Japan Tobacco received the first FDA approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval on Monday of a new AIDS medicine is a first for the company Japan Tobacco Inc.2914. To +0.40%, who spent a quarter-century of research products with no product of his laboratory permit large U.S. market.

The FDA approved pill combination with AIDS that will be sold in the U.S. by Gilead Sciences, Inc. under the trade name Stribild, Jennifer Corbett reports Dooren.Produkt combines Gilead four different medications, one of which is a substance called elvitegravir. This was discovered by

Japan Tobacco and licensed to Gilead.

Separately Gilead seeks permission for elvitegravir as a standalone product.

According to the annual report of Gilead, issued in February 2012, it was $ 45 million in upfront and milestone payments in Japan Tobacco as Stribild progressing toward approval FDA, and will pay an undisclosed royalty rate on sales of products containing elvitegravir. Some analysts say,

Stribild sales could reach $ 3 billion a year by 2020.

Japan Tobacco is closer to FDA approval several times. He found the drug to enhance the body HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and licensed its Roche Holding AG. But after more than a decade of human trials in thousands of patients, Roche concluded earlier this year that the drug was not effective enough.

In the U.S. and Europe, pharmaceutical research, as a rule, in the province of specialized companies. Japan has given the world gout drug found textile manufacturer, cholesterol drug from fashion and diversified Electronics Company, and now, a cure for one of the major disasters in the world from the cigarette manufacturer. Specialists in drug say a few fields so unpredictable, and the list seems to offer enough evidence.

Philip Morris and village from Haverstraw

Earlier this year, the village of Haverstraw, working with POW’R on Tobacco Control, took the unprecedented step of banning the retail sale of cigarettes to products in their stores, making cigarettes and cigars out of sight of customers. The basis for the decision, which is set to come into force later this year, is that it would reduce the impact of tobacco products to youth.

But now a new wrinkle was added to the situation. New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) and seven tobacco companies in court trying to cancel the upcoming ban and the village is preparing for a potentially costly legal fight. NYACS, Lorillard Tobacco Co, Philip Morris USA Inc, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, the American company Snuff LLC, the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Brands Inc, and John Middleton Company filed a civil suit on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

In an interview with Rockland County Times, NYACS Representative James Calvin described the law of Haverstraw as “an example of extreme and excessive regulation of tobacco retailers.” He said: “Shops have a fundamental legal right to place the products they sell.” He thinks the law can be the first of its kind in the United States, which is also the fact that POW’R on Tobacco Control argued when it was first announced.

“We believe that it is unconstitutional. We are seeking a court declaration that it is unconstitutional and ordering the village from the constant use of it,” said Calvin. The village is not contacted his group to the law passed, Calvin said. “We learned about it after the law was passed.”

Jay Hood, the village of Haverstraw’s lawyer, said: “According to a lawsuit the village, within a reasonable regulation of the display just shows that they are more interested in selling product than the health of our children. This law was designed to keep the kids from gathering to life, and possibly deadly habit. I did not get complaints like this, but the village is going to handle it in a balanced way that will protect children, but at the same time is not worth the money of taxpayers to protect the village. There are outside of the firm when dealing with us in order to cope with this possible at no cost to the village.”

Michael Kohut, Haverstraw village Mayor, said: “This is a big corporate America will be after the baby, mostly. I would hope Michael Bloomberg would take this instead of the law oversized soda, as tobacco companies are likely to get it will be negated after us, because we are the little guy. We knew it was possible that they will sue, but I do not know what they are. “

He continued: “Ideally, the forces opposed to smoking come to our aid because we are not going to bankrupt a village in the protection of that right. It makes no sense. But if someone from the outside will take the reason we struggle with this, considering that the Council agrees with me. ” The village was proposed during the transition to a resolution POW’R on Tobacco Control, and they are a potential source of financing lawful activities of the village. Describing the next step the village, Kohut said, “We have documents, I’m going to give it to Jay Hood (village attorney). He is in contact with other lawyers in the anti-smoking efforts.”

Calvin said he did not have an estimate of how long it may take the case to play. The prohibition of retail display Haverstraw is due this October. Village Board took action in April, stating that the form of packs of cigarettes on the wall of the store makes the minors to start smoking. By law, retailers could continue to sell tobacco, just not display it, instead giving customers an age check, upon request, printed Control “menu” to order from.

“Retailers have a fundamental right to communicate with their customers about the products they offer to show these products within its own territory,” Calvin said in a statement to the media. “The United States and the new constitution of New York have long been protected by this form of commercial speech.” Defendants in the suit are the Haverstraw village and village institutions and officials who were assigned the responsibility for ensuring that the display of tobacco products, ban as soon as it enters into force in October 2012.

Protect your portfolio from Altria

Altria (MO) is currently one of the best investments in the tobacco industry. This Tobacco Company has a strong balance sheet and an aggressive plan for growth and diversification in the industry.

