Tobacco Giants Object to United Kingdom’s Officials Plain Cigarette Packaging Plan

It is not a big secret that UK Public Health Department lead by Andy Burnham has promised to make 50 percent of adult Cigarette Packaging smokers across the nation give up their habit within a decade. Their plan includes requiring tobacco companies to pack their products in plain packages.
However, this daring initiative has many influential opponents, including UK Business secretary and all major tobacconists. British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, and Philip Morris International have all declared their disagreement with the plan, arguing that it would hurt their businesses and make it easier to falsify their products.
The officials have promised to consider the plan and all the potential consequences of requiring black-and-white packaging for tobacco products. Meanwhile they have implemented other measures that would contribute to the intention to halve the smoking rates in the country by 2020.
The reanimation of plan to demand plain packaging was declared shortly after the leading tobacco company in UK, Imperial Tobacco revealed its 2009 Earnings statement and reported about a 1 percent growth of cigarette sales in 2009. This is the first growth in sale volumes after four years of persistent drops.
At the same time, the loose tobacco market segment also showed an impressive performance, selling 4.650 tons of tobacco, a growth of 21 percent from 2008. This is the highest-ever rise in that segment in the history of UK tobacco market and the first rise in the last 40 years.
Industry experts admit that there are two major factors behind the rise, and both of them are related to difficult economic situation: firstly, in order to cut their expenses, people prefer staying in the country rather than going abroad on holidays, and thus, they don’t stock up with less expensive cigarettes selling in Europe; secondly, smokers turn to fine cut rolling tobacco, as it is much cheaper to roll own cigarettes than to purchase branded ones.
Tobacco companies have objected that black-and-white packages could not prevent teenagers from taking up cigarettes, in case they want to do it. Imperial Tobacco spokesman declared that there is no reliable data proving that adolescents try smoking because of brightly-colored tobacco packaging. Therefore, obliging all brands to be packed in identical plain packs would contribute only to further growth of illegal sales and spoil the government’s efforts to crack down tobacco smuggling into the country
Imperial’s major rival, British American Tobacco as well stated that the officials’ intention to consider the plain packaging plan provides a hand of help not to smokers, but to criminal groups, as it would make it much easier for the criminals to manufacture or import illicit products and selling them on the black market.
Another important player in UK tobacco market, Philip Morris International went one step further by launching a website, in order to promote their campaign to oppose the implementation of black-and-white generic packaging in the country, saying it would not help reducing the number of smokers, but on the contrary, increase the rates, as more people would turn to illicit market.
Copyright © 2010 All rights reserved.

How the sin tax policy created a duopoly

MANILA, Philippines – The cigarette industry in the country has long been a showcase of how political economy works in the Philippines. While businessman Lucio Tan has been generally perceived to have perfected the art of influencing regulation and tax schemes to favor his Fortune Tobaco Corp., the expansion efforts of multinational player Philip Morris in the Philippines has changed the playing field.
As Philip Morris announced on Thursday a deal that involved the acquisition of majority stakes in Fortune Tobacco, the shifts in the local playing field on cigarette products is sealed.
The shift—from monopoly to a duopoly—has been gradual. The road to the February 25 announcement of the deal took a little over 8 years.
When Philip Morris set its eyes on the Philippine market as one of its growth areas in Asia in 2002, it quickly learned how the game is played. It has since successfully carved out a significant share from Fortune’s previous firm grip on over 80% of the market.
While the multinational firm has the world’s best practices on marketing a deadly product at its fingertips—it operates in over 160 countries—one aspect of the business was key: sin taxes.
Rising Fortune
When Lucio Tan, a non-smoker, set up Fortune Tobacco in 1965 with meager funds, his closeness with then President Ferdinand Marcos became a necessary tool for generous tax and import incentives. These propelled his cigarette brands to gain a step ahead of other popular local and foreign brands in the Philippines.
As Marcos’ favorite in the “sin” businesses—tobacco and alcohol—Tan’s cigarette firm had a near monopoly for decades. His businesses thrived even after Marcos was toppled in 1986.
Tan and Fortune Tobacco faced tax evasion cases for allegedly manipulating the computation of excise taxes based on the selling price of cigarettes that leave its factory. A 7-level distribution chain made up of dummy marketing companies reduced the taxes it paid. Some of these numerous tax cases remain pending in court while a few have been shelved.
Some of his companies, including Fortune Tobacco, have also pending cases filed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, the government unit charged to go after illegal wealth acquired during the Marcos administration.
Through all these post-Marcos cases, Fortune continued to thrive and even landed on the top 10 largest cigarette companies in the world in the late 1990’s. Global industry watchers considered the Philippines as one of the markets that seemed impossible to penetrate.
Small players, like La Suerte Cigar and Cigarette Co, Sterling Tobacco Corp, and Anglo American settled for the crumbs. To have a presence in the Philippine market, global players settled with licensing agreements: Philip Morris with La Suerte and Sterling with an Indonesian firm.
One of Fortune’s first and main money-spinners was budget brand, Hope. Eventually, global firms, like RJ Reynolds, also inked a license for the manufacture and sale of its global brands:,, Salem, and others. When RJ Reynolds had legal and financial troubles in the US, RJ Reynolds sold its brands to Fortune. Japan Tobacco eventually acquired the firm.
Fortune’ success was partly due to its wide portfolio of cigarette brands that cover almost all pricing points from premium to low-priced cigarettes. It also has a nationwide distribution reach, which is key to retail products that have to make it through hundreds of islands.
Philip Morris had to deal with these challenges when it decided to add Philippines in its international portfolio.
Global player, local market
Philip Morris International, the non-US arm of one of the world’s biggest cigarette players, has been peddling its global brand, Marlboro, in the Philippines since 1955. At the time, however, business in the US was still booming, so it simply inked a licensing deal with local firm La Suerte. (Read: Philip Morris and its Philippine saga)
Then the barrage of bad press, coupled with strict legislation on advertising, market targeting, and the imposition of higher taxes came. Philip Morris, just like other global brands, decided to cast their net elsewhere. The populous Asia was on their radar. Philippines was included in the list of target markets.
The Philippines, where some 84 billion sticks are consumed in a day, is the second biggest market in Asia, next to Indonesia where there are over 50 million smokers. According to research firm Datamonitor, the market for tobacco products in the Philippines increased at a compounded annual growth rate of 4.9% between 2003 and 2008.
Philip Morris ended its 47-long relationship with La Suerte in 2002. The Switzerland-based multinational established Philip Morris Philippines Manufacturing Inc (PMPMI) as its local arm, a signal that it was upping the ante by taking full control of its operations here.
It was the beginning of what would eventually become a full-blast battle between the local and global giants.
The multinational firm knows how to play the game. By 2003, it opened a P1.6 billion factory in Batangas with no less than President Arroyo inaugurating it. She lauded it for being a testament of investor confidence in her administration. By January 2010, PMPMI broke ground on its P1-billion-worth facility in Subic in Central Luzon. Officials claimed it was proof of their claim that the US Naval Base-turned-freeport-zone is a viable a logistics hub in Asia.
Taxing the sin
For being an early player in the game, Fortune already has an edge over Philip Morris in terms of favorable excise tax schemes imposed on its products.
A complex tax code based on 1997 prices created generally favorable pricing schemes for Fortune. Its brands, Salem and Camel, were classified as locally manufactured and therefore belonged to the low-price category, subject to the lowest tax rates.
In other countries, Salem competes directly against Winston and Pall Mall. Winston, another brand carried by Fortune, became a mid-priced brand with a higher levy.
For PMPMI, the code resulted in discrepancies. While its global brand, Marlboro, is a premium brand in almost all its markets outside the Philippines, Philip Morris 100’s, which is classified as mid-to low-priced brand in other countries, was regarded as a premium brand here, thus was subject to higher tax rates.
PMPMI, still learning the ropes then, tried but failed to reverse the code.
Meantime, PMPMI’s former partner, La Suerte, saw the tax scheme as an opportunity. The current tax code then was obviously favoring locally manufactured cigarette brands of Fortune. La Suerte also has its homegrown brands, Memphis (sold mainly in Luzon) and Astro (available mainly in Visayas and Mindanao), which belong to the lowest segment.
La Suerte played aggressively, gaining a significant sales share for itself in 2002 and continuing to attract consumers throughout 2003 with ridiculously low prices.
PMPMI, realizing that it has no products that can compete head-on with Fortunes’ and La Suerte’s low-priced brands, acquired 4 low-priced brands under Sterling Corp which has a licensing agreement with an Indonesian partner. (Philip Morris’ Indonesian unit acquired a stake in the Indonesian cigarette maker.)
In 2003, PMPMI also introduced L&M, the second most popular brand in the world, to plug the gap in its portfolio for mid-priced brands.
By 2004, the tide turned against La Suerte. The government, pressed for efforts to improve its revenue base, implemented a 4-tiered complicated sin tax system that involved bi-annual increases in tax rates from 2005 to 2011.
The complex tax code levied rates based on the net retail price per cigarette pack. It also favored “old” brands (those introduced to the local market before 1996) over those that were sold starting 1997. “New” brands could be reclassified but the “old” brands could stay in their bracket.

