2015-04-23 P-D Comics: Dilbert’s attitude to smoking

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In today’s comics section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Dilbert had something to say about smoking during a technical interview:

Dilbert dt150423

Well, I didn’t know about this 2010 Israeli study either and I found it surprising. In part, that was because my former next door neighbor in Harlow, England, who had a Ph.D. in Chemistry, was a bright guy working for 3M and also an addicted smoker. (He finally quit, thanks to pressure from family members, including his asthmatic son.)

Dr. Evarts Graham, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, was a long-time cigarette smoker who, together with Ernst Wynder, was the first to report a definitive link between smoking and lung cancer. Dr. Graham later died of lung cancer in 1957 at age 73.

So, back to Dilbert’s reference to a 2010 Israeli study that smokers have a lower IQ than nonsmokers. It turns out that there IS such a study, and you can find it reported here:

Smoking linked to lower IQ’s


But it’s not that smoking LOWERS your IQ. It’s that those with LOWER IQ’s are more likely to smoke. As reported in the article, Dr. Mark Weiser from the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital in Israel said:

“It’s very clear that people with low IQs are the ones who choose to smoke. It’s not just a matter of socioeconomic status – if they are poor or have less education – and because of that do less well on IQ tests. And that’s really the story,” he says.

Protected: The Little (smoke-free) Engine that could(n’t quite prevail in St. Charles County)

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2015-04-13 P-D Bill McClellan: “Lung cancer doesn’t get the attention it deserves”

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Today’s column instantly brought back memories of my late sister, Lilian, a nonsmoker who nonetheless died of lung cancer shortly before her 58th birthday in England in 1988. She was lying in bed unconscious by the time I arrived, after flying via TWA from Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to Gatwick Airport in southern England. I had always admired her for being pretty but on this occasion her face was distorted, as though she was trying to escape from her skin, and she was taking raspy breaths. She never did regain consciousness before she died hours later.

In 2009 I memorialized her death in a blog, illustrated with photos of happier times, and posted on November 11th, the date that she died, titled:

In Memoriam: Lilian (Leah) Williams, nee Pion

Below I’ve pasted Bill McClellan’s on-line column, which in the print version is titled “Lung cancer doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” which I think is a better title so I’ve used it for this blog.

One thing that struck me in McClellan’s column below is this paragraph:

“There is no behavioral link to breast cancer, no one blaming the patients, no one asking if they were smokers.”

Dr. A. Judson Wells

Dr. A. Judson Wells

In 1987 I read a ground-breaking paper by A. Judson Wells, Ph.D., which estimated non-smoking deaths due to secondhand smoke exposure, and included breast cancer deaths among them.
This was at a time when any such association between secondhand smoke and breast cancer was generally dismissed by the medical community. I believe that association has now been recognized.

P.S. After posting this I received the following e-mail from a former St. Louis resident, good friend, and mogasp supporter. He was kind enough to allow me to post it without attribution:

“Thanks for forwarding Bill’s column with your commentary.
We had a very good friend who never smoked and her husband was a very heavy smoker. She eventually died of lung cancer and it devastated my wife who had become very fond of this woman. We were unable to maintain contact with her husband (the couple had moved to Quebec, Canada).
Your sister in Brighton brought back memories.
In 1936 my older sister was put into a boarding school in Brighton for a year since public schools in Germany were closed to Jews. I followed to the UK a year later (9/37) and we both ended up in Bournemouth (of course at two different boarding schools).
On Thursday, 4/16, we celebrate 76 years since we landed in New York.
Had I told you before that the community to which we’ve retired is now smoke free within 25 feet of any window or doorway of any community building?
Life is good out here in the great Northwest.”

What’s truly an amazing coincidence is that my family moved from East London to Bournemouth shortly before WWII on the advice of a family doctor. He said my sister, who had severe bronchitis, would not survive if we remained in London’s dirty air, polluted from numerous homes heated by inefficient coal fires. He recommended Bournemouth, a seaside town in the middle of the south coast, for the “healthy ozone” from its many pine trees.