Altria is also devoted to the return of income dividends to shareholders and secure the ransom. Of all large organizations, tobacco, Altria is the path of least resistance to maintain the leading position throughout the industry. In this article I will explain why shareholders should buy and hold these stocks for a long period of time, while new investors should consider these stocks as defensive long-term assets to add to your portfolio.

Beta Altria is about 0.5, and PEG ratio above two. These figures underscore the reliability and stability of the stock to look ahead. Enterprise value of nearly $ 10 billion more than the market capitalization, which means that Altria is currently undervalued in the market, investors. Sales growth in the relatively flat compared with 2011, while sales fell by nearly eight percent over the previous quarter. Return on equity is more than 100 percent, and increased significantly during the last three quarters. Operating margin is greater than 18 percent, and increase the expense of the last three quarters, but not more than one percent. Net interest margin is also relatively flat, reduced by less than one percent from the end of 2011.

Debt to equity ratio increased from 2011, but moved about 3.5 in the last two quarters.

Altria Split output exceeds the industry average is about 4.8 per cent, equivalent to more than $ 1.60 per year. The price is about 16 times, as well as income exceeds the industry average. Altria is currently undergoing some restructuring, as he pays the IRS and adapts to changing demand in the tobacco industry. In spite of this phase transition, Altria continues to expand its brands, returning profits to shareholders.

Reynolds American (RAI) has announced it will cut its staff by 10 percent by the end of 2014 due to lack of demand for cigarettes. Higher taxes and low salaries deter many people from smoking cigarettes, as it was before. California has recently tried to pass legislation to raise taxes on cigarettes on the dollar in order to avoid smoking while funding for further studies of cancer. Altria contributed nearly $ 35 million to $ 46.8 million advertising campaign to win this election. Fortunately for Altria and Reynolds, the proposal failed to pass 29 with 50.3 percent of voters rejected the bill. In addition to countless 110,000 votes, 28,000 patients not receiving bills than supported it. Altria has taken several measures to adapt business models to address current and future obstacles to its current revenue stream.

Restructuring of its activities is the main goal. Altria pays more attention to smokeless products, and diversify its product portfolio. Altria is also a moderate increase in the price where it can add a promotional line with its already popular brands. Along with the obstacles in the market, Altria earnings were hampered by the recent problems with its IRS. Altria about this scenario and will pay $ 450 million in outstanding $ 500 million due in the second quarter of 2012. By the end of 2011, Altria paid $ 1.1 billion for the missed tax payments from 1996 to 2003. In addition to updating restrictions on smoking in the past few years, another problem that lies ahead of Altria is the ability to ban menthol to the FDA In 2011, Altria developed in conjunction with windows A / S for the development of non-combustible products with less nicotine and tobacco.

Altria recently launched a new product for one of its subsidiaries, Numark, in May 2012. This product is called Verve and it was released in retail outlets in Virginia prior to launch. The product behind the counter and is designed for consumers looking for alternative tobacco. Altria research shows that about 30 percent of adult smokers are now looking for an alternative to traditional tobacco products. The Verve product discs that contain nicotine and flavors, but not tobacco, consumers can chew and discard the product as soon as they finished. There are 16 disks of blue mint n for each package. Altria is also increasing its Skoal and Snus products in the market. Altria expects to increase the amount of smokeless four percent a year over the next few years.

Altria is one of the most attractive investments because of its good will and focus on the domestic market. Phillip Morris International (PM) suffered in recent years due to its influence in Europe. Phillip Morris has received almost 40 percent of its revenues in 2011 from Europe. The recent decline in economic conditions abroad, prevents revenue Phillip Morris International, significantly. PM is going through the wind is about 25 cents per share in 2012, while she experienced the benefits of 19 cents per share in 2011. PM suffers especially in Spain and Italy. The crisis in Europe will have the effect of obstacles on the income of the Prime Minister for many years. More than 20 percent of the prime minister was in Europe in 2011.

Negatively, Altria managed to release a new version of the Marlboro brand of cigarettes, while higher prices for packaging as well. This is done as it pays the IRS and continues to raise the dividend and redemption schedule for the remainder of 2012. Altria has confidence in their ability to improve its wines, along with a subsidiary of promising new Marlboro Black and releases a special Blend. The adoption of the new operating architecture allows Altria to focus more on the meeting and the capitalization of the divergent interests of consumers across the country. Markets remain competitive, but also among the world’s tobacco distributors, such as British American Tobacco (BTI) and Japan Tobacco, Altria, obviously, has the best game plan to effectively adapt to changing demand by consumers.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and does not intend to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Armstrong vs R.J.Reynolds

Lance Armstrong, the cycling champion and cancer survivor, raises $ 1.5 million for the ballot measure to add $ 1 a pack cigarette tax to California, as well as the tobacco industry has put much of the $ 40.7 million to end it.