The changes in the tax system hit La Suerte twice. Its low-end brands, Astro and Memphis, which were introduced to the market in late 1990’s, were re-classified as mid-priced brands. This meant that, while their previous competitor brands in the low-priced bracket are shouldering only P2.47 per pack in 2009 and P2.72 in 2011, their new classification as mid-priced brands resulted in taxes of P7.14 and P7.56, respectively.
The jump of La Suerte’s own brands’ tax burden to almost 3 times that of the low-priced brands of both Fortune and PMPMI led to its slow death.
Pall Mall controversy
The 2004 tax system also hit British American Tobacco (BAT), a London-based multinational that had been wanting to penetrate the Philippines, too, like global rival, Philip Morris. BAT and Philip Morris are competing head-to-head in other Asian markets, such as Indonesia.
BAT raised hell on the impact of the 2004 code to its brand, Pall Mall. BAT, which had a licensing agreement with La Suerte, wanted to position Pall Mall as a mid-priced brand. However, a lengthy and controversial process that involved the interpretation of the law by the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Finance Department ended up with a ruling that Pall Mall is a super-premium brand, subject to a whopping P27.16 sin tax per pack in 2009 and P28.30 in 2011.
In a country where the super-premium segment accounts for less than 1% of the market and sold at retail prices equivalent to 200% premium to Marlboro, the biggest selling brand in the Philippines, and over 4 times the price of Fortune, the leading brand in the mass market, BAT eventually decided it was a losing proposition. It pulled out Pall Mall from the Philippine market.
Throughout the Pall Mall controversy, representatives from PMPMI and Fortune were singing the same tune: that the tax law should be followed and the government has the right to raise the much-needed revenues.
While the 2004 tax scheme also affected PMPMI’s L&M brand (introduced in 2003), which was re-classified from mid-priced to a premium bracket, the cost of sacrificing one brand seemed less compared to keeping a rival (BAT) out of the Philippine territory.
After all, three is a crowd in a duopoly like the Philippine cigarette market.
By Lala Rimando,

BAT Sees Signs Of Recovery as Earnings Rise

LONDON – British American Tobacco, the world’s second-biggest cigarette maker, reported signs global economies were starting to improve, as it met forecasts with a 19 percent rise in 2009 earnings on Thursday.
The London-based group, which makes, Dunhill, and Pall Mall cigarettes, gained a boost from price rises, acquisitions, and the weak pound which offset falling underlying volumes and downtrading to cheaper cigarettes.
“We do think that the worst is over in terms of volume declines and downtrading. We enter 2010 with momentum, a strong pipeline of innovations and foreign exchange good,” Chief Executive Paul Adams told a results briefing.
He added the group had increased prices by 8 percent last year to drive growth with good pricing momentum going into 2010 to keep up with global inflation levels, although rising unemployment was still a concern around the world.
Group underlying cigarette volumes fell 3 percent in 2009 hit by deteriorating economies, and were set to fall a further 1-1/2 to 2 percent in 2010, but sales of its more expensive top four key cigarette brands were up 4 percent last year.
BAT shares dipped 2.4 percent to 21.78 pounds by 1540 GMT on disappointment over the weaker cigarette volumes and after a strong recent run when it outperformed UK rival Imperial Tobacco by 7 percent over the last month.
Analyst Julian Hardwick at RBS said BAT’s fourth-quarter cigarette volume dip of 2.4 percent lagged peers with larger rival Philip Morris International
seeing volumes up 0.4 percent and Imperial broadly flat, and he suggest the latter’s stock was a more attractive option.
“With BAT now trading on a two point 2010 PE premium to Imperial, we see a good case for switching into the latter,” he said. Imperial shares were off 0.7 percent at 20.30 pounds.
BAT shares trade on 13.4 times forecast 2010 earnings compared to Imperial on 11.4, and close to Philip Morris on 12.9, according to Reuters data.
“We were a little disappointed by the minus 3 percent organic volume shrinkage in the full year,” said analyst Adam Spielman at brokers Citi.
The group posted 2009 adjusted diluted 2009 earnings per share of 153 pence largely in line with a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S consensus of 152.6p and a company conducted survey consensus of 152.9p.
Eastern Europe was BAT’s only region to show a profit fall largely due to tough conditions in Russia, but the group saw good volume growth in South Korea, Vietnam and Nigeria.
Profits were boosted by the acquisition of Turkey’s Tekel and Denmark-based ST in 2008 and Indonesia’s PT Bentoel last year, while it gained from the weaker pound against most major currencies and higher cigarette prices.
Annual revenue and adjusted operating profits rose 17 percent and 20 percent, but stripping out the effects of exchange rates both rises were 10 percent.
The full-year dividend, which is set at 65 percent of earnings, rose 19 percent to 99.5p a share.
Earlier this month, Philip Morris beat forecasts with its fourth-quarter earnings as price rises and emerging market growth from the Marlboro-making group offset cigarette volume falls in the European Union.
February 25, 2010

