers quit. Unfortunately, to the fanatics, it has become the only acceptable solution, and they are prepared to use whatever means, fair or foul, to force smokers to give up their habit . . . for their own good, of course.

The anti-smoker position is completely devoid of logic or reason.

If the objective is to reduce the the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking, how can they object to a product which has been shown to reduce the use of conventional cigarettes, and helped many quit smoking entirely? How can they, in good conscience, ignore the significant health benefits which might accrue from substituting a product which has been stripped of the thousands of potentially toxic chemicals allegedly found in conventional cigarettes.

And, it has to be pointed out that this is not the first tobacco product with the potential to reduce the death and disease associated with smoking which has become a target of the zealots.

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that snus, and other smokeless tobacco products, may be much safer alternatives to smoking. Yet, the anti-smoker crowd has committed to opposing these products simply because they won't eliminate the professed problem in it's entirety.

The “quit or die” philosophy adopted by the fanatics runs counter to the stated objective of reducing the harm allegedly caused by smoking. Harm reduction, apparently, is not a concept with which the anti-smoker fanatics are familiar.

It's insane. The anti-smoker position is unethical, immoral and irresponsible; driven by an irrational hatred of smokers. Depriving smokers of acceptable alternatives to smoking is counter-productive and may be causing more death and disease than would otherwise occur.

So, why do politicians and policy makers continue to support their unholy crusade?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are electronic cigarettes safe? A health risk?

The press release declares: ”Electronic Cigarettes Are Unsafe and Pose Health Risks, UC Riverside Study Finds”.

The headline suggests the findings of a scientific study, conducted at UC (University of California) Riverside’s Stem Cell Center, are both definitive and unequivocal. “Electronic cigarettes are unsafe and pose health risks.” That's an explicit statement which leaves little room for doubt. The sub-heading, however, goes on to note that: “Safety evaluation of e-cigarettes is urgently needed, researchers say.” Huh?

Safety evaluation is urgently needed? That's not quite as clear cut or conclusive as the assertion that e-cigs are unsafe. So which claim is true? Do e-cigs pose health risks or not? And, the answer is . . . maybe yes, maybe no.

The press release quotes Kamlesh Asotra, a research administrator at UC TRDRP (Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program) which funded the study: "Justifiably, more information about the potential toxic and health effects of e-cigarette vapors is necessary before the public can have a definitive answer about the touted safety of e-cigarettes. Hopefully, in the near future, scientists can provide firm evidence for or against the claimed 'safety' of e-cigarettes as a nicotine-delivery tool."

But, if more research is needed, how did the scientists who conducted the study reach the conclusion that “Electronic cigarettes are unsafe and pose health risks.” Well, actually, they didn't.

The press release quotes Prue Talbot, whose lab conducted the research. "However, there are virtually no scientific studies on e-cigarettes and their safety. Our study – one of the first studies to evaluate e-cigarettes – shows that this product has many flaws, which could cause serious public health problems in the future if the flaws go uncorrected."

So, in summary, the study concluded only that flaws had been identified in the product which could cause unidentified public health problems at some future date if the flaws went uncorrected. And what “flaws” were identified by this scientific study.

The study concluded that “batteries, atomizers, cartridges, cartridge wrappers, packs and instruction manuals lack important information regarding e-cigarette content, use and essential warnings; E-cigarette cartridges leak, which could expose nicotine, an addictive and dangerous chemical, to children, adults, pets and the environment; Currently, there are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges, which could result in nicotine contamination from discarded cartridges entering water sources and soil, and adversely impacting the environment; and the manufacture, quality control, sales, and advertisement of e-cigarettes are unregulated.”

However, on closer inspection, the actual “hazards” identified appear to be rather trivial and easily remedied. In fact, some appear to be somewhat fatuous.

For, example, the contention that e-cig cartridges leak and could expose children to “nicotine, an addictive and dangerous chemical.” I've had only limited experience with the e-cig; Health Canada confiscated the additional cartridges I ordered, so I said to hell with it and went back to buying the real thing from the local First nations reserve. Much to the chagrin of my cardiologist, I might add.

But, in my brief experience, I've never had a cartridge leak. I suspect that some could leak, especially those designed to be refilled manually by the user. But the study seems to suggest that all cartridges leak which I firmly believe may be a misrepresentation of the facts.

At any rate, even the most innocuous of drugs, such as common aspirin, can be hazardous to children. And, responsible parents should not leave any hazardous material within reach of inquisitive youngsters. And that includes prescription and over the counter medications, household cleaning supplies, e-cigs and accessories and, yes, tobacco products, including matches and lighters.

The claim that “there are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges”, seems equally silly. How do you dispose of any other battery? How do people dispose of prescription medications when they're of no more use? What about pharmaceutical nicotine products, like gum or the patch? Do e-cigs really represent a unique challenge when it comes to putting them in the garbage?

Should quality control and safety standards be developed? Yes, by all means. Should further studies be done to consider the long term health effects? Yes, unequivocally. But, regulation should be based on science, not the fear-mongering propaganda which this “scientific study” represents.

The simple fact is that the anti-smoker brigade, led by the WHO (World Health Organization), has entered a partnership with the pharmaceutical industry. The drug companies provide financial support for anti-smoker initiatives and the fanatics protect the profits of the drug companies by ensuring they're the only available resource for smokers who want to cut back or quit.

