Thirdhand smoke is real and insignificant

This blog has previously chronicled attempts to scare people into persecuting smokers based on trumped up fears of “thirdhand smoke,” residue left on clothes and furniture after a smoker lights up. New research attempts to measure levels of this residue directly by artificially re-suspending particles left behind by a smoking device:

These quantitative data support the hypothesis of a resuspension from the cigarette smoke surface contamination. However, this airborne contamination through resuspension remains much lower (100 times) than that of secondhand smoke.

In other words, there’s nothing to worry about.

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FDA bans product for tasting good

No, the headline is not an April Fool’s joke. This week the FDA began its inquiry into whether it ought to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes:

A scientific advisory panel that will advise the Food and Drug Administration on regulating tobacco opened a two-day meeting Tuesday and began reviewing hundreds of published studies on menthol cigarettes. The panel, largely made up of scientists, physicians and public health experts, has a year to make a recommendation to the FDA on menthol cigarettes, which are used by about 26 percent of smokers and make up almost one-third of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.

Throughout this process there will be allegations from anti-tobacco groups that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, more dangerous, and more likely to hook teenagers than unflavored cigarettes. These scare tactics neglect to mention that menthol itself is harmless. It’s not habit-forming like nicotine. It’s not dangerous and is used widely in medicinal, dental, and food products. Tobacco companies don’t put it in cigarettes as part of a dark conspiracy to addict people. They use it because it tastes good, is soothing, and consumers want it.

Because of these effects it’s possible that some of the charges against menthol cigarettes are true, statistically speaking. The FDA’s going to spend a lot of time and money sorting this out, but there’s no mystery as to why this is: When a product is pleasant, people consume more of it. They’ll smoke more of them or smoke each cigarette more intensively. They’ll have less reason to quit. Some teenagers will prefer them to unflavored cigarettes, just as about one third of legal adult consumers do. This doesn’t mean that menthols are especially toxic, it just means that people like them.

If this is accepted as a legitimate reason to ban menthol cigarettes there’s no limit to what the government could do next. It could ban other forms of flavored tobacco in cigars, pipes, chew, and hookahs — in fact, New York City has already passed a low doing almost exactly that. It could force cigarette producers to make their products so bland and heavily filtered that no one wants to buy them. It could kill premium pipe and cigar companies entirely, an industry whose purpose is to make tobacco that tastes good and is pleasant to smoke.

And that’s just tobacco. If menthol and other flavors can be banned for “masking” the harsh taste of cigarettes, why not ban flavors that “mask” the harshness of cheap vodka? Or the barrel aging that turns hot white dog into mellow whiskey? Or hops in beer, condiments in fast food, milk and sugar in a venti Frappuccino? As individual health increasingly becomes the public’s business, there’s no end to the unhealthy things we can reduce the consumption of by simply making them unpalatable.

If you read the press coverage of this debate in The Post for example, you’ll see quotes from anti-tobacco activists explaining why menthol needs to be banned. You’ll even see quotes charging that not doing so would be racially discriminatory on the grounds that menthols are relatively more popular among blacks than whites. What you won’t see are quotes from any of the millions of consumers who currently smoke menthols and may soon have that choice taken away from them. The opinions of smokers do not matter; they are assumed to be dupes or addicts incapable of making their own decisions. By portraying them as victims of the tobacco companies anti-smoking activists dodge the consumer rights aspect of this issue. They avoid answering the hardest question asked in opposition to their plan: If a consenting adult wants to purchase a flavored cigarette, why shouldn’t he be allowed to do so?

This is a dangerous road. It’s one thing to forbid sales to minors, to tax tobacco, to require warning labels, and to restrict the sorts of places where one can light up. It’s quite another to take a product off the market simply because many people prefer it. That is pure paternalism; take individual agency out of the picture and it’s a much smaller step to banning tobacco entirely.

This issue is going to drag on for a long time. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it here, but be sure to also follow the excellent coverage of Brooke Oberwetter starting with her most recent blog post.