Big Tobacco and the Historians

Last summer Robert Proctor, a Stanford professor who studies the history of tobacco, was surprised to receive court papers accusing him of witness tampering and witness intimidation, along with a subpoena for his unfinished book manuscript. Then in January he got another subpoena, this one for three years of e-mails with a colleague, and also for his computer hard drive. Attorneys for R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris USA are trying to get him barred from testifying in a Florida court as an expert witness on behalf of a smoker with cancer who is suing the companies.
Proctor hadn’t tampered with any witnesses; all he had done was e-mail a colleague at the University of Florida asking about grad students there who were doing research for Big Tobacco’s legal defense. But he’s had to hire his own lawyers and spend days in depositions, defending himself from the charges. He told me he had recently spent “sixteen hours under oath, twelve lawyers in a room overlooking San Francisco Bay, a million dollars spent on deposing me and going after these e-mails.”
There’s a reason Big Tobacco would like to keep Proctor out of the courtroom. He’s one of only two historians who currently testify on behalf of smokers with cancer–while forty historians have testified on behalf of the tobacco industry. In 1999 Proctor became the first historian to testify against Big Tobacco, and over the past ten years he has testified in fifteen cases. He’s published several books, including Cancer Wars: How Politics Shapes What We Know and Don’t Know (1995), and in his co-edited book, Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance (2008), he examines “the tobacco industry’s efforts to manufacture doubt about the hazards of smoking.” He’s also a fellow of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
The harassment of Proctor by Big Tobacco’s law firms reflects the new landscape of litigation over the health hazards of smoking. In the previous chapter of this long-running story, forty-six state attorneys general reached a master settlement of $246 billion with Big Tobacco in 1998 as compensation for states’ expenditures on cancer caused by tobacco. The next year the Clinton Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit, U.S. v. Philip Morris et al., which was decided in 2006 by Judge Gladys Kessler in federal district court in Washington. She ruled that for fifty years the tobacco companies had “lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public…about the devastating health effects of smoking.” In late February both sides asked the Supreme Court to review that case.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs’ attorneys were working on a national class-action suit, Engle v. R.J. Reynolds, on behalf of smokers with cancer. But the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit limited the suit to Florida, where in 1999 jurors awarded smokers with cancer $145 billion, the largest punitive damage jury award in US history. In 2006 the Florida Supreme Court accepted the decision but dissolved the class and said each case had to be tried separately. As a result, there’s a lot of tobacco litigation going on in Florida right now–potentially 9,000 lawsuits. In one of the first of those “Engle progeny” cases, a Fort Lauderdale jury in November awarded Lucinda Naugle $300 million. Proctor is scheduled to testify in another.
In these cases, history has become a key component in the tobacco attorneys’ defense strategy. In the past, when smokers with cancer sued for damages, the companies said they shouldn’t have to pay, because there was a “scientific controversy” about whether smoking causes cancer. But in recent years they have given up that argument and now argue something like the opposite: “everybody knew” smoking causes cancer. So if you got cancer from smoking, it’s your own fault.
To persuade juries, they need historians–experts who, for example, can testify that newspapers in the plaintiff’s hometown ran articles about the health hazards of smoking in the 1940s or ’50s or ’60s, when he or she started. So Big Tobacco has been spending a lot of money hiring historians–and is stepping up the harassment of Proctor.
The charges of witness tampering and witness harassment concerned history grad students at the University of Florida who had been hired to do research for Big Tobacco by Gregg Michel, a historian at the University of Texas, San Antonio. Proctor learned about the grad students from Michel’s deposition. (Michel did not respond to requests for an interview.) “I e-mailed a colleague at the University of Florida asking about this,” Proctor said–Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science. “She wrote back and said she was horrified. Said it couldn’t be true. Then she found that it was.”
The next thing Proctor knew, tobacco attorneys were telling a court in Florida last June that Proctor, simply by e-mailing his colleague, had engaged in an “unethical” campaign of “intimidation,” seeking “to malign and harass graduate students who serve as research assistants.” As a result, one of the students who had been asked by the department chair about the job had “voiced doubts whether she should continue working” for Big Tobacco. Proctor’s e-mail, they told the court, therefore constituted an “improper” effort to “influence, interfere or intimidate” a witness for the defendants.
They also subpoenaed Smocovitis, hoping to get her to say that Proctor had been threatening to “out” the grad students in question. At her deposition, she told me, she told tobacco attorneys that “Robert Proctor never said he would name names, and I don’t believe he ever intended to. He’s not out to get grad students.” She recalled that during a break in her deposition, when the tobacco attorneys “saw they were not getting what they wanted from me about Proctor, they screamed across the table, ‘We’re going to get him. He’s never going to testify again!'”
In the end, the judge ordered Proctor to hand over the e-mails–all ten of them. Nothing improper was found, no witness tampering or intimidation, and the tobacco attorneys dropped the issue–for a while.
In August, when attorneys for R.J. Reynolds subpoenaed Proctor’s unpublished work-in-progress, a history of global tobacco, The Chronicle of Higher Education said the subpoena had “major implications for scholars and publishers.” Ordinarily litigants are entitled to have everything relevant to prepare their case, and the tobacco attorneys said they needed Proctor’s manuscript. Proctor replied that forcing him to release his unfinished manuscript would violate his academic freedom, his privacy rights and his freedom of speech. The Florida court agreed with him in a November ruling; the judge held that an author has a constitutional right to choose when and where his writings are published. (In that ruling the judge cited a 1985 Supreme Court ruling that Harper & Row’s right to control publication of Gerald Ford’s memoirs superseded the First Amendment right of a magazine to publish excerpts without authorization–the loser in that case was The Nation.) But the fact remains that Proctor was forced by R.J. Reynolds attorneys to spend time and money fighting harassment-by-subpoena.
And it’s not over yet, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney, William Ogle. If R.J. Reynolds loses a jury verdict in the trial at which Proctor will testify, the company will almost certainly appeal, on the grounds that it should have been given the book manuscript. “So the issue will be litigated again in the court of appeals,” Ogle said. “Then they could take it to the Supreme Court of Florida, and to the US Supreme Court.” And since cases are being argued all over the state, “they could raise it again in Daytona Beach, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale or Miami–anywhere Proctor is scheduled to testify.”
The same legal filing that accused Proctor of witness tampering also argued that he had “already caused a mistrial…by gratuitously injecting…racial slurs into his testimony to impugn defendants.” That’s another example of the tactics practiced by tobacco lawyers. Proctor was the leadoff witness in the first of the “Engle progeny” cases in Florida, the follow-up to the class-action suit with the $145 billion verdict. On the stand Proctor began to explain racism in tobacco marketing. He started to say that the companies had marketed products called Nigger-Head Tobacco and Nigger-Hair Tobacco–brands that existed as late as the 1960s. But a Philip Morris attorney, objecting that Proctor had injected racial slurs into the courtroom, demanded a mistrial–and got it. The judge ruled that Proctor’s utterance of those words was “prejudicial.”