Another reason we might not have survived was this. When my family visited London shortly after the end of the war, half of Sigdon Rd. in East London where we had lived had been destroyed by a V2 rocket!

Those with lung cancer find themselves fighting on two fronts
13 hours ago • By Bill McClellan

Bill McClellan banner FS 500 96 (M 300 58)

Larry Less woke up one morning five years ago with the taste of blood in his mouth. He was 61 and lived alone. He thought about driving himself to the emergency room and then decided to call an ambulance.
Two days later, he woke up in a hospital. A doctor told him he had had a heart attack. Also, he had terminal lung cancer. He was my oldest friend. I wrote about visiting him before his death. He was a skeletal figure and he still smoked. Why quit?
Shortly after Larry’s death, Beth Radinsky began having a pain in her hip. She was 65. People that age get random pains. She understood that. She was a physical therapist. Later, she had chest pains and went through a battery of tests. Lung cancer. She had never smoked.
By the time her cancer was diagnosed, it had spread. The pain in her hip? Cancer had eaten up the hip bone. She died in September of 2013.
Larry and Beth represent two sizable minorities among people diagnosed with lung cancer. Twenty one percent are smokers. Eighteen percent never smoked. The rest are former smokers, many of whom have been off cigarettes for years, even decades.
Still, the link between smoking and lung cancer has stuck lung cancer patients with a stigma that other cancer patients don’t have to deal with.
Cheryl Lamprecht was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005. She had never smoked. She went to the Siteman Cancer Center to get information about support groups. There were none.
Later, she met another lung cancer patient who had also unsuccessfully looked for a support group. Myrtle Chidester was a former smoker. She had been off cigarettes for 20 years when she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005.
The two women became their own support group. Then they founded an actual support group in 2009. They called it Lung Cancer Alliance. It is now called Lung Cancer Connection. They wanted to do more than support other patients. They wanted to advocate for more research money. Lung cancer is one of the least-funded cancers despite the fact that it claims more lives than breast, prostate, colon, liver and kidney cancers combined.
Also, they wanted more emphasis on early detection. One reason it is so deadly is the low rate of early detection.
Cheryl was fortunate in that regard. She had a chest X-ray taken because of a persistent cough. The first diagnosis was pneumonia. Seven months later came the diagnosis of lung cancer.
She had half of her left lung removed and underwent chemotherapy. She was cancer-free for five years. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
No one wants to be a connoisseur of cancers, but Cheryl could not help but notice the difference between the two. There is no behavioral link to breast cancer, no one blaming the patients, no one asking if they were smokers. Perhaps the more profound difference was this — at a run for breast cancer in which survivors wore pink, Cheryl, wearing pink herself, saw a sea of women wearing pink.
At a walk organized by the Lung Cancer Connection in 2009, there were less than a dozen survivors.
In fact, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 15.9 percent. For breast cancer, it is 98.6 percent. For that matter, more women die of lung cancer than of breast cancer. That is not meant to minimize breast cancer. My sister died of breast cancer when she was 34.
Myrtle died in 2012.
I met with Cheryl and several members of the Lung Cancer Connection last week. Among the members was Bob Radinksy, Beth’s husband. He talked about the need for early detection. The group provides money for screenings. X-rays, CT scans. People don’t understand everybody is at risk, Bob said. Not all insurance companies provide screenings for people with no risk factors.
Bob first called me in the summer of 2013. I had written a column comparing life to walking across a frozen lake.
“We just fell through the ice,” he said.
Roy Williams was also in the group. He is 66 and he quit smoking almost 30 years ago. He had a chest X-ray two years ago, and doctors discovered early stage lung cancer. He will be among the survivors on the stage this Saturday when Lung Cancer Connection holds its annual walk at the Chesterfield Amphitheater.
Originally, the group held the walk in November. That’s Lung Cancer Awareness month. A November walk didn’t work well because of the weather, but that’s the way it goes for lung cancer patients and their advocates.

