Tobacco Companies Knew of Radiation in Cigarettes

Tobacco companies knew that cigarettes contained a radioactive substance called polonium-210, but hid that knowledge from the smoking quitpublic for over four decades, a new study of historical documents revealed.
Scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, reviewed 27 previously unanalyzed documents and found that tobacco companies knew about the radioactive content of cigarettes as early as 1959. The companies studied the polonium throughout the 1960s, knew that it caused “cancerous growths” in the lungs of smokers, and even calculated how much radiation a regular smoker would ingest over 20 years. Then, they kept that data secret.
Hrayr Karagueuzian, the study’s lead author, said the companies’ level of deception surprised him.
“They not only knew of the presence of polonium, but also of its potential to cause cancer,” he said.
Karagueuzian and his team replicated the calculations that tobacco company scientists described in these documents and found that the levels of radiation in cigarettes would account for up to 138 deaths for every 1,000 smokers over a period of 25 years.
The study published online in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Cheryl Healton, is the CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, the organization created from the 1998 legal settlement against tobacco companies. She said the knowledge that cigarettes contain radiation is disturbing today, but would have been even more unsettling to Americans in the midst of the Cold War-mindset of the 1950s and 1960s.
“This was when we were crawling under our desks during school radiation drills and thinking about building bomb shelters in our backyards,” Healton said. “You probably could not imagine a more ideal time where you would have maximized the impact of that information. Unquestionably, this fact would have reduced smoking if it had been publicized.”
She added that most Americans are probably still unaware that cigarettes contain radiation.
Polonium-210 is a radioactive material that emits hazardous particles called alpha particles. There are low levels of it in the soil and the atmosphere, but the fertilizer used to grow tobacco plants contributes to the levels of polonium found in cigarettes.
Dr. John Spangler, a professor of family medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, said when smokers inhale, the radioactive particles damage the tissue on the surface of the lungs, creating “hot spots” of damage. When combined with other cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco, Spangler said the damage from radiation is potent.
“The two together greatly increase your risk of lung cancer,” Spangler said. “So tobacco smoke is even more dangerous than you thought before.”
David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, the largest U.S. tobacco manufacturer, said the public health community has known about polonium in tobacco for decades.
“Polonium 210 is a naturally occurring element found in the air, soil, and water and therefore can be found in plants, including tobacco,” Sutton said.
All tobacco products on the market today still contain the polonium. In 1980, scientists discovered that a process called “acid washing” removes up to 99 percent of polonium-210 from tobacco. The documents reviewed by UCLA scientists reveal that tobacco companies knew of this technique, but declined to use it to remove the radioactive material from their products.
Officially, tobacco companies said acid washing would cost too much and might have a negative impact on tobacco farmers and on the environment. But Karagueuzian said the documents his team reviewed revealed another reason why the industry avoided acid washing for tobacco leaves: the process would alter the nicotine in the plants and make it less able to deliver the “instant nicotine rush” smokers craved.
Sutton said Philip Morris USA does not use acid washing on their products today.
Polonium’s radioactive particles don’t simply vanish when cigarette smoke blows away. Spangler said smokers may not realize how long this radiation can linger in their homes.
“Some of these radiation particles hang around for decades and decades,” Spangler said. “You’re emitting radiation when you smoke, and your family, your dog, your cat are all inhaling that radiation. How many smokers want to expose their child to radiation?”
Karagueuzian said he hopes the study will prompt the federal government to take further action to regulate tobacco companies and their products. Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required tobacco companies to give detailed information about all new tobacco products and changes to existing ones. In June, the agency introduced new graphic warning labels that will go on all packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“Our study should not be looked at exclusively as an indictment or another charge against tobacco industry,” Karagueuzian said. “We hope that our work will provide a solid initial step to remind health officials and the FDA that removal of {polonium]alpha particles should be at the top of the agenda.”
By CARRIE GANN, ABC News Medical Unit