If Proctor had been found to have engaged in witness tampering or witness intimidation in the case of the Florida grad students, he would probably not work again as an expert witness. Then there would be only one historian left who testifies against Big Tobacco: Louis Kyriakoudes.
Kyriakoudes, who has faced a similar campaign of harassment and intimidation, is in a more vulnerable position than Proctor. He’s not a full professor or a member of the National Academy; he’s an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi. He’s published one book and is writing a second, Why We Smoked: Culture, History, and the North American Origins of the Global Cigarette Epidemic. He’s also published many articles in scholarly journals–notably, research about tobacco advertising and about historians as tobacco experts.
Kyriakoudes was also harassed over the University of Florida grad student researchers. His offense: sending Proctor the deposition–which is public information–in which Proctor found the names of the students. Tobacco attorneys told a judge in Broward County that this was grounds for excluding Kyriakoudes as an expert witness. The judge rejected that motion in October. But, Kyriakoudes told me, “since last January [2009] I’ve been deposed by the other side at least seven or eight times.” The tobacco attorneys’ strategy, it appears, is to make it so time-consuming for him to continue that he will conclude it’s not worth it. And it’s had an effect: “I’ve cut back a lot of what I’ve been doing,” Kyriakoudes told me in mid-February. “They hit me pretty hard, making it difficult to do my research. So I’ve pulled out of cases. I cut back to one or two trials a year. Harassment is effective.”
One more historian has testified against Big Tobacco: Allan Brandt. But he testified only once. His 2007 book, The Cigarette Century, won several awards. Brandt is now dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard and a professor of the history of medicine and the history of science. He has not testified in a case since U.S. v. Philip Morris in 2003. When I asked why, he said, “That case appealed to me because it was the United States bringing a case against all the tobacco companies, a case on behalf of the American public, a historic case.” But “it’s enormously time-consuming and labor-intensive to testify,” he said. And, as he explained in his book, “I had no interest in becoming an expert witness…. I did not want my scholarship to be dismissed as ‘advocacy.'”
Brandt changed his mind, he explains in his book, after he saw the arguments offered by historians working for the tobacco companies, people like Lacy Ford of the University of South Carolina, who “had published no research at all” on the subject. That left Brandt with a feeling of “disgust.” (Ford declined to comment for this story.) And he was “appalled” at the defense of tobacco companies offered by Kenneth Ludmerer, a historian of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, who was an expert for Philip Morris. Brandt considered Ludmerer’s testimony to be bordering on “historical malpractice” because he “has never published on the history of tobacco, on lung cancer, on the impact of tobacco on health, or on the industry’s claims about smoking and health.” So Brandt agreed to testify for the government in U.S. v. Philip Morris.
When I asked Ludmerer about Brandt’s criticism of his testimony in U.S. v. Philip Morris, he replied, “Where is civility in this country? These ad hominem attacks are injurious. I had coronary artery bypass surgery in 2005. I’m sure a lot of the disease came from tension from the comments people made about my testimony. I’ve never done anything other than serve the public interest.” He added, “I was hoping the tobacco industry would lose.” But then why did he testify for the industry? “I considered it honorable to stand up for doing history properly,” he answered. I asked how much he had been paid by Big Tobacco for working as an expert witness. “Maybe $500,000,” he said. (Patricia Cohen of the New York Times reported in 2003 that he had earned “more than $550,000.”)
Brandt decided not to testify in any other cases because, he said, “I found my time on the stand highly frustrating.” The cross-examination and the media coverage left him feeling “a bit bruised.” And in the meantime, Bill Clinton, whose Justice Department brought the suit, had left office and the new Bush administration ordered the government trial team to reduce its claim for damages from $280 billion to $10 billion–a tremendous victory for Big Tobacco, which was celebrated on Wall Street. (In late February the Obama Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to restore the $280 billion penalty.)
Nevertheless, Judge Kessler’s 2006 decision was a monumental one: the tobacco companies “suppressed research, they destroyed documents, they manipulated the use of nicotine so as to increase and perpetuate addiction…and they abused the legal system in order to achieve their goal–to make money.” Brandt felt vindicated but unhappy that the claims for remedies had been vastly scaled back by the Bush White House.
Brandt, Kyriakoudes and Proctor are proud of their work and let everyone know about it, while those on the other side never mention their work for Big Tobacco on their faculty websites or online CVs. Lacy Ford doesn’t, and neither does Michael Schaller at the University of Arizona or Kenneth Ludmerer at Washington University. James Kirby Martin’s CV at the University of Houston website says he has “consulted on various historical-related product liability and health issues” but doesn’t say which products, or which side, he has worked for.
As the University of Florida events demonstrate, a lot of the actual research for the tobacco attorneys is done not by their historian experts but by grad student assistants. Birte Pfleger was one. She was working on her dissertation at the University of California, Irvine (where I teach), in 2002 when an e-mail was circulated from John Snetsinger, a professor at California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo, seeking a research assistant and offering $25 an hour. At the time, Pfleger told me, that “sounded like an awful lot of money.” She took the job.
The assignment was the standard one: find articles in the local newspapers about the dangers of smoking, starting in 1950. “We found ads that said smoking was glamorous and sexy and fun, but he said he didn’t want those,” she remembered. “He just wanted articles that said smoking was bad for your health.” At that point, she recalled, “we started wondering who he was and what he was doing with this. We asked him, but he never really explained it.”
I figured out what case Pfleger had been working on and told her about it: a lawsuit against Philip Morris brought by Betty Bullock of Newport Beach, who was dying of lung cancer and eventually won a big punitive damages award. “I would not have done the work if I had known what it was for,” Pfleger then said. “I’m relieved that the jury rejected the tobacco industry’s argument.” (Snetsinger did not respond to interview requests.)
In Bullock’s trial, for which Snetsinger had been deposed in 2002, the jury awarded her an awesome $28 billion. That set a record as the single largest judgment against Philip Morris. The company appealed, and the court reduced the $28 billion to
$28 million. The company appealed that too, but a California appeals court concluded in 2006 that “Philip Morris’s misconduct was extremely reprehensible” and that “the vast ‘scale’ and ‘profitability'” of the misconduct justified an award of $28 million–to Betty Bullock’s daughter Jodie, since Betty had died of smoking-related causes in 2003. The company appealed again on another issue and won a retrial in 2009, which ended recently with an award of $13.8 million. Philip Morris attorneys have said they will appeal that verdict as well.