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Yes, tobacco taxes really do kill business

A sad story out of Utah where new tobacco taxes are causing at least one tobacco shop, which has been in business since the 1940s, to close its doors. The increased taxes would be bad enough, but the kicker is that they don’t apply just to new stock. Retailers will have to apply the higher rate to all of the inventory they own, even though they purchased it at the old tax rate. In the case of Jeanie’s Smoke Shop that will add up to about $125,000 due in July. Unable to sell their inventory or raise that much cash by then, they’ll be closing their doors instead. Read the full story here.

One Republican state senator supports the tax and comes up short in the sympathy department:

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, who fought for years to raise Utah’s tobacco tax, said he understood that distributors would have to pay the bill, not retailers. But Charlie Roberts, Utah Tax Commission spokesman, said retailers indeed must pay the higher tax and yes, it will come due when the law takes effect this summer.

“If that’s the way it is, then so be it,” Christensen said. “I’m sorry for some of the businessmen the law will impact, but they’re selling a deadly product.”

He also predicted Jeanie’s Smoke Shop and other retailers “will somehow come up with that money anyway.”

Governor Gary Herbert can still veto the bill, but he probably won’t.

[Via @NoCigTax.]

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Why debunking junk tobacco science matters

In the past year alarmist studies about “thirdhand smoke,” the particles left behind from tobacco combustion, have proliferated. There’s no evidence such residuals are actually causing cancer but that hasn’t stopped anti-smoking activists and journalists from running with the story. Michael Siegel has recently spotted a couple ways this research has been abused to discriminate against smokers. First there’s the “sniff test” policy now in place at Kimball Physics, a technology company in New Hampshire:

No tobacco-residuals emitting person, article of clothing, or other object is allowed inside any Kimball Physics building. This restriction also applies to anyone or anything emitting characteristic tobacco odors. Anyone who has used a tobacco product within the previous two hours is automatically to be turned away, unless measures have been taken such that residuals-sensitive persons are not exposed. The determining factor, regarding allowable residuals levels and/or exposure durations, is whether anyone is either significantly bothered, or even worse, made ill.

This is an absurd policy and it should come as no surprise that the person who created it is a board member of the extremist anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health. Nonetheless it creates a precedent that less fanatical employers might decide to follow.

Speaking of ASH, Siegel also catches them advocating bans on smokers adopting or fostering children. From ASH’s press release:

Midlothian Council in the U.K. is just the latest entity to prohibit smokers from adopting or providing foster care for children, a step Portsmouth, Hants, in England and other jurisdictions took several years ago, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). Anyone wanting to care for a child under the age of five will be required not to have smoked for at least six months, even if they only smoke outdoors. […]

… thirdhand tobacco smoke, what the New York Times called “the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing,” has just been reported by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to combine with a common indoor air pollutant to form very potent cancer causing substances. This, the researchers say, places children at serious risk, even if parents smoke only outside the home, because they carry the residues inside with them.

I criticized that Times article when it came out last year for taking such a credulous approach to the “thirdhand smoke” study it covered, buying into the researchers’ hype despite the fact that the study consisted of nothing but a phone survey. At the time the author couldn’t have known that her words and the reputation of the paper would be used to deny children foster care, but that’s how low the anti-smoking movement has sunk. Reporters need to realize that today’s anti-tobacco researchers should be treated with just as much skepticism as the Big Tobacco-funded scientists of the pre-Master Settlement days.

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Recent reading: A trio of tobacco books

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading related to tobacco policy in preparation for some upcoming writing projects…

Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A History of Anti-Smoking, Christopher Snowdon — I link to Chris’ blog of the same name frequently here. He’s one of the best critics of paternalist excesses writing today and one of the few journalists exposing the shoddy science put out by many anti-tobacco researchers. His book-length review of the anti-smoking movement goes back all the way to Columbus and is essential for putting the current movement in historical context. His coverage of secondhand smoke and bibliography of ETS papers is also very valuable. Highly recommended and lively written.

Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, Richard Kluger — A 700+ page doorstop of a book chronicling the history of the American cigarette business. Though a little dated by its publication prior to the Master Settlement Agreement, the book presents a remarkably balanced view of the players involved. Though by no means a tobacco apologist, Kluger manages to portray Big Tobacco executives with enough sympathy to make them human and sometimes admirable businessmen working in an embattled industry. Reformers, too, are shown in a balanced light. (Only John Banzhaf appears completely without redeeming qualities; he manages to come off as an ass no matter who is profiling him.)

Kluger fairly describes the progress of science, from when tobacco companies could legitimately claim skepticism of cigarettes’ health effects to when their denials became absurd. Similar scrutiny is given to the overblown claims of secondhand smoke by their opposition. In the final pages he even comes close to predicting the MSA, though in the details he fails to guess how the tobacco companies would use it to raise prices and create a legally protected cartel.

Addiction: A Disorder of Choice, Gene M. Heyman — The title is a bit off-putting, suggesting that the book accuses addicts of choosing to have their disorder. That’s inaccurate. Heyman, a lecturer in psychology at Harvard Medical School, is actually offering an economic model of addiction, explaining substance abuse in terms of individual decisions and the way they can be distorted by addictive substances. Specifically, addictive substances tend to offer immediate benefits and long-term costs (exacerbated by withdrawal symptoms), to induce intoxication, and to undermine the value of more productive activities, all making habitual use hard to break.

Heyman is primarily concerned with illegal drugs but cigarettes do get a mention as a partial exception to the pattern. They don’t intoxicate the user and don’t interfere too much with other valuable activities, making the choice to smoke in any given situation very easy. This suggests that a useful approach to treating cigarette addiction would be to develop safer products that fill the same niche. This perspective is of special interest now given the development of e-cigarettes and research suggesting that nicotine alone can only partially explain cigarette addiction.

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Reuters hypes thirdhand smoke fears

Reuters reporter Maggie Fox buys into the thirdhand smoke scare:

Old tobacco smoke does more than simply make a room smell stale — it can leave cancer-causing toxins behind, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

They found cancer-causing agents called tobacco-specific nitrosamines stick to a variety of surfaces, where they can get into dust or be picked up on the fingers. Children and infants are the most likely to pick them up, the team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California reported.

“These findings raise concerns about exposures to the tobacco smoke residue that has been recently dubbed ‘third-hand smoke’,” the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, available here.

Of course there are policy implications:

James Pankow, who also worked on the study, said it may raise questions about the safety of electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigarettes.” which produce a nicotine vapor but not smoke.

The researchers said regulators who have cracked down on second-hand smoke with smoking bans may decide to consider policies on third-hand smoke.

That nicotine works on surfaces in this way is interesting from an abstract, scientific point of view. What the article fails to mention is that there is essentially no evidence that anyone, anywhere, has ever suffered from exposure to so-called “thirdhand smoke.” The reason these carcinogens are so deadly to cigarette smokers is that smokers inhale them deeply through their mouths directly into sensitive lung tissues dozens of times per day. Exposure from surfaces or from dust inhalation through the nose is going to be far less substantial.

Nonetheless, you probably shouldn’t wrap your infant in smoky blankets. Fair enough. But spreading paranoia about thirdhand smoke has significant negative consequences. We’ve already seen employers discriminate against smokers using these fears as justification. And if this research is used to back legislation against e-cigarettes — devices that are unequivocally safer to smoke than actual tobacco — that will be a blow to public health.

Unfortunately journalists tend to be extremely credulous of any research that condemns tobacco and its related products. Last year The New York Times gave significant coverage to a thirdhand smoke study that consisted entirely of conducting a telephone poll of random people. Soon after Scientific American published an uncritical interview with the study’s author, Jonathan Winickoff, who said in an unmeasured words, “Smokers themselves are also contaminated…smokers actually emit toxins.”

If reporters are going to cover these sorts of stories, they owe it to readers to put the actual risks in proper perspective.

[Via Lene Johansen’s Twitter feed.]