“The strength of the Partnership Project lies in the fact that it has brought together three major pharmaceutical companies, Glaxo Wellcome, Novartis Consumer Health and Pharmacia & Upjohn, all manufacturers of treatment products for tobacco dependence, to support a common goal that will have a significant impact on public health.”

Clearly, it's in the best financial interests of the anti-smoker lobby (and big pharma) to ensure the drug companies maintain their monopoly on the NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) market. And, one way to do that is to discredit, and demand prohibition of, products which offer competition to their partners in the pharmaceutical industry.

Some prominent physicians and researchers, including many who are vehemently opposed to smoking, believe e-cigs have the potential to save lives, by helping smokers cut back, or perhaps quit entirely. Anti-smoking activists, like Dr. Michael Siegel, consider e-cigs safer and more healthy than conventional cigarettes.

As Siegel noted in a recent article: “I truly believe that the WHO is blinded by an ideology that views the very act of doing something that looks like smoking as evil, regardless of its actual safety. Electronic cigarettes could potentially save millions of lives throughout the world, since they appear to be much safer than cigarettes and to be an effective tool for smoking cessation .”

Yet anti-smoker zealots, including the WHO, are doing everything in their power to dissuade use of a product which might be of great benefit to smokers looking to give up the habit.

Of course, it's not about the money

For more information on electronic cigarettes visit the Tobacco Harm Reduction website operated by Carl V. Phillips and his research group.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anti-smokers boost tobacco sales promotions

Just what in hell gives NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) the right to intrude on the affairs of legal business concerns? Who gave them the right to dictate what choices will be available to adult consumers? And, why should their lobbying activities be funded with taxpayer dollars?

Earlier this week, a CBC news report suggested that Imperial Tobacco, Canada's largest tobacco company, had initiated a “price war” for cigarettes in the Maritimes.

Apparently, Imperial Tobacco has introduced a discount program, called the expansion preferred pricing program, to some retailers in Nova Scotia. As a result, some Imperial cigarette brands are being sold for as much as 50 cents less per package in some stores across the Maritimes.

But, what has some people riled is that the Imperial program is not open to all retailers across the region. Sid Chedrawe, a convenience store owner in Dartmouth, N.S., told CBC news: "You are only given the opportunity to join this program by invitation and there's just something that seems at odds with fair competition rules that we have here in Canada."

JTI-Macdonald Corp., one of Imperial's competitors, advised its retailers that the program may contravene Canada's Competition Act, warning: "You will lose those adult consumers seeking the lowest-priced cigarettes unless you drastically reduce your own profit margin in what is the fastest-growing segment."

And, they may have a point. Certainly, those retailers who have been offered a chance to participate in the program will have an advantage over those who weren't provided the same opportunity. If some retailers can sell for 50 cents a pack less, then they will likely attract more business. And, since the discounts will be available only on Imperial products, Imperial will gain a bigger market share.

But, although some retailers and competing tobacco companies may be upset, it is an issue for those involved. If Imperial's actions contravene the Competition Act, there are legal remedies available to injured parties.

But, why is the Canadian Cancer Society involved in the dispute. They don't even have a horse in the race. Yet, the CBC article saw fit to include comments from this “charity” which receives a significant amount of funding from Canadian taxpayers.

"The Canadian Cancer Society supports a total ban on all promotional measures put forth by the tobacco industry that are intended to increase tobacco sales and thus consumption," said Maureen Summers, executive director of the Nova Scotia division. "We will be working with our national public issues office to move this issue forward to see what we can do with provincial and federal governments in terms of strengthening the Tobacco Act and legislation that would restrict this kind of activity and promotion from the tobacco industry."

So, the Cancer Society wants to ban all promotional activity by the tobacco industry, but they're opposed to banning tobacco?

The tobacco industry, like all other legal business enterprises, exists to make a profit. If the damage caused by tobacco is so great, then the society should be moving to ban it. Anything less is hypocritical bullshit.

But, at least the Cancer Society didn't base their objections to Imperial's promotion on a need to “save the children”.

In the US, CTFK ( Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) has attacked a new sales promotion by RJ Reynolds, the makers of Camel, one of the bigger selling brands in the US.

Matthew L. Myers, President of CTFK, claims in a statement: “It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children.” Huh.

Myers is referring to an RJ Reynolds promotion for Camel cigarettes, called the Break Free Adventure. The sales promotion, scheduled for December and January, involves specially designed cigarette packs bearing the names of US cities and landmarks. The campaign apparently offers “Thousands of Prizes”, under conditions which aren't exactly clear.

And, the reason the conditions aren't exactly clear is that I can't get into the Camel website to find out what it's all about. To get into the site, you have to provide personal information such as as name, address , zip code, email address, birth date, etc., for age verification purposes.

But, not to worry, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids provides the graphics for the campaign on their website, without all the rigamarole. In fact, their web site and the news media in the US are doing a far better job of advertising the promotion than the tobacco company.

But to Myers, the new Camel promotion points to a need for more money for NGOs like his own to combat the evil influence of the tobacco industry.

“This campaign also underscores the need to step up the implementation of proven measures to reduce tobacco use. These include effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing, including the graphic cigarette warnings unveiled this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs nationally and in every state; higher tobacco taxes; and smoke-free workplace laws.”

How strange. Not a mention of banning tobacco.

The call for tobacco prohibition will come . . . eventually. But, for now, anti-smoker groups are content to extort all the money they can from the tobacco companies and smokers. Then, they'll simply find another target.

Yeah, I know. You don't believe in the slippery slope argument. Have you heard that San Francisco has banned giving away free toys with “unhealthy” happy meals?