Is it true that “everybody knew” in the 1950s and ’60s that smoking could kill you? A consensus of medical opinion had formed by the mid-1950s that smoking caused lung cancer, as Allan Brandt shows in The Cigarette Century. But the tobacco industry denied that fact and did everything it could to create doubt about the health effects of smoking. It paid doctors and scientists to say there was “no proof” and suggested through advertising that smoking was glamorous and sexy, rebellious yet deeply American. In the late 1940s, for example, “More Doctors Smoke Camels” was a ubiquitous print ad. Despite the surgeon general’s 1964 report that smoking causes cancer, the Marlboro Man indelibly linked smoking and masculinity-in-the-mountains for a generation of Americans.
A centerpiece of Big Tobacco’s defense strategy is the argument that smoking is voluntary, and thus it’s your own fault if you get cancer. That neglects the problem that nicotine is addictive, and poses another issue for historians–what did the tobacco companies know about addiction, and when did they know it? As Brandt’s book documents, the companies knew that nicotine was described as addictive by many scholars in the 1940s. Nicotine creates a physical dependency; trying to quit leads to classic symptoms of withdrawal, including anxiety, depression and craving for the missing chemical. But the tobacco companies denied that smoking was addictive. When teens started smoking in the 1950s and ’60s–the people now dying of lung cancer who are suing Big Tobacco–they didn’t make an informed choice based on knowledge of nicotine addiction. And later, when they had trouble quitting, many followed the advice of the companies and switched to “lite,” “low tar” or filter cigarettes–which are also hazardous.
Given the deception practiced by Big Tobacco, how are the historians who work for tobacco attorneys able to blame the smokers? As they admit under cross-examination by plaintiffs’ attorneys, in their “research,” they fail to examine the most important source of information on the history of smoking: the archives of the tobacco manufacturers and their public relations firms, which are readily available online at, as required by the 1998 settlement in the state attorneys general lawsuit. These materials document industry efforts to suppress information about cancer and smoking and, in Kyriakoudes’s words, to “secretly sponsor disinformation.”
In a major research paper published in the international peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Control, Kyriakoudes examined the testimony of eighteen experts in twenty-seven trials. He found that the tobacco companies’ historians “present a history of the cigarette in which the tobacco industry all but ceases to exist.” Research in archives is the hallmark of historical scholarship. The court testimony of Lacy Ford, James Kirby Martin and Michael Schaller, along with that of Nixon biographer Joan Hoff of Montana State, Southern historian Robert Jeff Norrell of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and the rest, Kyriakoudes concluded, “fails to meet basic professional standards of scholarship.”
Of course, some historians have refused to work for Big Tobacco, on the grounds of those same scholarly standards. One is Richard Abrams of the University of California, Berkeley, an expert on government-business relations. He said that when tobacco attorneys from the firm Arnold & Porter approached him fifteen years ago, “I told them that tentatively I was sympathetic to their position for the post-1965 period, but I wasn’t sure about before that–so I needed to get into their records to see what they were telling the public. They said, ‘You can’t see our archive, but we’ll send you stuff.’ I said, ‘If you’re going to put me on the stand as an expert witness, I can’t say I had access only to what you chose to send me.’ They still wouldn’t let me see their archives, so I said forget it.”
Why, over the past fifteen years, have forty historians wanted to help Big Tobacco? I asked a dozen historians on Kyriakoudes’s and Proctor’s lists. Virtually all declined to be interviewed, including Otis Graham, emeritus at the University of California, Santa Barbara; Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman of San Diego State; and Terry Parssinen of the University of Tampa, who was Big Tobacco’s expert in the recent Fort Lauderdale case where the jury awarded the smoker with cancer $300 million.
Michael Parrish of the University of California, San Diego, did agree to talk about it. He said he had worked on five cases, the last in 2003, and isn’t doing it anymore. “For doing research, I charged $110 an hour,” he told me. “If I was deposed, it was $250 an hour. If it went to trial, $400 an hour. I didn’t do it out of love for the tobacco industry.” But, he added, he hadn’t done it just for the money: “I was a smoker for twenty years and quit. I felt there had to be a little more personal responsibility there, instead of [plaintiffs] putting all the blame on the tobacco companies.”
But money seems to be the main inducement–at least that was the pitch when Michael Schaller invited me to work as an expert for the tobacco companies in 2005. He called it “a lucrative consulting opportunity.” (I declined.)
Historians earn big money working for Big Tobacco: Stephen Ambrose, who taught at the University of New Orleans and was famous for writing bestsellers about D-Day, Lewis and Clark, and Eisenhower as a World War II general, was asked in a deposition why he was testifying for the companies. His answer was brief: “for compensation.” Tobacco companies paid him $25,000 for just one case in 1994, according to Laura Maggi in The American Prospect. (Ambrose, a smoker, died of lung cancer in 2002, when he was 66.)
But don’t plaintiffs’ attorneys also have big money to hire their own historian experts? The jury award in California’s Bullock case, for example, was $28 billion. Proctor told me he has made an average of about $40,000 a year over the twelve years he has worked as an expert witness. Kyriakoudes told me he made $75,000 last year. “I testified in seven trials, all in Florida,” he said.
Forty historians have testified for Big Tobacco; only three have testified against–why the disparity? Two factors help explain it. First, the tobacco attorneys many years ago organized the recruitment of historians and coordinated the creation of a common body of research. Kyriakoudes wrote in his article for Tobacco Control that in 1984, “the industry’s law firms formed the Special Trial Issues Committee,” whose task, according to a memo to Brown and Williamson, was to develop witnesses who “will also explain” to juries that Americans’ decisions to smoke cigarettes were “wholly unrelated” to industry “promotion or coercion.” Plaintiffs’ attorneys, in contrast, typically work as single practitioners and thus can’t come close to matching the organization and coordination of the other side.
They also have nothing like the money Big Tobacco pays its law firms. The reasons were explained by Michael Piuze, the Los Angeles attorney who won the $28 billion verdict in the Bullock case. When it comes to the harm caused by smoking, he said, Big Tobacco is unique. “In most product liability litigation–auto manufacturing or pharmaceuticals–there may be one lawsuit for every 50,000 customers,” Piuze said. “But tobacco companies kill or seriously injure one in two of their customers.” (That is the standard scientific view, endorsed by the American Cancer Society and the World Health Organization.) Thus they can’t possibly pay for the damage they have caused. “So the industry decided in the 1950s on a scorched-earth litigation policy. They would never give up. Never settle. If they ever lost a case, they would appeal. Forever. That’s the way it still is. The message to the plaintiffs’ bar is clear: don’t screw with us, or you’ll be sorry. We will break you financially.”
“There are 38 million people who live in California, and there is one tobacco case pending in California,” says Piuze. “In the entire history of the state there have been eight tobacco trials. That’s one side of the ledger. On the other side, 37,000 people die of tobacco-related causes in California every year. That’s 100 every day. Have they been successful with their litigation strategy? You better believe it.”
By Jon Wiener
February 25, 2010
This article appeared in the March 15, 2010 edition of The Nation.

