Archive for the ‘Tobacco’ Category

An interesting passage in William Saletan’s otherwise ho-hum editorial on the anti-tobacco crusades:

Urine tests are a warning sign that the war on smoking is morphing into a war on nicotine. The latest target is snus, a tobacco product that delivers nicotine without smoke. Despite studies showing it’s far safer than cigarettes, most European countries allow smoking but prohibit snus. In the U.S., sponsors of legislation to regulate tobacco under the FDA are resisting amendments that would let companies tell consumers how much safer snus is. The president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids complains that snus will “increase the number of people who use tobacco,” letting “the big companies win no matter what tobacco products people use.” But the goal shouldn’t be to stamp out tobacco or make companies lose. The goal should be to save lives.

Well, I’d say that the goal “to save lives” goes a little far, as well (at least insofar as it’s done not by preventing nonsmokers’ exposure to smoking but by criminalizing smokers themselves), but whatever. You get Saletan’s drift. The anti-smoking crusade is not just about protecting innocent third parties from the potential dangers of second-hand smoke, or even “protecting” those poor smokers from themselves. It’s about the complete eradication of tobacco use and sale. Not that this observation is anything new, obviously, but it’s just nice when anti-smoking people come right out and say it (much like when anti-choice fundies let it slip that their motives are less about Loving the Embryos!!!!!!! and more about preventing The Sex).

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Sitting in a bar the other night, drinking $3 martinis by myself because I had nothing better to do, I was reading the spring issue of Regulation magazine, because I thought that would be less awkward than reading a book.

There was a great article in which Gio Batta Gori debunks the “science” behind secondhand smoke reports, frequently relied upon to push smoking bans across the country.

The plain truth is that no credible measure of ETS exposure has ever been possible.

The Surgeon General’s latest report on environmental tobacco smoke (a summary of previous studies) assesses the risk of contracting lung cancer after being exposed to ETS is 1.21. “Such a precise assessment of risk,” the article claims, “… must fulfill some careful, analytical requirements.” In other words, one would expect some sort of scientific process to have been put to use, representative sample sizes, accurate measurements, precise data collection, control groups, etc, to be able to report such precise results.

In reality, though, the studies mostly rely on potentially biased self-reporting of elderly men and women, asking them to recall vague instances of ETS exposure throughout their lifetime:

…The studies asked 60-70 year-old self-declared nonsmokers to recall how many cigarettes, cigars, or pipes might have been smoked in their presence during lifetime since early childhood, how thick the smoke might have been in the rooms, were the windows open, and similar vagaries. The resulting answers – usually elicited in a few minutes as part of an interview, a phone survey, or by proxy recalls provided by relatives of deceased persons – are then recorded as precise numerical measures of lifetime exposures, as if the digits recorded were error- and bias-free.

The article goes on to claim issues of publication bias, that only studies supporting increased risk of lung cancer from ETS exposure actually get published. Apparently, though, there are almost as many studies claiming decreased risk of cancer and most studies actually claim no change in risk at all.

The antismoking crusaders avoid all confrontations about the accuracy of their reports, claiming it it is all for the greater good, the “higher goal of abolishing cigarettes and tobacco.”

Even “a leading intellect of the campaign against ETS” could not offer anything to the UK House of Lords.

Sir Richard offered his personal belief that “I think there has got to be some risk” for which he admitted not having any testable evidence.

And so it seems that all of the smoking bans across the country – New York City, the entire state of Ohio, etc – that claim to be based on overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke causes cancer are really just one more attempt by the paternalist government of the day to dictate what we as citizens do in our personal lives, what business owners can allow in their establishments, all for some “greater good” that may or may not even exist.

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A strange twist in Congress’ attempt to give the FDA regulatory power over tobacco: it must be kept a secret.

Anti-smoking advocate Michael Siegel even thinks this is silly:

In a last hour maneuver, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman – Senator Edward Kennedy – inserted a provision into the bill which would prevent the companies from making any statement to the public, in any communication, that informs people of the fact (the truth) that cigarettes are now regulated by the FDA.

You know that regulation of cigarettes by the FDA is a terrible idea if the supporters of the bill have to insert a clause into it preventing tobacco companies from telling the public that the FDA regulates cigarettes. You know that FDA regulation of cigarettes is a pretty bad idea if we need to hide the truth from the public lest it have the expected adverse consequences for the public’s health.

Apparently, the only way this legislation will work is if we trick people into thinking that the FDA does not regulate cigarettes.

Think about it. What kind of cockamamie regulatory scheme depends upon the public not knowing about that scheme in order to avoid severe public health consequences?

How sensible can a regulatory approach be if we need to hide from the public the very fact that the regulatory scheme is in place?

Kind-of agree. Although I never quite get why anybody is all up in arms about this or that (FDA regulation, labeling cigarette’s “light”) misleading people into thinking cigarettes are safe. How stupid do they think people are? Nobody these days thinks cigarettes are safe. They smoke anyway, but they know it’s not “safe.” (although, when you look at it from the general persepctive of public health fascists who think the government needs to regulate all behavior, you can kind of see how this mindset makes sense; it’s absolutely mind-boggling to them that people sometimes engage in risky behaviors because they’ve weighed the costs and benefits and decided to engage in that behavior anyway; no, it makes much more sense to assume that the public is a bunch of silly, uneducated morons decieved by Big Something — business, tobacco, Planned Parenthood, Pharma — who need the gentle hand of Uncle Sam to prevent them from having decisions to make).