Update: Since writing this some debate has gone back and forth on Twitter among science writer Lene Johansen, Jeff Stier at the American Counsel on Science and Health, and Reuters health editor Ivan Oransky. Since Twitter isn’t the most conducive format for extended comments I thought I’d clarify here why I object to the article.

The problem is not that this is junk science or that it shouldn’t be covered. The problem is that people reading the article aren’t interested in the abstract question of how nicotine reacts with other chemicals on a household surface. What they want to know is whether tobacco residue presents a real health hazard to them and whether there are policy implications stemming from the research.

A layman reading about all the carcinogens mentioned in the article would conclude that the health hazard is real. Given the dosages involved this belief is likely false and is certainly unproven. As science journalism, the article fails to give readers the context they need to make sense of the research.

As for policy, the article itself notes that the research is bound up with political goals. The findings may be used to justify such measures as employment discrimination, bans on e-cigarettes, and further restrictions on smokers. This makes providing the proper context doubly important. There are plenty of reputable skeptics of these measures and at the very least the article could have quoted one.

Update 2/9/10: Chris Snowdon’s lengthy debunking of thirdhand smoke fears from last year is worth rereading.

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Now they come for the pipe smokers

This was only a matter of time:

On January 13, 2010, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) and co-sponsor Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) introduced bill H.R. 4439 to congress to raise the federal pipe tobacco tax from $2.8311US per pound to $24.78US per pound and “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to impose the same rate of tax on pipe tobacco as is imposed on roll-your-own tobacco.”[…]

If this bill passes, the average increase to your favorite blends will be about:
$2.43US per 50gr
$2.74US per 2oz
$4.86US per 100gr
$10.98US per 8oz
$21.95US per 16oz
$24.15US per 500gr
These prices would be added onto the price you are currently paying for those amounts of pipe tobacco. So with the average price of 100gr tin McClelland Frog Morton being about $13.20US, the new price would be $18.06US! That is outrageous!

The motivation for the tax increase is to stop producers of roll-your-own tobacco (RYO) from repackaging their product as pipe tobacco, which is taxed at a lower rate. The two products are very similar and in the past were taxed at the same rate of $1.10 per pound. SCHIP created a huge disparity by raising the tax on pipe tobacco to $2.81 and the tax on RYO to an astronomical $24.62. RYO producers predictably reclassified their products just to keep their companies alive.

The congressmen introducing this bill are correct that the two types of tobacco should be taxed equally, but the solution is to lower the tax on RYO, not to tax both products at the insane new rate.

[Hat tip to the ever-alert Jan!]

Previously:
SCHIP tax avoision
Children, say “thank you for smoking”

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War on flavor continues

Hot on the heels of the FDA’s ban on flavored cigarettes (menthol excluded, of course), other governments are taking even more drastic steps against flavored tobacco. First Canada:

Canada has banned the manufacture, importation and sale of most flavored cigarettes and small cigars, which have been slammed as little more than an enticement to get children to start smoking. [Again, menthol excluded.]

The law, which came into effect on Thursday, was backed by both government and opposition lawmakers. It also bans tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines, closing a loophole that had allowed ads in publications that claimed they were read only by adults.

Then New York City:

The council, by a count of 46-1, voted to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco in the city, with the exception of tobacco used in pipes and hookahs. This goes a step further than the recent FDA ban, which banned flavored cigarettes (including cloves, but not menthol), because it bans flavored little cigars and chewing tobacco. Mayor Bloomberg has 10 days to decide to sign or veto the measure. If signed, the ban could go into effect in 120 days.

These bans are, in essence, forbidding the processing of tobacco to make it taste good. This sets a dangerous precedent for premium cigars. Might cask-aged cigars be next? Why allow leaves to be cured at all? After all, the aging process “masks” the harsh flavors of tobacco just as surely as adding a dollop of fruit-flavor does.

And after we do that, why not ban the flavoring of any other product that can be unhealthy?

[Via The Stogie Guys.]

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Smoke your cloves if you got ’em

The AP reports on a troubling new trend:

The nation’s top distributor of clove cigarettes is offering fans a new way to get their fix after the spice-flavored cigarettes are banned at the end of this month—cigars.