Ghana to Host second WHO meeting on Tobacco

Ghana has been selected to host the second working group meeting on World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in April this year.
The meeting is to, among other things, identify and develop opportunities for practical cooperation with competent intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations in the promotion of sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing.
It is also to help achieve the FCTC’s objective of protecting present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to smoking, as well as the reduction of demand for tobacco products.
At the inauguration of a nine-member Local Planning Committee to plan for the meeting scheduled for April 20 to 23, outgoing Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Oakley Quaye-Kuma, said the WHO convention on tobacco control was the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO, which is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirmed the right of all people to the highest standards of health.
The objectives of the working group meeting is among other things to interact with other global players and to deliberate and strategise on alternative livelihoods to tobacco growing in order to protect the environment and the health of persons in the production and manufacturing of tobacco products.
About 40 participants from 18 member countries would be attending the meeting.
The FCTC treaty adopted in 2003 by the World Health Assembly, is the world’s first treaty devoted to health to get people to quit smoking and to reduce the estimated five million deaths annually caused by smoking.
He said tobacco smoking was unhealthy and caused chronic diseases that could lead to death, adding that smoke damaged the lungs and was the principal cause of lung or bronchial cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“What many people, smokers and non-smokers alike, may not know is that tobacco use increases risks of cancer of many sites in the body in addition to the lungs.
“These include the head and neck (covering cancers of the oesophagus, larynx, tongue, salivary glands, lip, mouth and pharynx) urinary bladder and kidneys, uterine cervix, breast, pancreas and colon,” he said.
The Deputy Minister said people who cultivated and handled tobacco leaves were equally at risk of tobacco related diseases, such as green tobacco sickness, pesticide intoxication, respiration and dermatological disorders and other types of cancers.
To this end, the FCTC called on all parties to the Convention to raise awareness about the addictive and harmful nature of tobacco products and about industry interference with tobacco control policies, as well as avoid conflict of interest from government officials and employees.
According to the Deputy Minister, Article 17 and 18 of the Framework Convention deals with provision of support for economically viable alternative activities and protection of the environment and the health of persons.
Parties to the Convention were, therefore, required to promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers and, as the case may be, individual sellers, he said.
In order to make progress in the promotion of sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing at the district, regional, national and international levels, Mr. Quaye-kuma said, there was the need to increase the participation of specialized local and international agencies which are recognized experts in this process.
The Chairman of the local Planning Committee, Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist at the Ministry of Health, said issues to be discussed at the meeting would be adopted by the General Assembly towards the end of the year as a guide for the world towards the control of tobacco production, marketing and consumption.
He said Ghana was in the good books of WHO, hence the choice for the second meeting and pledged the committee’s readiness to ensure a memorable and very productive meeting.
Source: GNA

Darpa-funded Researchers: Tobacco vs. Viral Terror

The Pentagon’s after a better way to strike back against infectious diseases and bio-threats. Now, a team at Texas A&M may have come up with a way to turn tobacco plants into vaccine-making machines.
tobacco research
Darpa, the military’s risk-taking research agency, is investing $40 million into the Texas Plant-Expressed Vaccine Consortium, which will test the tobacco-based method and then offer up 10 million doses of H1N1 vaccines. Once the process has been vetted, the researchers anticipate a scalability that could yield 100 million vaccine doses per month.
Plant-based vaccine production has been in the workings for years now, including the successful creation of edible bananas that protect against the Norwalk virus. Last summer, Darpa requested proposals for plant-based options that would rapidly yield protective antigens for the creation of potent vaccines. Tobacco is a particularly good option, because it’s cheap and grows quickly — yielding vaccines in weeks, rather than the several months required for the standard egg-based method that’s been used since the 1950s.
Darpa’s been funding fast-tracked medication production since 2005, when the agency launched their Accelerated Manufacture of Pharmaceuticals (AMP) program. Although Darpa was already funding research into Avian Flu protection, they realized that H1N1 was a more pressing priority. “In response to the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, AMP’s plant-based platform redirected its rapid scale-up processes that were initially developed for avian influenza,” Darpa’s announcement states.
The Texas A&M consortium also received $21 million from Darpa for the creation of Project GreenVax, which will work towards the quick, plant-based production of a myriad of vaccines. Having the program in place would offer a method to mitigate newly emerging viruses before they turn into widespread pandemics. The project will be housed in a custom-built, 21-acre compound, which features a 145,000 square foot “biotherapeutic production facility” that uses mobile “pods” to grow the plants.
The plant-based vaccine production method works by isolating a specific antigen protein — one that triggers a human immune response — from the targeted virus. A gene from the protein is transferred to bacteria, which are then used to “infect” plant cells. The plants then start producing the exact protein that will be used for vaccinations. From first transfer to final extraction, the method takes around five weeks.
And the cheap, massively scalable strategy could also help those in developing countries, where vaccines are often too expensive or otherwise inaccessible.
It’s probably too late for Darpa’s swine-flu greenhouse to make a dent in H1N1 protection – assuming the plant pods work, they’ll still need to undergo FDA testing. The good news for Darpa-funded researchers is that the influenza outbreaks just keep coming: scientists are now warnin that if Avian flu teams up with H1N1, the result could be “a super nightmare for the whole world.”
By Katie Drummond, Wired
February 24, 2010

French Ad Shocks, but Will It Stop Young Smokers?

PARIS — A new French antismoking advertisement aimed at the young that plays off a pornographic stereotype has gotten more attention than even its creators intended, and critics suggest that it offends common decency and creates a false analogy between oral sex and smoking.

quit smoking ads

France has banned smoking in cafes, bars and restaurants. But smoking is still increasing among the young in France, according to the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, prompting an antitobacco organization called Droits des Non-fumeurs, or Nonsmokers’ Rights, to create the ad.
The slogan is bland enough: “To smoke is to be a slave to tobacco.” But it accompanies photographs of an older man, his torso seen from the side, pushing down on the head of a teenage girl with a cigarette in her mouth. Her eyes are at belt level, glancing upward fearfully. The cigarette appears to emerge from the adult’s trousers.
Two other ads show young men in the same position as the girl, though the adult is wearing a suit jacket and a watch.
Marco de la Fuente, vice president of BDDP & Fils, the advertising firm that created the campaign, said the ads were not designed either “to please or to shock people, but to change, to put back into the news a topic we don’t talk about enough, which threatens young people.”
According to the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, between 2004 and 2007, and 2008 and 2009, the percentage of daily smokers among French 14-year-olds rose to 8 percent from 5 percent; among 16-year-olds, it increased to 18 percent from 14 percent. A quarter of 18-year-olds are daily smokers.
“The younger you begin to smoke, the stronger the addiction,” Mr. de la Fuente said in an interview. “But young people think they’re invincible. They like to flirt with danger.” He added that young people saw smoking as a symbol of emancipation, a passage to adulthood and a “transgressive act.”
The ads, he said, try to convince them that smoking is “an act of naïveté and submission.”
He continued: “We can’t be tepid on this subject; we have to hit hard. We are working against years of myth on the basis of films and stars, and we fight against this with zero euros.”
But the reaction on the Web site of Droits des Non-fumeurs has been mixed. One comment read, “The campaign trivializes sexual abuse — worse, it implies guilt on the part of the abused.”
Florence Montreynaud, the president of La Meute des Chiennes de Garde, or the Pack of Female Watchdogs, which opposes symbols of sexual violence in films and advertising, called the ads “unbearable” and said “what is most shocking is the banalization of sexual violence.”
She is a feminist, she said, and a longtime member of Droits des Non-fumeurs. “But it is terrible to represent in the public space this kind of image restricted to pornography,” she added. “I’m appalled. It’s a poverty of imagination. When people have no ideas, they use female bodies.”
Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, said she wanted the campaign to stop, saying she found the symbolism intolerable. “One can shock on the issue of tobacco, that doesn’t bother me, but there are other campaigns to do instead of this one,” she told Radio Monte Carlo.
The president of Droits des Non-fumeurs, Gérard Audureau, said the campaign was started after being viewed favorably by high school students. For 18 years, he said, “we did it gently, on the health aspect, with deteriorated lungs, but young people feel invincible, immortal.”
The newspaper Le Parisien quoted him as saying: “Using sex is a way to get their attention. And if it’s necessary to shock, let’s shock.”
Bertrand Dautzenberg, president of the French Office for the Prevention of Smoking, doubted the ads would work. Quoted in Le Parisien, he said, “This will shock adults while not scaring kids.”
February 23, 2010