Voters June 5 presidential primary election will decide whether to raise taxes on the $ 1.87 package and send additional revenue for cancer research, and quit the program. Leading opposition Altria Group and Reynolds American., Parents of RJ Reynolds Tobacco, the two most sold in theUnited States. “I resent the ability of the tobacco industry to influence public policy in their favor, again and again, for a product that kills when used as directed,” Armstrong said through a spokesperson, Katherine McLane.

His non-profit charity Cancer, Livestrong, 29 supported the proposal, together with the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. Armstrong beat testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times.

If the measure is approved,Californiawill become the last state with higher taxes to raise prices on tobacco smoking. Consumers pay the highest state tax at $ 4.35 pack of New York, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.At the national level, the average state tax is $ 1.46. The proposed increase would push California’s average price of the package is about $ 7.50, said Brian Miller, a representative of the Board of Equalization, the tax administrator of the state with reference to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and mortality in theUnited States, according to the CDC. California, the agency has not raised its 87-cents-a-pack tax since 1998.

Altria, through its subsidiaries, Philip Morris USA, John Middleton Company and the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, gave a combined $ 27.3 million to defeat the proposal 29, in accordance with the campaign data collected MapLight, nonpartisan research organization based inBerkeley, which tracks campaign donations. “Altria opposed the extra target to increase taxes on tobacco products,” David Sutton, a press of Richmond,Va.- based Altria, said by e-mail. He called the vote initiative “shortcomings” measures.

Reynolds American to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, American Tobacco and Santa Fe Natural Tobacco units gave $ 12.1 million, according to MapLight data. Reynolds, based in Winston-Salem,North Carolina, announced in March that it planned to cut 10 percent of theU.S.workforce by the end of 2014, as demand for cigarettes decreases. A spokesman for Reynolds, David P. Howard, referred questions to the coalition against the measure. California Republican Party has contributed $ 1.2 million to fight the proposal in accordance with the MapLight. “I can not think of much better uses for $ 40 million as saving lives from cancer and other deadly diseases caused by tobacco,” said Armstrong. Opponents say the initiative creates a nine-member committee to manage the funds that duplicate existing programs and not enough responsibility to the taxpayers.

“The language in the initiative have been mixed so that leaves room for fraud and personal profit,” George Runner, a member of the Board of Equalization, who spoke on the opposition, said by telephone. “And there is no way for the legislature to step back and fix these loopholes.” Supporters have raised about $ 8.6 million, according to MapLight, including $ 500,000 from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $ 10,000 from Marc Benioff, CEO of San Francisco, Salesforce.com Inc, the largest seller of Internetclient software. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News, parent Bloomberg LP.

The tax would generate about $ 735 million per year for fiscal 2014, according to legislative analysts. The Committee will depend on the checks, and there are provisions in so far as to protect against fraud and conflict of interest, said Jim Knox, vice president of legislative advocacy in the Department of California American Cancer Society, in a telephone interview. “This is a smokescreen from the tobacco companies,” said Knox. “They donate the money because they know that the tax increase would reduce sales and reduce their profits.”

49.3 million dollars raised in the cigarette tax fight behind the public records, said Daniel Newman, Map Light president. Proposition 8, the 2008 measure, which ended gay marriage inCalifornia, has received nearly $ 107 million, according toHelena,Mont-based National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The amount of money flowing into the opposition’s effort is not unusual, Newman said. “When there is a financial interest in the success or failure of this initiative, the corporation can afford to spend as much as is necessary in connection with the financial stakes involved,” said Newman. Matthew Lanford, 41, owner of Santa Barbara, cigars and tobacco, gave $ 1,000 in March against the measure. “Dollar for a pack of cigarettes – people adapt to that,” Lanford, who owns his business for 16 years, said by telephone. “This is a $ 10 pack in New York, and people continue to buy them.”

Smokers will go to the nearbyNevadaandArizonaand buy cartons at the time, his said. State excise tax of 80 cents per pack inNevadaand $ 2 inArizona, according to the CDC Office on Smoking and Health. The vote of a cigarette tax of California may indicate a level of support for the ballot initiative to Governor Jerry Brown in November, which temporarily raises income and sales taxes to help close the $ 15.7 billion budget deficit. “We’ll know much more, June 5, when the tobacco tax measure to a vote,” said Bill Whalen, research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto.

“IfCaliforniavoters do not subscribe to a tax increase on cigarettes in a non-smoking state, and punish the tobacco companies, which nobody likes, courtesy of ads with a victim of cancer and Lance Armstrong, I’m not sure that raising taxes can go.”

Altria CEO spends his last shareholder meeting

Outgoing Altria Group Inc CEO Michael E. Szymanczyk finished his last shareholders meeting on Thursday, as well as his first – fielding attacks the largest tobacco companies in the country.

