2014-11-16 PBS TV: Massachusetts town mulls nation’s first total tobacco ban

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This news story on PBS Weekend edition, which I just finished watching, is interesting. It’s about Westminster, a small Massachusetts town up in arms over a proposal by its three member Board of Health to ban the sale of all nicotine products within the city, citing public health benefits. If it does so, it will be a first in the nation.

However, at a recent Board of Health public meeting almost all the residents attending were apparently opposed, as well as local businesses who argued that jobs and consumer freedom is at stake.

It’s a typical battle of health versus wealth that we’ve seen played out here in Missouri for decades, including in St. Charles and St. Charles County where the Ameristar Casino calls the shots.

Those of you familiar with this issue will note some typical responses by opponents, such as the slippery slope argument of one retailer, who also claimed he’d lose two-thirds of what he pays his employees if sales were banned.

The very first comment in the TV broadcast from a member of the public attending the meeting was this:

You people make me sick!

You people make me sick!

That’s pretty ironic, as I suspect the reporter was all too aware.

Click here to listen to the 8 minute podcast or just watch it on-line by clicking the link: Massachusetts town mulls nation’s first total tobacco ban

Below is pasted the transcript from the above website:

NewsHour Weekend’s WILLIAM BRANGHAM reports: The town of Westminster, Massachusetts — population 7,300 — is a small, quiet community about an hour west of Boston.

When the local health board holds meetings, it usually happens here in this room, where you can get advice about things like septic tanks and mosquito control. But not on this day. This meeting Wednesday night had to be moved to the local elementary school because the town is up in arms.

MAN: You people make me sick!

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Why so mad? That Board of Health is proposing to make Westminster the first town in the entire country to completely ban the sale of tobacco.

ANDREA CRETE, WESTMINSTER BOARD OF HEALTH: It can be argued that the Board of Health permitting these establishments to sell these dangerous products that, when used as directed, kills 50 percent of its users, ethically goes against our public health mission.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The town’s proposal would make it illegal to sell any product containing nicotine within city limits. So no cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, vaporizers. You’d still be able to smoke or use tobacco in town, just not buy it.

ANDREA CRETE: If we can prevent children from having access and exposure to tobacco and nicotine products and reduce the chances of them smoking or using them, then we’ve essentially saved lives.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: While it’s already illegal for kids to buy tobacco, the health board says the tobacco industry makes products like these — shiny, fruit flavored cigars and tobacco products — in order to lure kids into a lifetime habit. The industry denies targeting kids.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The effort began when one of the three health board members suggested the tobacco ban, following the lead of other health boards in other Massachusetts towns that had limited where residents could smoke or what kind of tobacco products they could buy. Westminster’s volunteer board then consulted a specialist to examine the pros and cons of a total ban.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: They talked with D.J. Wilson is the tobacco control director for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, a policy group that advises local towns.

D.J. WILSON: We would never have guessed 10 years ago that there would’ve been 49-cent grape cigars available to kids, or that electronic cigarettes would’ve come in– that they existed at all, or come in cotton candy flavors. I don’t speak for the Board of Health, but I think their goals — they are tired of having different products pop up that are very kid friendly.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The biggest opponents of the proposal are the seven local stores in Westminster who’re licensed to sell tobacco. They’re almost all opposed.

BRIAN VINCENT: Thanks everybody for coming today–

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Store owner Brian Vincent has been one of the most vocal. He owns Vincent’s Country Store on Main Street in town. It’s a medium-sized grocery store that Vincent’s dad started and ran for 18 years. He says no store in Westminster has ever been cited for selling tobacco to kids, and banning it would cost more than just tobacco sales.

BRIAN VINCENT: Most people that buy tobacco will grab a cold drink for the road, maybe scratch tickets, a bag of chips. So it’s not just an $8 sale, it’s a $20-30 dollar sale.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Vincent points out there are several neighboring towns around Westminster full of stores that sell tobacco, so he says the ban would just drive customers — and their money — elsewhere.

BRIAN VINCENT: We’re just going to be sending all these sales 5 minutes down the road to another town where these customers will spend money on gas out of town, food out of town, and before you know it the gas stations are going under in Westminster and other businesses.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Another concern that’s been raised is the potential impact on jobs. Most mornings at the Depot General Store, you’ll find a few regulars hanging
out, having coffee before work.

WOMAN: This better be a winner, because wouldn’t that be great?