Tasting Havana's perfect smoke

IN the Embajadores room at the Habana Libre hotel the air is thick with the sweet, honeyed smoke of cigars. Outside, Havana’s La Rampa street bustles with the sound of the early-evening crowd. A queue forms around Coppelia’s parlour, a favorite with the locals, reputedly making the best ice cream on the island.
Beyond, a short walk away, lies the Malecón, the weathered promenade that snakes its way around Havana’s northern coastline, busy filling up with Cubans who go there to meet, flirt, smoke and exchange gossip.
Back inside the Habana Libre, once the headquarters of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary armed forces, the Embajadores room is virtually full. Around 500 cigar aficionados, a mix of distributors, importers, specialists and enthusiastic smokers have gathered for the premiere of Trinidad’s Robusto T.
On that evening a year ago, it is the first time the cigar is smoked anywhere in the world. Among the aficionados it is well received. Of the many descriptions heard that night is woody, spicy, full-bodied and creamy. Many people compliment it on having a wonderful draw.
As the cigars are handed out on trays, all eyes turn to a small group of VIPs notable for their late arrival. Among them is David Soul, better known as the actor who played Hutch in the television series Starsky and Hutch. For a moment he’s in danger of upstaging Fidelito, Fidel Castro’s son, a regular at such occasions. Welcome to night three of the Festival del Habano, a week-long celebration of the Cuban tobacco industry. If you thought the world of wine appreciation was niche, try cigars.
One year on, anyone who is anyone in the cigar world will this weekend be flying into Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport for the 12th annual festival. They will get five days of cigar tastings, tobacco-plantation visits, seminars, factory tours and smoking, lots and lots of smoking.
It is, says Simon Chase, a former director of London-based cigar importer Hunters & Frankau and a festival regular, a chance to rub shoulders with the movers and shakers in the Cuban tobacco industry and experience the tradition of Cuba’s cigar lineage first hand.
It was through Mr Chase that I enjoyed my first experience of cigars in 2004. My first lesson was not to inhale – as with wine, cigar appreciation is all about the taste. Although it is worth pointing out that the US National Cancer Institute warns that there is no safe tobacco, and cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers.
“One tastes a cigar and smokes a cigarette,” Mr Chase told me. “In that sense it is an entirely different experience. Like a fine wine, each cigar is a blend of aged tobacco. So one doesn’t inhale, one gently puffs, rather like sipping vintage Bordeaux.”
With this in mind I was invited a few years ago to judge in a contest to ascertain which brand of Cuban cigars matched best with Scotch whisky. After sipping and puffing my way through a number of combinations, I found that the sweeter the beverage the better the match. So port and rum work very well with most cigars. Some whiskies and particularly red wine (although premium aged blends and sweeter single malts tend to be an exception to the rule) do tend to dry the palate, which can leave a nasty, bitter flavor. In the end we chose Macallan, a whisky noted for its mahogany color and distinctive nose of dried fruit, chocolate orange, wood spices and full, rich oak flavor; which we paired with a Partagas Piramides cigar.
It was on that first trip to the Festival del Habano that I was struck by the similarities between wine appreciation and cigar appreciation. Both are agricultural products, have long and distinguished histories, command the same attention to detail in production and packaging, and can age for many years.
Moreover, as a great wine is defined by the terroir of its vineyard, so the character of a fine cigar is intimately connected with the land where the tobacco grows.
A key fixture of the festival is a visit to one of Cuba’s tobacco-growing regions. The early-morning drive from Havana to Vuelta Abajo in the westernmost corner of the Pinar del Rio tobacco-growing province passes through a patchwork of fields filled with lush, green plants.
Visually, I found it reminiscent of Chile’s Maipo valley, although instead of vineyards there are tobacco fields. Around 80,000 acres of tobacco are planted each year in the region. The growing process lasts around 10 months ending with the harvest between January and March.
After the harvest, the leaf is taken to the farmer’s curing barn where it is hung, dried and gathered together before undergoing a natural fermentation. This process sweats out the impurities, reducing acidity, tar and nicotine, and creating a finer, purer flavor. The leaves are then hand-sorted into sizes before being baled up and transferred to the warehouse, where they are left to age for three years.
The next step mirrors the blending art found in the wine and Scotch whisky industry as each tobacco plot produces a variety of flavors, which the master blender, or ligador, selects. The final blend is then rolled in the many factory houses dotted around Havana. In that sense, it is one of the world’s last luxury-goods items to be produced on a mass scale by hand.
As a shorthand guide, those wanting a full-bodied rich cigar should look out for Partagas, Cuaba, Bolivar and Ramon Allones. Perhaps a little lighter, but still heavy are Cohiba, Montecristo, Vegas Robaina and Trinidad. Romeo y Julieta, Quintero, Punch and H. Upmann offer a lighter smoke. The most delicate flavors are achieved by Hoyo de Monterrey, San Cristobal de la Habana and Guantanamera, which creates a nutty, intense and fragrant flavour.
This year, at the 12th festival, there will be a presentation of a new size of Romeo y Julieta cigar created with women smokers in mind. Mr Chase welcomes the development but says, ironically, it is the male interest that has fuelled the recent interest in the product.
“One thing about cigar smoking is that it is predominantly a male preserve,” he says. “Over the years there have been quite a lot of male bastions assailed and taken over by the other gender. Here is one [cigar smoking] which is still a male preserve.”
Ranald Macdonald, managing director of the London-based restaurant group Boisdale, has been taking a group to the festival for the past 10 years. He says that the pace of economic change in Havana has been such that a decade has been comparable to 40 years in Europe. As a result there has been a general improvement in cigar manufacturing, and thus the overall quality of cigars has never been higher.
“Cigars now taste so much better than they did 10 years ago,” Mr Macdonald says. “This is down to a number of improvements but to give one example, from 2002 they have been freezing cigars which has eliminated tobacco-eating pests such as weevil.”
This weekend, Mr Macdonald’s group will be scouring the cigar shops of Havana to stock up on a year’s supply of tobacco.
“Havana is one of the most enigmatic places on earth,” he says. “And everything about it, from where it sprung from in the 17th century to what it went through in the 20th century to where it is now, makes Europe feel rather dull.” I’ll smoke to that.
The 12th Festival del Habano takes place in Havana from February 22 to 26.