Bill McClellan worked as a reporter in Phoenix before coming to the Post-Dispatch in 1980. He was night-police reporter before becoming a columnist in 1983. He also appears on Channel 9’s Donnybrook.

2015-02-15 HBO: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco

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John Oliver Tobacco sh

John Oliver: “Tobacco. It used to be a cornerstone of American life. It’s how we knew sex was over before the female orgasm was invented.”

Please click still image above or the following live link to view:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Tobacco (HBO)

Thus is this 18 minute romp through the ins and outs of the tobacco industry reviewed in hilarious fashion by British comedian and former Daily Show faux-reporter, John Oliver, on his new HBO show. If you can’t spare a full 18 minutes, ration it out but don’t miss it.

2014-12-21 P-D: Doonesbury’s Mr. Butts year-end cartoon

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In case any of you missed it and as a year-end treat, please find below the December 21st, 2014, Sunday Doonesbury cartoon from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, featuring Mr. Butts and his buddy, Mr. Brewski.

Who can addict and kill more people? It’s no contest!

(Please click to enlarge the strip below.)

Doonesbury Mr Butts & Mr Brewski db141221

Study Ranks Missouri as Worst State for Combating Lung Cancer

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In the following TV interview transcript, Dr. Jim Blaine is quoted as saying:

“Lung cancer, by the time we detect it, it’s usually too late.”

That was certainly the case for my older sister and only sibling, Lilian. By the time she saw a specialist complaining of a persistent cough she thought was bronchitis she got the diagnosis that it was incurable, inoperable lung cancer. She died six months later, on November 11th, 1988.

I believe the survival rate for lung cancer is only about 10% because by the time it’s detected it has usually spread to the lymph nodes and elsewhere in the body.

KOLR 10 TV, Springfield, MO, at http://www.ozarksfirst.com/
The following was a report on the above story, posted on-line 11/16/2014 06:21 PM:

This link to an interactive map on Wallethub shows the best and the worst states for combatting lung cancer, based on tobacco tax level, with Missouri being the worst:


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – A new study from WalletHub ranks Missouri as the worst state in the country for combating the high cost of lung cancer.

 Jim Blaine, MD

Jim Blaine, MD

Missouri finished 51st overall, behind the 49 other states and Washington D.C. Wallethub, a social networking site dedicated to personal finance topics, pored over data from the U.S. Census Bureau, CDC and American Cancer Society to put together the rankings.
         KOLR10 spoke Sunday with Jim Blaine, a Springfield doctor who has worked on past campaigns to raise Missouri’s cigarette tax. Blaine said there are a lot of users in Missouri and few incentives for them to quit.
         “My reaction is I’m not surprised at all and yes we absolutely deserve that ranking,” Blaine said. “Missouri has as you know the lowest tobacco tax in the nation at 17 cents and even at that, we spend virtually nothing on prevention.”
         Wallethub ranks Missouri at 34th in the number of adult users, 44th when it comes to the death rate from lung cancer, 48th in the price of a cigarette pack and 45th in the estimate of new lung cancer cases per capita.
         Lung cancer has a low survival rate of 16.6 percent and Blaine said it is hard to reverse that trend.
         “Lung cancer, by the time we detect it, it’s usually too late,” Blaine said.
         Blaine said the cure for lung cancer is simple, get people to stop smoking. However, Blaine said it is possible people are not getting the message. Wallethub ranks Missouri at 39th in the percentage of people trying to quit.
         Missouri generated $184 million in tobacco revenue last year and only spent about $76,000 on tobacco prevention, much lower than the CDC’s $73 million recommendation.
         Blaine said if the state got the word out and raised cigarette taxes, the trends could be reversed.
         “You know actually just raising the price. Every 10 percent increase in the cost of cigarettes you get a 7 percent decrease in the user rate,” Blaine said.
         Missouri voters have voted down efforts to increase the state’s tobacco tax three times — the last was on the 2012 ballot. The 2012 proposal would have raised anywhere from $283-423 million a year for the state and 20 percent of the revenue would have gone to tobacco prevention efforts.

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!