The new filtered cigars—close to the size of a cigarette and flavored with clove, vanilla and cherry—allow Kretek International Inc., which imports Djarum-brand tobacco products from Indonesia, to avoid new federal laws banning flavored cigarettes other than menthol.

The ban on flavored cigarettes, which critics say appeal to teenagers, doesn’t include cigars.

The difference? Cigarettes are wrapped in thin paper, cigars in tobacco leaves. While the cigars also are made with a different kind of tobacco, the taste is similar. The cigars come 12 to a pack, rather than 20 for cigarettes, but cost nearly half as much.

Why is this troubling? Not because people will continue smoking killer cloves. Not even because cigar shops may now be filled with their powerful aroma. No, it’s troubling because it will attract the government’s attention to cigars:

Whether the cigars are truly different or just an attempt to circumvent the ban by making superficial changes is in the hands of the FDA, said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“The key is the legislation gives the FDA the authority to respond to these types of frankly totally irresponsible actions,” Mr. Myers said.

Mr. Myers joined executives from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Amercian Legacy Foundation late last month urging the FDA to take a closer look at the issue.

Regulation of cigars is currently fairly light, allowing for the development of new brands and competition among them. And as an essentially pure agricultural product — they’re just rolls of cured leaves — that’s the way things ought to be. If the FDA or Congress starts turning its attention to cigars there’s no telling what harm they could to the industry.

I wrote about the pseudoscientific absurdity of banning flavored tobacco here.

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NYT gets Big Tobacco wrong… again

The New York Times editorial page leads today with a screed against tobacco companies for their lawsuit challenging advertising restrictions in the new FDA law. The board alleges that the companies are challenging the law so that they can surreptitiously market to minors. Leaving aside the authors’ cavalier dismissal of First Amendment rights, this is yet another example of how the board completely misunderstands the current state of tobacco regulation.

It’s easy to test whether the Times‘ charge has merit since there are basically just two reasons that firms pay for advertising. One is to introduce new consumers to a product they don’t currently use, which is what the Times believes Big Tobacco wants to do with young people and cigarettes. The other is to lure existing consumers of a product away from competing producers. This lets us make different predictions based on which motive we think is dominant.

If the Times is right and it’s the former, all tobacco companies would benefit from overturning the advertising restrictions and would present a united opposition to the law. If it’s the latter, only the smaller tobacco companies would challenge it; the largest firm would favor the law as a means of restricting competition.

Is the Times right? Bloomberg provides the answer:

Reynolds, the second-largest U.S. cigarette maker, and third-biggest Lorillard Tobacco Co. sued after opposing the legislation that gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight over tobacco products. […] Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA, which makes half of the cigarettes sold in the U.S., supported FDA regulation and endorsed the law.

This doesn’t mean that the smaller companies don’t want to target youth too or that Philip Morris won’t eventually join in, but Philip-Morris’ ambivalence is telling. The anti-competitive effects of the law were clearly one of the main factors at work in its passage.

Reading the Times’ editorial you would never know that the nation’s single largest producer of cigarettes isn’t part of the current lawsuit. This is the same error of omission they made with their opposition to Senator Kirstin Gillibrand, discussed at length here. Time and again the board’s anti-tobacco zealotry has caused them to misunderstand how tobacco regulation has changed after the Master Settlement Agreement. Big tobacco companies, and Philip Morris especially, now view the government as a partner they can use to protect their market share. By consistently misconstruing the effects of new regulations and neglecting to mention the industry’s hand in writing them, The New York Times has become the best mouthpiece Philip Morris could ever hope for.

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PCC goes ultra PC

Portland Community College, the largest higher education institution in the state, already cordons smokers off into smoking-permitted ghettos. Now it’s banning all forms of tobacco use on its campuses, indoors and out. This includes chewing tobacco. Why? Take it away, Preston Pulliams:

“This was the right thing to do,” said President Preston Pulliams in a prepared statement. He said research findings on the risks of exposure to secondhand smoke are “too compelling to not act.”