The owner of top selling cigarette manufacturer Marlboro, Philip Morris USA, held its annual meeting on Thursday at the headquarters of the city of Richmond. He said the last day of Szymanczyk, who served as chairman and CEO since March 2008 and in the same capacity for Philip Morris USA from August 2002 to July 2008 the company allotted Philip Morris International, Inc

“It was a great honor to lead the restructuring of Altria”, said Szymanczyk, who was suffocated during his closing remarks of his 23-year career. “Altria and its companies have been significant changes since I first joined the company. Change is not something new for our company. They have been successful for more than a century, because they have demonstrated the ability to adapt to dynamic industries, and the world around them”.

Martin J. Barrington Szymanczyk replaced as CEO and chairman, and David R. Beran will serve as president and chief operating officer.

In his speech to shareholders, Szymanczyk Altria advertised in the premium brands like Marlboro and said the company is well positioned for further growth in a changing industry. In addition to Philip Morris USA, Altria owns U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, maker of brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal, and black and mild cigar maker John Middleton Company The company also owns a wine business and holds voting shares in brewer SABMiller.

In 2011, the company saw its net profit fall by 13 percent to $ 3.39 billion for the rental of legal and restructuring costs. Its net revenue excluding excise taxes fell almost 2 percent to $ 16.62 billion. Deliveries fell 4 percent to 135.1 billion cigarettes, mainly to reduce their premium brands.

However, its 2012 first-quarter profit rose nearly 4 percent, as price increases and spending cuts helped offset the decline in cigarettes. Deliveries fell 2.6 percent to 31.1 billion cigarettes, but the Marlboro brand of cigarettes and market share over the period from 42.3 percent of the U.S. retail market.

“For nearly 60 years, Marlboro was the cigarette smoke that the men to taste, and adult smokers were asked,” Well, where taste. Come to Marlboro Country,'” Szymanczyk said, adding that the company is evolving the brand to try to keep it growing and steal smokers from its competitors.

Like other tobacco companies, Altria is focusing on cigarette alternatives – such as cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco – for future sales growth because reduction in smoking will continue.

Altria also had to reduce expenses as tax increases, smoking bans, health and social stigma make the cigarette business tougher. After completing the $ 1.5 billion in long-term conservation programs in the past year, the company has released a plan to cut $ 400 million in “cigarette-related infrastructure costs” to the end of 2013 in anticipation of the expected decrease in volumes of cigarettes.

Szymanczyk said cost-cutting “is still a priority.”

Over the years, the question-answer sessions, tobacco company annual meetings are usually equipped with various groups to attack them for selling products that cause about 443,000 deaths per year in the final meeting of shareholders of U.S. Szymanczyk was no exception.

“With your retirement, I am sure that you look at the inheritance. You, of course, companies have a passion for success. I’m not sure to satisfy your customers and their preferences, if they have a death wish,” Anne Morrow Donley One of the founders of Virginia brand of cigarettes in public said Szymanczyk. “At some point in the future, you and the company could actually be charged with crimes against humanity – I am looking forward to it.”

63-year-old Szymanczyk not responds to those comments. He also refused repeated requests for an interview with the Associated Press.

Shareholders Thursday elected 11 directors to the board of the company and shareholders rejected a proposal that the company disclose its lobbying policies and practices.

Altria on Thursday also reiterated its full year adjusted earnings guidance of between $ 2.17 and $ 2.23 per share. She also said that its board declared a regular quarterly dividend of 41 cents per share. The dividend is payable July 10 to shareholders of record on June 15.

Are employers moving to only hire the healthy?