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Chris Bjurling has owned this small convenience store for 22 years. Like a lot of businesses, he supports the local police and kids’ sporting teams. He also employs seven people, several of them full time.

He’s calculated that losing the tobacco and related retail sales would cost him roughly two-thirds of the money he uses to pay those employees. And for some of them, these are crucial jobs.

CHRIS BJURLING: It becomes very personal — these people are important to me. Lisa has been with me for 18 years. Denise has been, I’d have to ask her, but I’m gonna say 12 to 13 years. For Lisa, I am her entire income. She in fact will lose her house if–

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: –if this job doesn’t exist.

CHRIS BJURLING: That’s right.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: We’ve heard from several local businesses that if tobacco is not allowed to be sold here that’s gonna really hurt their business here and could jeopardize local jobs. If that’s true, do you think that that economic pain is worth the public health benefit?

D.J. WILSON: Well you know, I mean, there has been a lot of quantifying that a lot of the diseases that are caused from smoking have cost us in the state tens of millions and nationally hundreds of millions of dollars. It is a huge cost — tax burden to the American people, to the American workforce to have people on disability and having to retire earlier because they smoked for a lifetime. So, that is something that you have to weigh against the loss of profit from selling tobacco products in a retail store.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: According to the U.S. Surgeon General, tobacco-related illnesses cost an estimated 300 billion dollars a year in medical care and lost productivity, to say nothing about the lost or shortened lives.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: In Westminster, while local businesses have been the main critics of this plan, it seems many local residents don’t like it either. And not just the smokers. Of the two dozen or so people we spoke with, we could find only one resident who supported the ban.

MAN: I just praise the community that’s standing up for it and making a statement for it maybe it will become more of a norm in the future.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But that was definitely the minority position.

WOMAN: They are leaving’ us no choice but to take our business out of town.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Even someone like Jim Patria — who smoked for 30 years, now has chronic pulmonary obstructive disease, can barely breathe even with an oxygen tube in his nose — even he’s against the ban.

I mean you of all people you should know why the town would want to stop smoking — you have all these health conditions from it — but you still think banning it is a bad idea.

JIM PATRIA: Yeah, yeah, I do. I don’t if I have a great explanation for my feeling but I do.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is it that you don’t want the government telling you what you can and can’t do?

JIM PATRIA: No. It’s not that so much. I wanna say i just don’t think it will work. I don’t think it’ll work, banning it.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Store owner Chris Bjurling said he thinks banning tobacco in town would just be the beginning:

CHRIS BJURLING: Is it alcohol next? Or is it the candy bar? Too much sugar. And they say “Oh no, we wouldn’t even consider something like that,” but when you crusade, once accomplish one crusade, you gotta have another one. I mean, it’s in your blood now. You want more success. And they’ll go on to something else.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: At that town hall meeting Wednesday, the Board of Health got an earful.

MAN: Whether it’s me, my children, my family, my friends, or my neighbors, is their free choice to smoke. This meeting, with all these cameras here, is a mockery of this town in front of the United States of America!

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The residents of Westminster don’t get to vote on this proposed tobacco ban. City officials don’t get to vote either. The decision will be made by the three member Board of Health. They’re supposed to decide later in December.

MAN IN CROWD: Freedom!

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: When some of the crowd got too unruly, the board cancelled the hearing after just four speakers.

ANDREA CRETE, WESTMINSTER BOARD OF HEALTH: All right, this hearing is closed. Thank you all for coming–

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The police escorted the chair of the Board of Health out the door and safely to her car, while someone tried to get the crowd to sing ‘God Bless America.’

MAN: …white with foam… God bless America, my home, sweet home!

2014-11-09 – Mr. Butts rebukes the states on spending too little on anti-smoking efforts!

Yes, folks, Mr. Butts, aka “Big Tobacco,” is rebuking the U.S. states for spending so little of the estimated whopping $256 billion tobacco settlement money they’re due to receive over 25 years on anti-smoking efforts. Cartoonist Gary Trudeau illustrates it thusly:

Doonesbury cartoon db141109 2014-11-10

Doonesbury cartoon db141109 2014-11-09 by Gary Trudeau

That’s certainly true in Missouri, where in most years virtually NONE of the tobacco settlement money has been spent on such efforts, despite Missouri having received tens of millions of dollars. I recall Republican Matt Blunt, when he was Missouri Governor, did propose a trifling $1 million effort one year, which was rejected by the legislature. (That was better than his Democratic counterpart, incidentally.)