Meanwhile, Crispy co-blogger Baylen got a not-so-warm reception at his new digs at the University of Arkansas:

I was informed the other day, while walking on a sidewalk with a cigarette in hand on the University of Arkansas campus, that such an act–or chewing tobacco–is subject to a $500 fine. That’s smoking. Outside. Not near any person or building. $500.

People, there’s no evidence, compelling or otherwise, that passing a smoker on a sidewalk is going to do anybody any harm. There’s definitely no evidence that passing a person chewing tobacco is dangerous. Yet academic institutions around the country have bought into this nonsense in their zeal to harass students whose lifestyle they disapprove of, and in doing so they introduce thousands of young people to the idea that merely seeing a person smoking a cigarette is an infringement on their rights. We deserve better from the supposedly open-minded environment of academia.

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CA bill bans sales of e-cigs to minors

A bill introduced in California would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. While it’s not clear that there are a significant number of minors buying the products anyway, nobody wants to get kids hooked on nicotine. This is a much more sensible approach than that pursued here in Oregon, where the AG is strong-arming stores to take them off shelves.

To put the issue in clearer perspective, be sure to read Jacob Sullum’s post (linked in the sidebar too) about a new study on the effects of smokeless tobacco (as in snuff and snus, not e-cigs). The conclusion:

This comparison highlights the absurdity of the main “public health” objection to promoting smokeless tobacco as a harm-reducing alternative to cigarettes. Opponents of this strategy claim to be worried that it could lead to more tobacco-related mortality in the long run if it attracts nonsmokers to smokeless tobacco. But Lee and Hamling’s numbers indicate that if a significant percentage of smokers switched to oral snuff, the tobacco-related death toll would be smaller than it is now even if every nonsmoker in America started using oral snuff too. By the professed standards of public health, which seeks to minimize morbidity and mortality, this is a no-brainer. As with the opposition to electronic cigarettes, something else is going on here: a moralistic crusade to conquer sin disguised as a scientific quest to conquer disease.

For a variety of reasons, cigarettes are by far the most dangerous form of tobacco/nicotine. Occasional pipe and cigar use, snuff, and e-cigarettes are all safer by varying degrees, but the moral crusade of public health has placed discussion of these alternatives off limits.

[Thanks to Jan for the link!]

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Vapers, Birthers, what’s the difference?

Last week The Oregonian published a letter from me responding to Doug Bates’ post about a statewide ban on the sale of some e-cigarette products:

Doug Bates’ praise of Attorney General John Kroger’s negotiated ban on e-cigarette sales lacks perspective. Bates notes that trace amounts of carcinogenic nitrosamines have been found in e-cigarettes, but neglects to mention that comparable amounts are also found in FDA-approved nicotine patches and gums. More importantly, they exist in conventional tobacco at concentrations hundreds of times higher, along with dozens of other carcinogens not present in e-cigarettes. If Kroger’s ban causes consumers to revert back to smoking real cigarettes, that will be a perverse victory for public health.

Other readers wrote in with similar views and many testified that e-cigarettes have helped them quit smoking tobacco, prompting this thoughtless response from Doug:

As a footnote, I should add that last week’s posting produced quite a number of e-mails from around the country from those contending I’m a complete idiot because e-cigs are safe and actually help smokers give up tobacco. Yes, and Barack Obama was born in Kenya and his health plan is designed to kill old people.

I’m braced now for the next barrage. Bring it on . . .

I’m glad he’s braced for a barrage, but I’d rather just see him present some evidence that the trace amounts of nitrosamines in e-cigarette vapor cartridges are more dangerous than those in FDA-approved patches and gums and that smokers’ claims about using them to quit are false.

In the same post Doug admits that he’s “a bit rabid on the subject of legalized drug pushers.” That’s fine if he can back up his arguments with scientific evidence. Until then he’s not doing The Oregonian’s credibility any favors.