We’ve entered the era when tobacco addiction can snuff out job offers.
What’s next?
Will being fat outweigh job skills?
It’s a relevant question after Geisinger Health System announced last week it will no longer hire people who test positive for nicotine. Starting Feb. 1, those who smoke cigarettes and cigars or use any form of smokeless tobacco need not apply.
The move narrows the job prospects of many in northcentral Pennsylvania, where Geisinger employs 15,000 and hired nearly 3,000 last year.
Geisinger cited assorted motives, including setting a strong anti-tobacco example and creating a healthier environment for patients and employees.
But it acknowledged that reducing employee health care costs — tobacco is a huge contributor to illness — is another goal.
Virtually all employers who provide health benefits share that goal, so others might well follow Geisinger’s lead.
Health care organizations would seem likely to move first, since they’ve led the way on policies such as stamping out tobacco use on their premises.
About five years ago, most Harrisburg-area hospitals and several other health care organizations simultaneously announced tobacco bans on their premises.
Holy Spirit Health System took it even further, making it a work policy violation to use tobacco during work hours — even if they left hospital property.
Following Geisinger’s announcement, several Harrisburg-area hospitals said they too have considered drawing the line at hiring tobacco users, but opted against it.
At least for now.
“We’ve had discussions but there’s no active plan to take that step right now,” said Jean Waverka, a Holy Spirit spokeswoman.
Megan Manlove, a Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center spokeswoman said: “We haven’t made any decision yet, but we have been looking at and following the issue.”
PinnacleHealth System likewise said it held such discussions, said spokeswoman Christina Persson.
Several other large local employers were unwilling to discuss the subject. Rather, they pointed to wellness programs they use to help employees change unhealthy behaviors including smoking.
Still, employers believe it’s within their rights to impose such policies — and a right ever-rising health care costs might force them to exercise.
In announcing its intent to screen out tobacco users, Geisinger noted Pennsylvania is one of 20 states that allow such a policy.
“If this was a government mandate, that’s when we would be opposed to it,” said Lesley Smith, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “If it’s legal, which it is in Pennsylvania as I understand it, then the employer should have the ability to make those decisions that are best for their operation.”
Smith said the policy might become widespread given the burden of employee health care costs.
“Obviously for small businesses, health care costs are a great concern and many are looking for whatever they can do to control costs,” she said.
If employers were to begin shunning additional applicants with potentially expensive health risks, next in line would likely be people who are obese, and those with adult-onset diabetes.
Both are often related to lifestyle choices, and both are major contributors to medical costs.
Still, it’s unclear how far businesses can go.
On one level, it seems legal for Pennsylvania employers to screen out applicants who have high body mass index — BMI — and maybe those with diabetes.
But the employer would surely be flirting with legal challenges, said Solomon Krevsky, a Harrisburg-based lawyer and expert on employment law.
Krevsky noted that people with medical conditions that amount to a disability are protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Court rulings have been mixed on whether obesity is a protected disability, he said. But an employer who excluded job seekers who are obese also would invite a legal challenge.
“I think an employer would be on a tightrope,” he said.
And an employer who sought to exclude diabetics would be on even shakier ground, since the diabetes could stem from medical factors beyond the applicant’s control, Krevsky said.
“I believe an employer would steer clear … it would almost certainly come under attack,” he said.
Dennis Scanlon, a Penn State professor of health policy and administration, views the Geisinger policy as a further swing of the pendulum toward penalizing people with behavior-related health risks.
He believes it’s logical for employers to at least consider applying the approach to people who are overweight or have diabetes.
On the other hand, he notes that while health care costs connected to smoking, obesity and diabetes are significant, they account for only a portion of total health care costs, so many other tactics will be needed to solve the health care cost crisis.
Scanlon further views the Geisinger move as another step in the direction of penalizing people who engage in unhealthy behaviors.
For a long time, the approach was to share the costs of unhealthy behaviors, which were borne by health insurance plans and government programs such as Medicare.
But rather than screening out job applicants with unhealthy behaviors, Scanlon believes the more likely path might be toward requiring people with such behaviors to pay more toward health care, even with government programs such as Medicare.
“We’re entering a really interesting time when I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of this,” he said.
Capital Blue Cross, whose anti-tobacco stance includes a smoke-free campus, said it has no plans to draw the line at hiring nicotine users.
Capital, which collaborates with employers to reduce health care expenses, further said it senses no trend toward avoiding employees with obvious health risks.
According to Capital, businesses are mostly focused on using workplace wellness programs and related incentives to encourage people to change unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and being overweight.
“We encourage customers to create an environment that leads to healthy changes,” said Kelly Shreve, Capital’s manager of health education and wellness.
Interestingly, that approach remains central even at Geisinger.
For example, Geisinger said it won’t randomly test employees hired under the new tobacco policy to ensure they remain free of nicotine. (The policy applies only to people hired after Feb. 1; present employees aren’t affected.)
Rather, the new employees would be expected to admit their tobacco use when completing annual benefits-related paperwork. They would subsequently be encouraged to participate in a tobacco cessation program and, beginning in 2013, they would have to pay slightly more toward their health care.
A Geisinger executive said the approach is related to maintaining trust, and being consistent with other policies, such as Geisinger’s illegal drug policy, which requires pre-employment testing, but no random tests after the person is hired.
But what about individual rights?
Beyond that, companies that screen out people with unhealthy behaviors risk offending the public and customers.
They further risk screening out talented employees, although that concern might be at a low ebb given the high unemployment rate.
Lewisberry resident John Miller see the Geisinger policy as a possible threat to personal rights.
“I don’t think it’s right,” he said. “What you do at home is your business. It’s taking away people’s freedom. They are putting too many restrictions.”
A Harrisburg woman who didn’t want her name published said: “I would call that kind of like a discrimination. I respect the decision but I don’t think that’s going to be a good idea. It doesn’t seem fair. There’s a lot of smokers out there. At least they should give them their spot were they can relax. I know smoking is not good for your health but people choose to smoke. It’s a choice the person makes.”
Another smoker, who lives in Camp Hill, said: “It’s probably a good idea … It will give an extra boost to quit.”
She also said smoking can hurt production. “I’ve worked with people who are constantly sneaking out for cigarettes,” she said.
Yet the woman, who wants to quit, said she tries to keep her children away from public places where people smoke.
“I don’t want them inhaling it,” she said. “Just the smell of it. When you walk into a nice office and somebody is reeking of it, it’s kind of a turnoff.”