The national group, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, tracks these expenditures and the latest data for Missouri for FY2014 includes the following:

MO 2014 tobacco settlement spending on tobacco control

MO 2014 tobacco settlement spending on tobacco prevention
click to enlarge

According to this graphic, Missouri received more than $183 million from the settlement in 2014. The CDC recommended that nearly $74 million of that should be spent on tobacco prevention. Missouri actually spent a paltry $76,364, or 0.1% of the recommended amount.

Only 99.9% to go!

2014-08-26 BBC: ” ‘Ban E-cigarette use indoors,’ says WHO”

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Comic strip by Mike Peters, reproduced from St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Comic strip by Mike Peters, St. Louis Post-Dispatch 2014-08-24.
ref: http://www.grimmy.com/comics.php


The subject of e-cigarettes has surfaced again and, in addition to the WHO article below, I came across the above timely comic strip in the local newspaper recently. (Note that Mother Goose is smoking outdoors! – albeit near an open window.)

The WHO report by the BBC garnered a lot of responses. I read a few of those featured as Editor’s Picks, which unanimously favor the use of e-cigarettes as a way to either switch from smoking regular cigarettes or quit entirely.

‘Ban E-cigarette use indoors,’ says WHO
COMMENTS (1531)
By Smitha Mundasad
BBC News Health reporter, 26 August 2014


There are more than 8,000 different flavours of e-cigarettes.

There are more than 8,000 different flavours of e-cigarettes.

The World Health Organization says there should be a ban on the use of e-cigarettes indoors and that sales to children should stop.
         In a report the health body says there must be no more claims that the devices can help smokers quit – until there is firm evidence to support this.
         WHO experts warn the products might pose a threat to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women.
         But campaigners say regulations must be proportionate.

Tempting flavours

According to the WHO legal steps need to be taken to end the use of e-cigarettes indoors – both in public spaces and in work places.
         And the report focuses on the potential for products to spark wider cigarette use in children.
         The health experts call for a ban on advertisements that could encourage children and non-smokers to use the devices.
         And they say fruit, candy or alcoholic-drink style flavours should be prohibited too, while the sales of electronic cigarettes from vending machines should be heavily restricted.

1. On some e-cigarettes, inhalation activates the battery-powered atomiser. Other types are manually switched on

2. A heating coil inside the atomiser heats liquid nicotine contained in a cartridge

3. Liquid nicotine becomes vapour and is inhaled. The ‘smoke’ produced is largely water vapour. Many e-cigarettes have an LED light as a cosmetic feature to simulate traditional cigarette glow.

‘Health threats’

The WHO warns exhaled e-cigarette vapour could increase the background air levels of some toxicants and nicotine.
         Jump media playerMedia player helpOut of media player. Press enter to return or tab to continue.
Observing a lab test comparing traditional smoking with e-cigarettes
According to the team while e-cigarettes are likely to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they may pose threats to adolescents and the foetuses of pregnant women who use these devices.
         But some researchers suggest tough regulations may prevent smokers having access to products that are potentially less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
         A spokesman for the British American Tobacco company said: “We have always said that given nicotine is addictive, minimum age laws of 18 for the sale of e-cigarettes should be introduced.
         “However, if overly restrictive regulations are introduced hampering innovation or adult usage, then this could simply stifle the growth of new products and prevent smokers from being aware of and having access to them – this can only be bad thing for public health.”
         Hazel Cheeseman, at the charity Action on Smoking and Health, said there was no evidence of any harm to bystanders and warned regulation needed to be proportionate.
         She added: “Smoking kills 100,000 people in the UK alone.
         “Smokers who switch to using electronic cigarettes in whole or in part are likely to substantially reduce their health risks.
         “Although we cannot be sure that electronic cigarettes are completely safe, as the WHO acknowledges, they are considerably less harmful than smoking tobacco and research suggests that they are already helping smokers to quit.”

Global guidelines

A UK Department of Health spokeswoman said: “More and more people are using e-cigarettes and we want to make sure they are properly regulated so we can be sure of their safety.
         “We have already set out our intention to change the law to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children under 18.
         “The UK has an existing licensing system for higher strength products and those that claim to help people quit.
         “We are also bringing in new European rules to cover lower strength products which will ban most advertising, limit nicotine levels and set standards for ingredients, labelling and packaging.”
         The WHO’s recommendations were published ahead of a meeting involving all countries that have signed up to an international convention on tobacco control.
         New global guidelines could be agreed during the October meeting.