Clark County bans sale of e-cigarettes to minors

Selling electronic cigarettes — the plastic-and-metal cigarette lookalikes that puff vaporized nicotine — to minors will be illegal in e-cigarettesClark County.
The county commissioners, acting as the county’s Board of Health, approved the measure on Monday. Public health officials feared the e-cigarettes, which come in fruit and candy flavors, were being marketed to young people.
Many e-cigarettes are designed to look like real cigarettes, complete with a red light at the end to simulate burning tobacco. But instead of tobacco, the battery-powered devices contain a replaceable nicotine solution cartridge, and users puff on the vapor rather than smoke.
The e-cigarettes don’t produce tar and carbon monoxide like real cigarettes, nor secondhand smoke. They usually do contain nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes. They haven’t been fully evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but testing in 2009 found dangers including carcinogens and a toxic chemical used in antifreeze.
The ordinance would prohibit selling e-cigarettes to anyone under 18. Originally, a draft ordinance banned their use in public places where cigarettes are prohibited, but the county commissioners opted to leave that up to business owners.
Much of the debate had nothing to do with e-cigarettes. Commissioner Tom Mielke objected to language in the ordinance that read “exposure to secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer in humans.” The section continued to list other risks associated with secondhand smoke.
“I think the jury’s still out on that,” Mielke said. “On the Internet, I found there were conflicting statements and facts.”
The language is in the ordinance because the county included language adopting provisions of state law banning smoking in public places, and it directs the public health department to enforce those laws.
“We’re using this as a vehicle to implement the state law,” County Administrator Bill Barron said.
Dr. Alan Melnick, the county’s health officer, assured Mielke the body of research concludes that secondhand smoke causes cancer and other diseases, like asthma.
But Mielke asked that the section be removed. Commissioner Marc Boldt, the other commissioner present, agreed to strike it.
“I guess I would be on the doctor’s side, but I want to pass the ordinance,” he said.
Mielke and Boldt approved the ordinance without the secondhand smoke language. Commissioner Steve Stuart, the board’s third member, was absent.
The ordinance takes effect Thursday.
By Elliot Njus

Spanish cigarette price war burns £100m hole in Imperial profits

Imperial Tobacco is facing a £100m profits hit as a result of a cigarette price war, tax increases and a smoking ban in Spain.
Imperial, which is the world’s fourth-largest tobacco company and the market leader in Spain, warned on Monday that a slump in cigarette purchases by cash-strapped smokers had led to a fierce price war in the country.
The average retail price of cigarettes in Spain has fallen 10% since the end of April and Imperial – which sells brands including Ducados Rubio, Fortuna Red Line and Nobel Style – last cut its prices on Friday.
The group has reduced the price of packets of Ducados, JPS and West from €3.40 (£3) to €3.30, following similar moves by its rivals: Philip Morris has cut the price of its L&M cigarettes brand and British American Tobacco has done the same with cigarettes Pall Mall. However, Imperial’s largest brands – Fortuna and Nobel – are unchanged at €3.40.
An Imperial spokesman said: “Spain has been a challenging market for the industry as a whole for some time. The economic environment has been particularly tough – unemployment is so high.”
Spain also introduced a ban on smoking in public places on 1 January and put up cigarette duty in December to discourage smoking and replenish state coffers. This came on top of a VAT increase last July from 16% to 18%. “When smoking bans are introduced, there tends to be a small initial dip but then normal patterns of consumption return,” the spokesman said.
Imperial reported an 18% slump in cigarette volumes in Spain for the six months to the end of March. The group’s net profits rose to £926m from £689m a year earlier, on sales up 2% to £13.7bn.
Chris Wickham, a Matrix analyst, said: “Illicit trade in Spain is rife. An underlying market volume decline of 15% probably reflects illicit trade expansion rather than [smoking] cessation.”
Toby McCullagh, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, said: “While the magnitude of these cuts is severe, it remains possible that manufacturers may reach a more moderate solution, and pricing could still start to increase again before the end of the year.”
But he said the price cuts could also trigger an excise duty increase, as Spain now faces a much-reduced take from cigarette taxes.
By Julia Kollewe

The dying breed of traditional 'beedi tasters'