Previously:
E-cig panic comes to Oregon

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SCHIP tax avoision

Patrick and Patrick of the Stogie Guys are reporting live this weekend from the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association Trade Show in New Orleans. (Man, I’m missing all the fun events in New Orleans this summer!) My favorite bit so far is this clever subterfuge to get around the new SCHIP tax:

In our preview on Thursday we mentioned Arganese was creating a two-in-one cigar designed to minimize the SCHIP tax. Below is a photo of the cigar, called “S-This.” What might not be clear from the photo is the cigar is really two smokes, connected at their heads with an extra bit of wrapper that can easily be removed by the smoker. So while for tax purposes the consumer is buying five cigars, in reality they get ten smokes. Sneaky.

Joining two stogies and letting the consumer cut them apart is a great idea. I don’t know how these smoke, but I’d buy some just to stick it to the man.

Previously:
Will SCHIP sink the states?
SCHIP and “the” tobacco tax
Children, say “thank you” for smoking

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E-cig panic comes to Oregon

Via Doug Bates, resident anti-tobacco zealot at The Oregonian, comes word that Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has bullied two convenience store chains into agreements not to sell electronic cigarettes:

The Oregon Department of Justice today filed two settlements that prevent two national travel store chains from selling “electronic cigarettes” in Oregon. The action is the first of its kind in the country and prevents Oregonians from buying potentially dangerous products that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve.

“When products threaten the health and safety of Oregonians, we will take action,” said Mary Williams, Deputy Attorney General. “If companies want to sell electronic cigarettes to consumers, they have to be able to prove they are safe.” […]

The settlement announced today prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes in Oregon until they are approved by FDA, or until a court rules the FDA does not have the authority to regulate electronic cigarettes. Even if courts decide that the FDA does not have regulation authority, the settlement stipulates that electronic cigarettes may not be sold in Oregon unless there is competent and reliable scientific evidence to support the product’s safety claims. In addition, the companies must give the Attorney General advance notice that they intend to sell electronic cigarettes in Oregon, provide copies of all electronic cigarette advertising, and provide copies of the scientific studies they maintain substantiates their claims.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that Kroger’s office isn’t going to take an unbiased look at any evidence the chains might bring forward. And while it’s of course worthwhile to study e-cigarettes further, this ban and the panic spread by the FDA and anti-smoking groups is based upon virtually no evidence that they are dangerous. Michael Siegel has been doing his usual bang-up job putting the science in perspective:

As these data show, the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines present in electronic cigarettes is at the trace level. It is measurable in parts per trillion (nanograms per gram). It is comparable to the nitrosamine levels in nicotine replacement products which are approved by the FDA.

In contrast, the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines present in tobacco products are 300 to 1400 times higher. On a weight-for-weight basis, Marlboro has 1400 times higher the level of tobacco-specific nitrosamines than an electronic cigarette cartridge. And keep in mind that these represent the levels in the cartridges and cigarettes, not in the tobacco smoke or e-cigarette vapor which are directly inhaled. Because of the much higher temperatures generated in tobacco combustion compared to propylene glycol vaporization, the delivery of these carcinogens into the vapor is expected to be much lower than into the tobacco smoke.

Moreover, there are approximately 56 other carcinogens that have been identified to be present at high levels in tobacco smoke, while there are no other carcinogens that have been identified to be present in electronic cigarettes.

Siegel acknowledges that some minor steps should be taken, such as forbidding sale of e-cigarettes to children and ensuring that the diethylene glycol issue is fixed. Both of these goals are easily accomplished without banning the product entirely.

Slight alterations to e-cigarettes may make them safer. The important thing to keep in mind though is that they are already much, much safer than real cigarettes, and if e-cigs are removed from the market many of the people who buy them will go back to smoking actual tobacco. Banning what so far appears to be an effective smoking cessation device is no victory for public health.

From what I can tell, the main reason people oppose e-cigarettes is because the devices look like real cigarettes and mimic the act of smoking. Yet it’s those very qualities that may make them an effective way to quit. Nicotine habits are hard to break not only due to chemical dependence, but also because of the rituals involved. E-cigs mimic those rituals in a way that gums and patches, which also contain trace amounts of nitrosamines, cannot.