Facebook campaign may herald deeper changes in Bhutan

For a sign of things to come with isolated Bhutan’s young democracy, look no further than a draconian smoking law, some bar talk, and a Facebook page.
For decades, Bhutan has been the world’s most reclusive kingdom, with conservative villagers living under an absolute monarch. The introduction of parliamentary democracy in 2008 by the then-king was forced on many reluctant subjects who still look to the monarch as the final arbiter of justice.
But earlier this year Kinley Tshering, then a media consultant in the capital, Thimphu, discussed with friends over drinks the jailing of a Buddhist monk for three years for possessing $3 worth of tobacco, one of the first to be prosecuted under a new law banning public smoking.
More than 50 people have been jailed over the law, which allows police with sniffer dogs to raid homes in search of illegally imported tobacco and makes holding as much as a carton of 200 cigarettes a jailable offence.
Angry, Tshering decided to form a Facebook page, a digital protest unheard of in this Himalayan kingdom of 700,000 people wedged in between India and China.
Within months, the page had several thousand followers and was the talk of the town, signaling how a younger generation is embracing social media and democratic rights, confidently challenging an established order of elderly and mostly conservative leaders.
“Facebook was important. It opened the floodgates for open criticism of the government,” said opposition leader Tshering Tobgay. “People feel the need to be more vocal. Only two years ago, criticism – constructive or not – was quite anonymous.”
It is not just social media but traditional newspapers – the first private ones appeared in 2006 – that are becoming increasingly aggressive in probes into the government.
No one expects any revolution in Bhutan, where the king is revered. There is broad support for the kingdom’s cautious embrace of globalization and its philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH), the idea that personal well-being and the environment are as important as GDP.
But, tentatively, Bhutan is becoming a country where its first-ever democratic government – elected in 2008 – may have to increasingly take into account its people, especially its younger and modern, urban and wired generation.
For decades, criticism and grievances were aired among families and close friends.
“There are a lot of speeches about GNH. It sounds like we are doing a lot,” said Tashi Choden, a senior researcher at the Center for Bhutan Studies in Thimphu. “But there is a different reality on the ground. The youth are increasingly alienated. We could lose what we have if we are not careful.”
The predominantly Buddhist Bhutanese are mindful of the fate of other Himalayan kingdoms: the monarchy in Nepal was abolished after a civil war, Sikkim was absorbed by India and Tibet by China.
The marriage of King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck on October 13 to a young student may cement the future of the popular monarchy that acts as the checks and balances on an unsure democracy, funneling grievances through the ancient rights of subjects to appeal to the king.
But there is far more skepticism about its elected leaders.
“The next election (in 2013) will be fascinating,” said Francoise Pommaret, a French anthropologist and historian who has lived in Bhutan for three decades. “I have no idea what will happen, but there are profound social changes. Our leaders will have to listen to a new generation.”
Bhutan’s government faces a slew of challenges.
Most glaringly, there is a massive generation gap between an elderly conservative elite and young people who pose problems for the government that range from unemployment, urban gangs and drug abuse.
There is also a growing disparity in wealth. Bhutan is not one of the world’s poorest countries – its GDP per head puts it in the league of lower middle-income nations – and yet more than a fifth of the population lives on less than $0.70 a day.
Increasing expectations of better lives are fed by television, which was only introduced to the country in 1999, as well as the ever-more-frequent sight of expensive land cruisers plying Bhutan’s roads.
“Is there is one thing that keeps leaders awake at night, it’s the growing disparity between the haves and have-nots,” said one senior government official, who asked to remain anonymous.
It is a change that goes to the far reaches of a kingdom roughly the size of Switzerland.
In the south, lower-caste villagers with historical Hindu roots are suing their upper-caste neighbors for discrimination, saying it is illegal under the new constitution. Pommaret calls it “a landmark in Bhutan’s history.”
In Thimphu, some 200 people carried out Bhutan’s first-ever street protest in 2009 against the slow official reaction to the drowning of seven youngsters in a monsoon-swollen river.
A highway through a national park connecting eastern Bhutan with the central part of the country has sparked national debate on television, and protests to the prime minister.
The new taste for popular debate is not restricted to an urban, educated elite: village migrants studying in college towns are embracing Facebook. And the government is smoothing the way, setting up computer centers in many rural areas.
Dupthob Tashiyangtse, a lawmaker from a remote rural region in the east, recounted how, after he was elected, villagers started making all kinds of demands including asking him to charge their mobile phones or pick up their groceries.
“When we campaigned we told them we were here to help them,” Tashiyangtse said. “They took us literally. People are now coming forward. They are more demanding.”
And everyone talks about the Facebook page.
“People are coming out,” said Tshering, who is now managing editor of Business Bhutan, a newspaper that has spearheaded investigations into the government. “We were really surprised by the reaction, quite scared actually. We were unsure what the government would do.”
In fact, the prime minister signed up on the Facebook page, a signal that the leaders of this country may see the tide cannot be turned.
But it is not without tension and fear.
Organizers say the street protest was photographed by plain clothes police. A normally assured prime minister angrily accused a newspaper of playing to foreign interests over an investigation into a state lottery scandal.
There is a long way to go. Many people are still reluctant to talk openly. Change will probably come hesitantly.
Asked if he had any more plans for protests, Tshering smiled, and said: “That was enough, for now.”
By Alistair Scrutton