AHMEDABAD: Like father, unlike son. After five decades of tasting and rolling beedis in Nadiad district in Gujarat, 70-year-old Ghanshyambhai Samantsing called it a day last year. In what is still considered a traditional profession, none of his three sons followed him into it. Samantsing didn’t encourage them. “It was not healthy – I used to sometimes smoke 25-100 beedis in a day – and not rewarding,” he says.
The sons saw better options elsewhere. One is a driver, the other a farmer and the third runs a grocery shop. Second son Dharmendra Samantsing, 37, who is a driver by profession, highlights the generational shift. “During our father’s time, the only industry to work in was tobacco companies or farms,” he says. “Now, we have so many options. I work only for eight hours a day in air-conditioned comfort and earn Rs 5,000 a month.”
The next generation opting out is fuelling a labour crisis in the 21,000 crore, labour-intensive beedi industry. The country’s largest agri-based employer, with 6 million workers, is facing a shortage of beedi tasters and rollers. It might be among the oldest and most cash-rich in the country, but it’s also an industry in decline. And one reason is the dropping of the family baton.
Lack of Skilled Labour
There’s a skill to being a beedi taster. A taster smells the tobacco, looks at its colour and feels its weight. He then rolls the tobacco in a beedi and smokes it. “From the swirl of the smoke, we can tell its quality, nicotine level, sugar level, etc,” says Ghanshyambhai.
He recalls the lack of employment choices when he was starting out. “I had the option to work in a farm or in an agro-processing unit of a tobacco company,” he says. He chose the tobacco company, as “there is not much of toiling hard in the fields”. And if one is a taster, as Ghanshyambhai was, you get paid extra. Each tobacco-processing unit has two to three tasters. This sometimes includes the owner. With no fixed retirement age, the tasters continue till their health permits.
It’s valuable experience, says Vijay Patel, who runs a tobacco processor unit in Kaira district of central Gujarat, and processes 7,000-10,000 bags (one bag = 35 kg) of tobacco annually. Patel swears by the skill of the taster and the beedi roller, which have passed down generations. “This is a traditional business and you don’t need certified people. It is a matter of experience to judging tobacco quality,” says Patel, who smokes only for tobacco blend testing.
But unlike, say, the tea and liquor business, there are no professional beedi tasters, says a trader from Kolkata. “People who are from the trade, trustworthy and like smoking are asked to smoke beedis to try and grade the different batches of tobacco before buying them,” he says.
However, the numbers coming into the trade are falling. “It is difficult to get a ‘kaarigar’ (worker) to make beedi,” says Rajnikant Patel, the owner of Prabhudas Kishoredas Tobacco Product. He attributes the slump to the changing economy and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), which assures an individual 100 days of work in a year. “The new generation does not find the job interesting. We are now testing the tobacco blend on our own or asking the broker.” The Ahmedabad-based company, which is about 80 years old, makes and sells 80 million sticks a day under the brand name ‘Telephone’.
The Industry
Patel says beedi production has fallen 10-15% in the last two years. Prices have fallen even more. A bumper crop this year has resulted in processed tobacco prices falling to Rs 35-80 a kg, compared with Rs 80-150 in the same period in 2010. Then, there is the increasing tax burden and regulations, and the increasing health awareness and education that is making consumers shift from beedis to cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
Still, between 700 and 800 billion beedi sticks are consumed annually — about seven to eight times that of cigarettes. As per industry estimates, more than 60% of beedi volumes are in north and west India. “There are more than 2,000 beedi-making units in the country, with 25 to 30 large players,” says Patel, who is also the president of the All India Beedi Industry Federation. “West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh have the maximum number of beedi manufacturing units.” Telephone, Bharat No 30, 502 Pataka and Chota Desai are the top four brands in terms of market share.
Official numbers are unavailable, but it is estimated that about 5,000 people are engaged in tobacco tasting in Gujarat. Like beedi-making companies, tobacco-processing units are unorganised, family-owned and based in remote villages. Interestingly, tobacco tasters work with tobacco processors and decide which blend will suit which brand. Tasters smoke all the brands of beedis their employer (processor) intends to supply. In a way, the taste of the brand depends on the tasters at the field processing level.
Man or Machine?
In some units, machines are doing the work of men. “Large exporters are increasingly feeling the need to have machinery to judge the quality of tobacco, including the levels of nicotine, sugar, chloride and hardness, among other things,” says the trader from Kolkata.
Smaller units, on the one hand, cannot afford this mechanisation in tasting and packaging. On the other, they are finding it difficult to find people, with the current generation disinterested in this profession — a point of view that has the blessings of fathers like 48-year-old Arvindbhai Vajteshe.
Vajteshe, a class ten dropout, works as a manager-cum-beedi taster Vithalbhai Motibhai Patel & Sons, a tobacco-processing unit in Moholel village in Nadiad district. He started smoking beedis on joining the profession 25 years ago. When the senior taster of his unit retired, Vajteshe’s bosses started teaching him the salient points of a good tobacco. “Now from the colour of a tobacco leaf, I can tell its quality,” he says proudly. “Golden-coloured tobacco leaves are the best quality as they give a good taste when blended with sweet Nipani tobacco of South India.”
Yet, Vajteshe is happy to see such intimate knowledge of this profession not being passed on down his family. “My elder son is doing a diploma in civil engineering from Godhra. My second son is in class nine and I want to make him an accountant,” says Vajteshe firmly.
For Patel, the stakes are even higher. “The challenge we foresee is about succession,” he says. “My son is a computer engineer in the US and not interested in the beedi and tobacco business,” says Vijay Patel.