For the record, I don’t really have any particular problem with the FDA being given regulatory power over cigarettes; I was actually kind of surprised to find out they didn’t already have it. The only part of the legislation I really have problems with is the banning of certain flavors of cigarettes in some sort of misguided attempt to “protect the children” (maybe because I give the anti-smoking people too much credit, and think they’re not really idiotic enough to believe the clove-cigarettes-are-extra-desirable-to-kids tripe and are really just trying to slowly chip away at smoking being legal in the first place, much like anti-abortion advocates and the “partial-birth abortion” ban).

Anyway, let’s end with one more quote from Siegel:

If the FDA legislation were, as suggested by its anti-smoking group supporters, going to produce safer cigarettes, then we would not need to go to extreme measures (violating freedom of speech rights) in order to shield the public from finding out that indeed, cigarettes on the market do comply with FDA requirements. In a brilliant way that I only wish I could have thought of, Senator Kennedy has revealed to the nation just how stupid this legislation is. What the bill is now essentially saying is the following: “We previously issued propaganda suggesting that FDA regulation of cigarettes will save millions of lives by reducing cigarette smoking and making the product safer through product standards. However, we now acknowledge our opponents’ arguments that in reality, the legislation will create a perceived stamp of approval for cigarettes, undermining public health messages about the hazards of smoking. In addition, we now acknowledge that the product probably won’t be safer, and that we need to go to great lengths to make sure that the public does not think that cigarettes actually comply with the FDA standards. Given our propaganda, they may think that compliance with FDA safety standards implies a safer product. But the truth is that our proposed safety standards are not actually ‘safety’ standards.”

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The Senate health committee is scheduled to consider a bill tomorrow that would allow the FDA to regulate cigarettes. It is getting stalled, however, because it would keep clove cigarettes legal. This is apparently unacceptable to sponsors of the bill, who are insisting that clove cigarettes, along with all other flavored cigarettes, should be banned. Their logic is that cigarettes flavored like strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla appeal too much to children, and therefore should be illegal. You know who also likes flavored cigarettes? Me. And a large number of other adult smokers. And you know what’s already illegal? Kids smoking in the first place.

This is just another variation on the recently proposed FDA regulations — kids shouldn’t watch violent TV, so we should ban all violent TV. Nevermind that adults might enjoy this TV. Nevermind that adults might enjoy flavored cigarettes. Never mind that adults might enjoy any particular thing — if it is bad for “the children,” it all must go. Entirely. Heaven forbid parents, schools, or anyone else ever have to prevent kids from doing anything themselves.

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From a USA Today article on SCHIP and proposed tobacco tax increases:

“It really does come down to a choice between children and tobacco,” said Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., who originally proposed the 61-cent increase.

Except …. not at all? But nice framing there, Gordo. Not at all inflammatory and completely misleading.

(It only comes down to this if you first make the concession that it is the federal government’s duty to fund state-run health insurance programs, and from there leap to the insistance that the only place these funds can come from is increased taxes on an already-heavily taxed product but that it is somehow okay to persistently increase taxes on this product every time you can’t find the money elsewhere because the product is something you disapprove of)

Also, I find this “fact” apocryphal:

A 61-cent increase, said (William Corr of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids), would prevent nearly 1.9 million children from smoking and help nearly 1.2 million adults to quit.

*okay, okay, I lied; I could never stomach your “family values” no matter how many taxes you don’t raise

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Via WSJ:

Anti tobacco groups also have been advocating a higher tobacco tax, which also appears to be getting attention in the House. Recently, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids presented to House Democratic aides a survey it funded that showed substantial support – even among smokers — for raising tobacco taxes.

So I was skeptical of this statement, but I looked at the survey and results memo, though and the question seems pretty straightforward.

Would you favor or oppose a 75 cent per pack increase in the federal cigarette tax,
with the revenue dedicated to the program that provides health care coverage to uninsured children?

And apparently 51 percent of “current or occasional smokers” favor the tax increase. I suppose these could all be the “the-government-should-save-me-from-myself” contingent. There could also be some desirability bias at work here, though. Not many people really want to be perceived as saying, “No, I don’t want to help save poor children if it’s going to cost me an extra 75 cents!” (which isn’t exactly the issue, but you know, it can sound that way).

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I think we should start taxing people based on their weight. Weight tax, if you will. Healthy weight? Then you don’t have to get weight taxed. Overweight? Well, then you get taxed. And the taxes increase incrementally for every 5 pounds over healthy weight you are. Maybe if you don’t like it you’ll stop eating so much. In fact, maybe if everyone gets too burdened by the weight tax, fast food and other high-calorie crap will be eradicated all together. McDonalds will go out of business. It’ll be awesome. We can use that money we raise from your love handles to provide health insurance for orphans. What does one have to do with the other? Who cares??? This is America – you make an unhealthy lifestyle choice, the government should have the right to tax you exorbitantly for it.

Oh … wait. What? You think that’s unfair? Yeah, well, I think this is unfair:

Representatives from health advocacy groups Tuesday announced that a poll of 1000 likely voters showing widespread support for increasing the federal tobacco tax to reauthorize and expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). According to the survey, 67 percent of voters “strongly support” a 75-cent increase in the federal cigarette tax to fund health care coverage for uninsured children.

(from a CQ.com article that I can’t link to)

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