Smoking Marijuana Not Linked to Obesity

Anybody who’s smoked marijuana knows about “the munchies,” that desire to eat everything within reach. But a study from France marijuanahas found that, surprisingly, pot smokers are actually less likely than non-smokers to pack on weight.
Using data covering more than 50,000 U.S. adults, researchers headed by Yann Le Strat, a psychiatrist at the Louis-Mourier Hospital in Colombes, France, found that roughly 14 percent to 17 percent of the people reporting that they smoked pot at least three days per week were obese.
That compared with a 22 to 25 percent obesity rate among people who said they had not used pot in the past 12 months.
“Initially, we thought we made a mistake,” said Le Strat, adding that he and co-author Bernard Le Foll checked the results several times to make sure they were correct.
“This is only a preliminary result. It doesn’t mean that marijuana does actually help you lose weight, but perhaps there is a component that does.”
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, included two surveys of U.S. adults — one covering 43,000 people, the other about 9,300 respondents. Both had been conducted by branches of the U.S. National Institutes of Health between 2001 and 2009.
The larger of the surveys found that 14 percent of pot smokers were obese compared to 22 percent who didn’t smoke pot. Similarly, the smaller survey found 17 percent of pot smokers to be obese compared to 25 percent of non-smokers.
Of all respondents to both surveys, between four percent and seven percent said they smoked pot at least three times a week.
Whether or not they smoked cigarettes as well had no influence on the obesity findings, though the researchers did not look at whether diet and exercise habits were different in pot smokers and non-smokers.
According to another recent survey, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, pot use is on the rise in the United States. Almost 16 million U.S. residents used marijuana in 2010, an increase from about 15 million in 2007.
Scientists have researched the role of various molecules within marijuana smoke that produce the high feeling, block pain, and may underlie the hunger for food typically provoked by pot use.
Cannabinoids, molecules similar to natural signaling chemicals in the body, are believed to be key to stimulating appetite — so much so that in 2006, a drug called Rimonabant, designed to work against cannabinoids, was developed.
Rimonabant was approved in more than 30 countries, but not in the United States, for the treatment of obesity. But the drug was pulled off shelves two years later because of an increased risk of suicide among its users.
Whether cannabinoids are the only appetite stimulants in pot smoke, or whether other chemicals might account for the effect, remains to be seen, the researchers say.
Other experts said the results didn’t surprise them.
“There’s no evidence that repeated marijuana use can increase body weight,” said Vincenzo Di Marzo, professor at the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry in Pozzuoli, Italy, who was not part of the study.
He warned that the study does not show that smoking pot helps you lose weight, but that it could be a starting point for future research.
Le Strat echoed this view and warned against experimenting with pot as a diet aid.
“I see people living with marijuana dependence. I hope people don’t interpret the results to mean that if they use marijuana, they’ll lose weight,” he added.

Ontario takes action to help the millions who continue to smoke

The Hamilton Academy of Medicine congratulates the Ontario government for its decision to fund smoking cessation medications as part of the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan, effective August 4. This is an essential element of a comprehensive anti-smoking strategy that includes prevention programs, counseling and support, and tough tobacco control measures.
About one in five Ontarians still smoke, and in Hamilton specifically, the percentage is even greater as a result of the community’s health disparities and the fact that tobacco use is typically higher among populations with lower income and fewer social support networks.
Hamilton is a community requiring a specific approach to smoking cessation. Why? Hamilton does not fit the mold – the population is diverse and represents significant extremes in terms of health:

  • A 21 year difference in life expectancy separates some of our neighbourhoods.
  • Hamilton’s overall rate of low birth weight babies is more than 30 per cent higher than the Canadian average.
  • Between neighbourhoods, there is as much as 22 years between the average age of a person suffering a cardiovascular emergency, such as a heart attack or stroke.
  • In Hamilton, the smoking population is approximately 21 per cent – higher than the Ontario average of 19 per cent.