The tobacco lobby continues to influence legislation

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My thanks to Stan Cowan, who e-mailed me several interesting articles, both about the influence the tobacco industry continues to wield, as well as a recent potential setback for them.

While it may have lost a major lawsuit – we won’t know until the appeals process is complete and a final damage figure, if any, is announced – the tobacco industry is regaining clout in some states.

John Britton in State Capitol

John Britton in Missouri State Capitol

Victor Crawford during 60 Minutes interview

Victor Crawford during 60 Minutes interview

Regarding the recent obituary of former tobacco industry lobbyist John Britton, and another, Victor Crawford, who eventually exposed dirty industry secrets before his death from throat cancer in 1996 at age 63, Stan wrote:

“Victor Crawford wanted to come clean. He knew he had done wrong.

[Please see original 60 Minutes interview of Victor Crawford by reporter Lesley Stahl at tinyurl.com/qfgvjgf]

John Britton never did express regret that his actions on behalf of the Tobacco Institute and later, Brown & Williamson, may have caused countless more Missouri youth to become addicted, additional diseases to be manifested, and more premature deaths.

You may appreciate some of the recent editorial and newspaper stories regarding tobacco industry political contributions.”

California Democrats accept more from tobacco industry 8-2-14

CA tobacco money over public health OpEd 8-7-14

What if tobacco companies were treated like other drug pushers?

Why tobacco companies deserve punitive damages 08-03-14

John Britton: A lost opportunity?

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Following the death of John Britton, a good friend and smoke-free air ally, Jim Blaine, M.D., replied:

Here is his obit:

http://www.newstribune.com/obituaries/2014/aug/07/john-britton/

Makes me wish that I had taken the time to get to know him better. He could have been very effective if he had decided to turn State’s evidence near the end.

Best,

Jim

Interestingly, the obituary referenced above makes absolutely no mention of Britton’s highly influential and damaging work for the former Tobacco Institute. But the observation that “He could have been very effective if he had decided to turn State’s evidence near the end” is certainly valid, if unfortunately too late.

It reminds me of the late Victor Crawford, also a very effective lobbyist, who DID expose his former paymasters after contracting terminal throat cancer. He was the subject of a 60 Minutes segment and an Ann Landers column that appeared in a Spring 1995 MoGASP Newsletter, reproduced below:

Victor Crawford expose

Please click the above repeatedly to enlarge. Use the back-button to return to this page.

2014-08-06 P-D: “Lobbyist John Britton dies after a half-century as one of the most powerful people in Missouri”

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The death of John Britton at age 88 proves that cigarette smoking is good for you and increases longevity. Either that, or he’d made a pact with the Devil (and the tobacco industry, for whom he lobbied very effectively in the State Capitol in Jefferson City for many years).

Even without Britton, the tobacco lobby remains very influential and I don’t expect any good state smoke-free air bill being introduced anytime soon.

I’ve featured Britton before and it’s worth revisiting this earlier blog, posted on August 31, 2009:
Columnist Bill McClellan on tobacco lobbyist John Britton, aka “Mayor of Jefferson City”

John Britton in his Jefferson City office (Photograph courtesy & copyright: Parker Eshelman)

John Britton in his Jefferson City office
(Photograph courtesy & copyright: Parker Eshelman)

The obituary by reporter Michael D. Sorkin in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch is here:
Lobbyist John Britton dies after a half-century as one of the most powerful people in Missouri

The first two paragraphs sum Britton up well, although the full story contains interesting details of which I was formerly unaware, like his military service and education:

John Britton was a recovering alcoholic known for being ready with a case of beer for legislators in Jefferson City. In addition to being the lobbyist for the world’s largest brewery, he was the chain-smoking representative for the tobacco industry.

With his influence, the beer industry routinely stopped the state from raising taxes on its products. The tobacco companies regularly beat back every effort by the state to restrict smoking in public places.

2014-07-22 P-D: “No e-cigarettes for minors in Chesterfield after council vote”

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I wasn’t aware of this step being considered by Chesterfield City Council. It should not detract from the need for FDA oversight of e-cigarettes and of their being treated cautiously, even if they hold out the prospect of a safer means of delivering nicotine than regular cigarettes.

I gave some of my reasons for supporting a veto of Senate Bill 841 relating to this issue in a Letter to the Editor, published June 29: “Don’t let industry set e-cigarette laws.