Perhaps in a perfect world there would be nothing resembling a cigarette. In the real world there are about 45 million smokers in the US, many of whom would like to quit. It’s perverse to take away one of the tools they could use to do so just because it looks like the far more dangerous product it’s meant to replace.

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Aroma-Schutz durch rauchfreien Raum

Jim Romenesko at Starbucks Gossip links to a blog dedicated to replacing the aroma of tobacco smoke outside of Starbucks stores with the sweet smell of self-righteousness:

A blog established to encourage Starbucks (SBUX) to stop supporting smoking at their stores. SBUX, where it is legal, allows smoking outside of their stores. Not a very “socially conscious” policy. Not to mention, how does a business so closely tied to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure (breast cancer), reconcile allowing smoking at their stores?

Yikes, giving people a place to smoke, even if that place is outside, now detracts from a business’s social consciousness? And wanting to find cures for cancer now requires taking control over customers’ personal behavior? Obviously Starbucks is a private business and if they decide to ban smoking outside their stores they have every right to do so, but:

1) It might be more reasonable to ban it only in some stores, such as those with small urban storefronts. Suburban stores with large patios could easily accommodate smokers and non-smokers.

2) A guy smoking a cigarette in open air isn’t going to give anybody cancer. He might be annoying but so is the guy with the portable radio, the guy who hasn’t bathed in three days, and the friends chatting too loudly about their sex lives. In a civil society we learn when to tolerate such things and when to ask the store to intervene and it’s not clear that a chain-wide ban is needed to deal with them. In any case, allowing people to smoke outside where they do harm only to themselves is perfectly compatible with raising money for cancer research.

3) This blogger’s “campaign” is part of the trend to demonize smokers, portraying their behavior not just as unhealthy but as anti-social. This kind of thinking is what has led to extending legislated smoking bans from indoor spaces to places like beaches, golf courses, and public parks, where it’s absurd to claim there are any deleterious health effects from secondhand smoke. Starbucks might reasonably decide that forbidding smoking would be good for business but this would not put them on moral high ground.

4) Yes, it’s rude to light up next to other people without asking their permission but where else are smokers supposed to go? Now that they’ve been exiled from indoor businesses, even from tobacco shops in some jurisdictions, one can understand why they feel entitled to the outdoor spaces they have remaining.

5) Starbucks actually deserves great credit for their non-smoking policies. As I wrote about in 2006, they’ve been a pioneer in international markets for creating smokefree cafes in countries where these were predicted to fail. (The title of this post is a translation of the signs they posted in Austria explaining their policy: “aroma protection through a smoke-free space.”) They’ve probably helped change expectations for American cafes too. Given all this, it’s a bit spiteful to call them socially irresponsible for accommodating their smoking customers outside.

6) Sitting outside on a summer day with coffee and a cigar can be a wonderful experience. If you can find a place to do so where you won’t impose on other customers I highly recommend it.

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Beating the ban

Thanks to a couple of pro-property rights court rulings and unified resistance to the national smoking ban, Dutch bar and cafe owners have successfully fought back against the intrusive law. J. D. Tuccille explains:

The key to the apparent victory appears to be cooperation. Bars and cafes across the country coordinated their defiance of the smoking ban after business dropped by as much as 30% in the wake of the law’s passage. To lure back customers who wanted cigarettes with their drinks, bars put the ashtrays back on the tables.

First-hand accounts even had bar patrons using table-top candle holders for their ashes in establishments that didn;t want tomake their defiance too obvious.

The Dutch government fined hundreds of establishments, but couldn’t break the back of the resistance.

The law suffered perhaps fatal setbacks when courts ruled that the the government had no authority to impose total bans on small establishments that had no staff when it let larger businesses designate smoking areas. Another court ruled in favor of a bar owner who designated a store room as the (non-smoking) bar and the rest of the establishment as a smoking area.

Now, Dutch bar and cafe owners are free — at least for the time being — to establish rules that attract customers and suit their businesses.

Unfortunately, courts in the US haven’t been nearly as willing to protect the property rights of bar owners, making such civil disobedience less likely to pay off here.

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