“Smoking is not a lifestyle choice, but rather a very powerful addiction,” explains Dr. Richard Tytus, Family Physician and Past-President, The Hamilton Academy of Medicine. “I constantly see patients who struggle with their tobacco addiction every day; many who began smoking before the age of eighteen. The availability of smoking cessation medications that can more than double the chance of success for someone trying to quit is a strong step towards creating smoke-free communities across the province.”
Through programs such as It’s Hamilton’s Time to Quit, The Hamilton Academy of Medicine and its partners are working to raise awareness of the resources available to support quitters in their journeys to become smoke free.
“Ultimately, today’s announcement will help us align our efforts to support smokers who need our assistance to overcome their addiction to nicotine,” says Dr. Tytus. “This is great news, especially for Hamiltonians.”
Wendy Stewart
Hamilton Academy of Medicine
(905) 528-1640

State dodges bullet on tobacco payments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A recent sharper-than-expected decline in smoking has caused payments to West Virginia from a national tobacco settlement to plunge by more than $10 million a year.
However, the state sold its rights to the payments in an $807 million bond issue in 2007. So the dropping payments are an issue for the bondholders, not the state.
“We’re not liable, is the bottom line,” said Administration Secretary Robert Ferguson, who is chairman of the state Tobacco Settlement Finance Authority.
As part of a 1998 settlement of a multi-state lawsuit against major cigarette manufacturers, West Virginia gets annual settlement payments from the companies, based on U.S. sales figures for their major brands of cigarettes.
At its peak, West Virginia was getting close to $80 million a year in payments from the cigarette companies.
But for the 2009-10 budget year, the payments dropped to about $66 million — and for the current budget year, which ends June 30, the payments are just over $62 million, state Director of Finance Ross Taylor told the panel on Thursday.
The authority’s financial advisor, Paul Creedon of Citigroup, said national smoking rates are declining much faster than had been projected when the settlement agreement was adopted.
At the time, experts projected about a 3 percent annual decline in cigarette sales, anticipating that smoking prevention/cessation programs and the deaths of smokers due to tobacco-related illnesses would gradually reduce demand.
The agreement also imposed severe restrictions on cigarette advertising, including banning ads and promotional materials aimed at young people.
However, instead of the slow gradual decline, Creedon said cigarette consumption nationally has nose-dived, beginning in 2009.
“In 2009 and 2010, the two more recent years available, it declined much more precipitously,” he said.
He said cigarette sales dropped 9.3 percent in 2009, and fell another 6.5 percent in 2010.
Creedon said two factors are driving the sharp decline: steep increases in federal, state, and local tobacco excise taxes, and the rapid proliferation of strict smoking bans nationwide.
In 2009, the federal excise tax on cigarettes increased 62 cents a pack to $1.01 a pack, while many states and localities also hiked cigarette taxes.
“Today, a pack of cigarettes is nearly $11 in New York City,” Creedon noted.
Meanwhile, he said that at the time of the tobacco settlement, strict smoking bans were primarily limited to large cities on the East and West coasts, with lesser restrictions elsewhere, such as designated no-smoking areas in restaurants in some localities.
“It’s now become a much more national phenomenon, with much more rapid implementation, and it has become much more severe,” Creedon said of smoking bans.
In many localities, smoking bans are now extending beyond public areas of buildings to exterior locations, including parks, sidewalks, and other public areas, as well as bans around the perimeters of building entrances.
In the peak consumption year of 1981, 640 billion cigarettes were sold in the U.S., Creedon said. When the master settlement agreement was signed in 1998, that figure had dropped to 442 billion.
In 2009, 329 billion cigarettes were sold, and sales dropped to 304 billion in 2010, he said.
Creedon said experts are unsure whether the steep decline in smoking in 2009 and 2010 was an anomaly, caused by the one-two punch of increased taxes and implementation of strict smoking bans, or is the start of a long-term trend.
“The question is, will consumption return to the core decline of 3 percent a year?” he noted.
From the state’s perspective, the only impact from a sharp drop in tobacco settlements payments is that it could take longer than originally projected to pay off the tobacco securitization bonds. The bonds were originally slated to be retired in 2029.
Once the bonds are retired, any future tobacco settlement payments will go back into state coffers.
Proceeds from the $807 million bond sale were used to shore up the severely under-funded Teachers’ Retirement System.
Critics of the bond sale argued that the state was taking a lesser amount of cash right away, and giving up the possibility of much larger payouts in the future. Even with the recent drop in tobacco settlement payments, the payments would still be more than the state gained by selling the bonds.
Created in 2007 to oversee the bond sale, the Tobacco Settlement Finance Authority meets annually to update the status of the settlement funds and the bond issue.
By Reach Phil Kabler