No e-cigarettes for minors in Chesterfield after council vote
• By Tara Kulash tkulash@post-dispatch.com 314-340-81145

CHESTERFIELD • Chesterfield joined a growing list of municipalities Monday that are preventing the sale of vapor nicotine products to minors, taking action one week after a potential statewide ban was vetoed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.
         The City Council voted 6-1 Monday night in favor of an ordinance that would prohibit the sale and possession of vapor products to those under 18.

Council member Barry Flaschbart

Council member
Barry Flaschbart

“These e-cigarettes should not be for sale to kids — I’ve gotten a complaint from a neighbor whose teenage kids were solicited to buy them in a store,” said council member Barry Flachsbart, who voted for the measure.
         Vapor products are electronic devices with liquid nicotine that claim to lack the carcinogens found in tobacco. Usually called e-cigarettes, the products produce a vapor instead of smoke.
         Many supporters of the product argue that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes and often help users to quit tobacco use.
         But the industry is largely unregulated at the federal level and may appear safer than it actually is.
         Dr. Anthony Scalzo, professor of pediatrics and director of toxicology at St. Louis University, called it “intuitive” to prohibit minors from the product.
         “The whole process of inhaling nicotine through this electronic thing, it eliminates toxins — yes, that’s the good part,” he said. “The bad thing is it’s still nicotine.”
         Scalzo said because the vapor lacks an offensive odor and lasts much longer than a cigarette, it encourages users to smoke it for longer periods of time and in public. This leads to a higher dose of nicotine over time and can lead to a stronger addiction, especially in children whose brains aren’t fully developed.
         He also said it’s worrisome that there may be contaminants in the vapors that the public is not aware of yet.
         And it’s especially concerning for children, Scalzo said, because it appears the companies are targeting them with flavors.
         “What 45-year-old guy that goes to the casino and is smoking wants bubblegum flavored? It’s appealing to the youth,” he said. “Let’s cut to the chase.”
         Parents in Chesterfield became aware of the threat and began making complaints to the city, said councilwoman Nancy Greenwood.
         Council member Bruce DeGroot cast the lone vote against the measure Monday.
         “This is too much government intervention,” DeGroot said. “Nobody has proven to me (e-cigarettes) are harmful to health in any way. Government powers should be used sparingly.”
         Several local vapor shops support the ordinance.
         Luke Ottinger, a co-owner of Arch City Vapors in the Chesterfield Four Seasons Shopping Plaza, said his shop does not sell to minors, nor does it allow parents to purchase the products for their children.
         He acknowledged one isolated incident, though, in which an employee sold a vapor product to a minor.
         The employee, he said, was fired.
         “We don’t even give warnings for that,” Ottinger said. “As far as we’re concerned, that’s not acceptable.”
         At Dorsett Vapor in Chesterfield, there’s a sign on the door notifying patrons that no one under 18 is allowed without a guardian.
         Store manager Dakota Rhoads said his shop also turns away adult customers who say they are buying the vapor products for their children.
         He said it would feel morally wrong to provide e-cigarettes to minors. “Getting them hooked at an early age is not something that we would want to do,” Rhoads said.
         Chesterfield is not the first in its ordinance. Ray Johnson, chief of the Chesterfield police, said Ellisville and Eureka have similar ordinances. Illinois also banned the sale to minors.
         Missouri legislators sent a bill to Nixon in May that would prohibit the sale to children. It would also prevent the product from being regulated as tobacco, but it allowed for changes to be made to the law if product risks were made known in the future.
         In April, the Federal Drug Administration released proposed guidelines that would prohibit the sale of vapor products to minors and require label warnings that nicotine is an addictive chemical, among other rules.
         On July 14, Nixon vetoed the Missouri legislation, arguing that the bill didn’t go far enough. He said it favored the tobacco industry because it exempted vapor products from the laws and taxes on traditional tobacco cigarettes.
         The next day, the American Vaping Association called for the Missouri Legislature to override the governor’s veto, calling Nixon “out of step with the rest of the nation” in a press release.
         More than 40 states have banned the sale of vapor products to minors.
         In the case of Chesterfield, police chief Johnson said after receiving complaint from a resident, he took the issue to the Public Health and Safety Committee, which then recommended the ordinance to the council.
         Johnson said the ordinance is not targeting any particular vapor shop.
         “We’re seeing more and more pop up around the metro area, so we’re just trying to get out ahead of this thing,” he said.

Mary Shapiro, Post-Dispatch special correspondent, contributed to this report.