Teasing Vaccines From Tobacco

The U.S. Department of Defense, caught off guard by the swift spread of the H1N1 flu virus last year and delays in producing a vaccine, is backing an unusual plan to use tobacco plants to make the vaccine.
Flu vaccines are typically grown in chicken eggs. Although the technique is slow and expensive, vaccine makers have done little to improve on this reliable method for more than 60 years. The urgent need for a better way became apparent last year.

A technician soaks a tobacco plant in bacterial solution to make a plant-based vaccine.
“The response to H1N1 was a disaster,” said Brett Giroir, vice chancellor for research at Texas A&M University System, part of a consortium testing plant-based vaccines for H1N1, or swine flu.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—which conducts research to protect soldiers from infectious diseases, and also is concerned about the U.S. capability to react swiftly to a bioterrorist attack, among other things—has awarded the consortium $40 million to make an initial 10 million doses of H1N1 vaccine.
Texas A&M and closely held firm G-Con will together invest a further $21 million. Details of the project, known as GreenVax, will be announced Wednesday.
For several years, vaccine companies have worked on harvesting vaccines in everything from caterpillar cells to cocker-spaniel kidney cells. Plants have certain advantages over animal parts, which may contain pathogens harmful to humans. The tobacco plant is particularly promising: It has been extensively researched, is cheap to grow and can yield large amounts of vaccine quickly—potentially reducing production time to weeks instead of several months.
Earlier this month, Arizona State University researchers showed a plant-based drug could prevent and treat West Nile virus infection in mice. In January, Germany’s Bayer AG said it was testing a plant-based vaccine for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
In December, Medicago Inc. of Quebec City reported positive results for a tobacco-based vaccine for avian flu, or H5N1, which has killed more than 250 people world-wide. Biotechnology firm VAXX Inc. of Tucson, Ariz., says it soon plans to start a human trial of a tobacco-based vaccine for Norwalk norovirus—or “cruise ship virus”—which causes gastroenteritis in as many as 74 million Americans annually.
GreenVax is one of the more ambitious of the plant-based vaccine projects. It is partly based on research done at Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology, in a partnership with the biotech firm iBio Inc., both based in Newark, Del.
As a first step, researchers at Fraunhofer isolated a protein from the H1N1 virus known to trigger a protective immune response in a patient without causing an infection. A gene for this protein was then introduced into a bacterium. Tobacco plants were placed in a special chamber and dipped into a soup of the bacteria, which caused the plants to get infected with the gene-carrying bacteria.
The infected plants then began to produce the protein from H1N1 in large quantities. The plants grew for about a week. Their leaves were then chopped up and crushed, and the protein from H1N1—the essence of the vaccine—was extracted from the slurry and purified.
Initial tests on ferrets, which can catch human flu, showed the vaccine was safe and effective. “The good news is that this vast amount of human protein isn’t toxic to the plant,” so it can keep producing large amounts of the vaccine’s raw material, said Barry Holtz, president of G-Con. And the plants don’t become “transgenic”—their seeds, for example, aren’t changed, so they can’t spread genetic alterations to normal plants.
The GreenVax project still has a long way to go. It needs to show that it can produce sufficient quantities of purified vaccine-ready protein quickly and safely. And such a vaccine would have to be tested in humans and get the approval of the Food and Drug Administration before it can be provided more widely.
The consortium plans to build a 145,000-square-foot vaccine production facility in Bryan, Texas, managed by G-Con. One innovation being developed: Mobile manufacturing “pods” that can be deployed swiftly in areas where the vaccine is urgently needed.
GreenVax hopes to produce the initial 10 million doses of H1N1 vaccine within 12 months. Large-scale human clinical trials are expected to begin in 2011, and could take up to 18 months to complete. The setup could be used to produce other vaccines as well.
“The science hasn’t yet been unleashed to get past chicken eggs for making vaccines,” says Dr. Giroir. “But now that the system is stressed, there’s a reason to get past it.”

Having to Comply with Law, Tobacconists Get Use of Colors

According to several public health organizations, the claims of cigarette companies regarding their willingness to obey the new regulations in marketing low-tar cigarettes are controversial, as they would literary complain but still, conceal the truth.
Starting with June 2010, in compliance with Tobacco Control Act, it will be prohibited for cigarette makers to name their products as “light” or “low-tar” suggesting that some styles are less harmful than others are.
However, in a move, which opponents state circumvents the latest law, tobacconists intend to use colors to make distinctions between their products.
Thus, Philip Morris USA will change the name of Marlboro Lights, the number one cigarette across the nation, to, and Marlboro Ultra Lights are to be renamed to Marlboro Silver.
Moreover, R.J. Reynolds, the second largest tobacco company in America, changed the names of major growth brands several months ago. Pall Mall Lights changed into Pall Mall Blue and Salem Ultra Lights to Salem Silver.
Meantime, anti-smoking advocates criticize the move. Gregory N. Connolly from the Harvard Public Health School stated tobacco giants are trying to evade the legislation, as they are applying specific colors to maintain one of the most misleading product descriptions and adapt it for current reality.
The provision, coming into force in June does not ban cigarette industry from manufacturing low-tar cigarettes, but just from naming them “light” in advertising. The companies admit they are honoring the letter of the new law and should be eligible to use colors to deliver various product styles to adult smokers.
However, senior marketing director for Altria, owner of Philip Morris argued that colors have been in use for years as they serve to identify different brands and styles of cigarette products, and tobacco industry has never used colors to emphasize that one product is safer than the other.
James E. Dillard IIII, Altria’s vice president sent a letter to U.S. Food And Drug Administration, stating that baring the industry from using colors would be not constitutional in conformity with their commercial speech rights.
The Tobacco Control Act approved last year provided the FDA with legal and broad power to regulate tobacco industry. Among other ordinances, there is one that requires cigarette makers to prove the Agency that their products are less harmful than other products prior to marketing them as safer ones.
In January, the FDA said in statement that it might ban the usage of such colors as silver or blue, which major tobacconists are intending to write on cigarette packs, in place of the words “light” or “Ultra-light”.
FDA communications manager, Kathleen Quinn, admitted they would carefully revise the usage of colors and publish the results of their investigation by June 22, the first anniversary of the legislation’s implementation and the date of the wording ban coming into effect.
Tobacco giants are already using colors instead of terms such as “light” and “ultra-light” in almost 80 countries around the world.
By Clark Moore, Staff Writer
Copyright © 2010 All rights reserved.