Menthol Not Proven to Increase Disease Risks

Smokers don’t face more risks of tobacco-related disease from menthol cigarettes than unflavored cigarettes, a U.S. advisory panel says in a mentholpreliminary report.
“The evidence is insufficient” to conclude that menthol smokers face a different disease risk than people who use regular cigarettes, said advisers to the Food and Drug Administration. Still, menthol may make smoking more addictive, the panelists said. The comments were posted yesterday on the FDA website in two draft chapters of a report the panel must submit by March 23.
The FDA advisers’ non-binding report is required by a 2009 law that restricts tobacco marketing and bars cigarette makers from adding flavors such as clove or strawberry. An FDA conclusion that menthol cigarettes are more dangerous than unflavored versions may lead to a ban.
Menthol products account for about 30 percent of the $85 billion in annual U.S. cigarette sales. Lorillard Inc.’s Newport is the top-selling menthol brand with $5 billion a year in revenue, followed by Marlboro Menthol from Altria Group Inc. and Reynolds American Inc.’s Camel Menthol, Kool and Salem, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Spokesmen for Altria, Reynolds and Lorillard weren’t immediately available after business hours yesterday for comment on the panel’s preliminary findings.
Lorillard Shares Rise
Lorillard, based in Greensboro, North Carolina, rose $4.23, or 5.5 percent, to $81 at 7:53 p.m. in extended trading after declining less than 1 percent to close at $76.77 on the New York Stock Exchange. Reynolds, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, gained 1.9 percent to $34.97, while shares of Richmond, Virginia-based Altria were unchanged at $25.37.
There isn’t enough evidence to conclude that menthol smokers inhale more smoke or are exposed to higher nicotine levels than non-menthol smokers, according to a draft chapter titled “Effects Of Menthol on the Disease Risks of Smoking.”
Still, it is “biologically plausible” that menthol flavoring makes cigarettes more addictive, the panel said in a separate draft chapter, titled “The Physiological Effects of Menthol Cigarettes.”
“Menthol provides an unmistakable sensory experience — the minty taste, cooling sensation and throat irritation or impact,” the panelists said. “The taste and odor are pleasurable for menthol cigarette smokers and may reinforce smoking behavior.”
Broader Effect
Disease risks also aren’t the only indicator of menthol cigarettes’ impact on public health, panel members said in a draft of the report’s first chapter.
“The availability of menthol cigarettes could have no significant effect on risk for disease outcomes, yet have a significant effect on increasing initiation or reducing the success of cessation,” the panel said in its draft. “The resultant increase in the prevalence of smoking would represent a negative public health impact.”
The FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee reviewed decades of published studies and FDA research, along with marketing data submitted by Altria Philip Morris USA unit, Reynolds American and Lorillard, the three biggest U.S. tobacco companies,
Advisory panel members are scheduled tomorrow to discuss the draft chapters at a meeting.
Lorillard and Reynolds have sued the FDA to block the agency from “receiving or relying on” the advisory panel’s recommendations. Three of the eight panel members have conflicts of interest, according to the complaint filed Feb. 25 in federal court in Washington.
The three panelists have served as paid witnesses in lawsuits against the tobacco industry and take money from drug companies that make smoking-cessation aids, Lorillard and Reynolds said in the complaint. Altria isn’t part of the suit.
By Molly Peterson:

Tobacco Lobby Goes Global

Multinational tobacco companies for years have been battered by politicians and lawyers in the United States and other developed nations like Australia and France. The global reputation of tobacco executives ranks near the bottom in public standing surveys. Market growth in the developed world has flattened out or declined. In the United States, the number of men who smoke dropped from 52 percent in 1965 to half that today. It appears to be so bad for the industry that one consulting group said selling tobacco represents “the worst operating environment in the world.”
No wonder. The industry’s product is the world’s single-largest preventable cause of death. Between 2005 and 2030, tobacco-related illnesses will claim as many as 176 million lives worldwide, according to the World Health Organization
And, since 2003, at least 171 countries, with some 90 percent of the world’s population, have signed onto the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – a legally binding international standard that governments can use to limit tobacco marketing and tamp down consumption with stern health warnings and higher cigarette With all this pressure, it’s easy to believe that Big Tobacco is down and out.
But in five decades of fighting public health advocates over the dangers of smoking, the industry has proven time and again to be an effective brawler when its revenues are threatened. In fact, Big Tobacco may well have an answer to its woes: emerging markets and developing countries.
This week in Punta del Este, Uruguay, the WHO hosts the latest round of talks on global tobacco controls, meetings expected to draw hundreds of anti-tobacco activists, public health specialists, and industry executives from around the world. Held in Geneva the past two years, it is fitting that the current summit takes place in a developing country – one now in the middle of a contentious fight with the tobacco industry over proposed smoking controls.
Over the past decade, multinational tobacco firms have increasingly aimed their formidable lobbying prowess at weak governments in fast-growing nations. Their goals seem clear enough to public health experts: derail no-smoking laws and advertising prohibitions in countries rich with potential new smokers, especially among women and youths. For the industry, this is a chance to sustain and even add to its revenues, which, despite growing tobacco controls, reached an extraordinary $300 billion for the top five companies in 2008 – larger than the gross domestic product of all but 40 countries.
An Upward Curve
While smart business for Big Tobacco, it may well be a public health disaster for nations targeted by the industry. Of the 176 million tobacco deaths predicted to occur between 2005 and 2030, 77 percent will be in developing countries. The annual cost to the global economy – in direct and indirect health care and related costs – were estimated at $500 billion last year by the World Lung Foundation, a cost that will be borne increasingly in emerging markets. Much of the industry growth is in China, by far the world’s largest tobacco market, as well as places like Russia, Indonesia, and India – nations where cigarettes are at least $3 cheaper per pack than in the United States or Western Europe.
“This was our experience,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, former WHO director general who led the international body in the years before its tobacco controls were established. “The industry is just too strong and there is too much money at stake for them not to try to subvert the control process.”
Tobacco companies insist, however, that they abide by rules of countries in which they operate, and they appear bullish about the future. In a 2009 report, Japan Tobacco International, the third most-active global tobacco trader, stated its commitment to maintaining an annual growth rate of 10 percent, citing sales successes in places like Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and Malaysia. British American Tobacco (BAT) boasted in its 2009 annual report that “some two-thirds of our revenue comes from developing markets.”
The growth in emerging markets is helping keep global rates of smoking on an upward curve. Despite Big Tobacco’s reputation and challenges by governments and public health advocates, an estimated 70 million people around the world started smoking between 1998 and 2008. This year the industry expects to sell more than six trillion cigarettes and cigars worldwide, up from 5.7 trillion in 2007.
Even in the United States, where statistics show 21 percent of adults are regular smokers, there is now a stall in the generation-long decline in tobacco consumers. Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say this leveling out is due, at least in part, to tobacco industry marketing tactics.
“The industry has gotten even better at sidestepping laws designed to get people to stop smoking,” CDC director Thomas R. Frieden told reporters this year.
In a written statement, BAT defended its lobbying as above board and aimed at educating governments. “We believe the tobacco industry should be permitted to engage with regulators and participate in the development of policy that affects its business environment,” the statement says. “We always say who we are and where we’re from and we openly and transparently engage with governments to warn them of the negative impact some of these ill-thought out guidelines could have.”
Tobacco’s global rebound did not happen overnight.Russian cigarettes
For most of this year, journalists in six countries have documented the industry’s moves into emerging markets around the world. This inquiry, sponsored by the Washington, D.C.-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, has uncovered a long list of aggressive industry lobbying tactics from Moscow to Mexico City. Among the items in the industry’s tool kit: political campaign contributions; gifts and donations; helping regulators write new tobacco rules; threatening legal action against reforms; and in at least two cases, paying bribes to secure favorable trade deals and legislation.
It is difficult to gauge how much the industry has spent lobbying capitals in emerging markets, as the industry makes little of its political work public. ICIJ has traced millions of dollars to lobbyist firms, foundations, social clubs, and even government health ministries. Companies have donated computers to schools on behalf of politicians and made grants to favorite causes of politicians’ wives. The payoff for all this is delaying anti-smoking efforts in some countries, and derailing them entirely elsewhere.
Following the Money
As the industry spends less in the United States to lobby legislators – the amount plunged from $65 million in 1998 to $24.6 million in 2009, according to the Center for Responsive Politics – WHO officials say they are seeing more government-relations work in emerging markets. But it is difficult to quantify exactly how much is spent in developing nations. Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco do not report lobbying expenditures abroad as they do in the United States. Japan Tobacco International said it does not discuss international lobbying expenses.
Yet ICIJ found that Japan Tobacco has spent considerable sums to fight for markets in emerging markets. In India, for example, the company paid Deepak Talwar, one of the country’s top lobbyists, at least $1 million for an unsuccessful four-year campaign to ease restrictions against foreign investment in Indian tobacco manufacturing, according to industry sources. With its fast-growing economy and population, India is one of the world’s biggest tobacco markets; more than half the men, from 15 to 49 years old, smoke. Ironically, Japan Tobacco rolled into homegrown opposition from India’s powerful makers of bidis, small cigarettes, hand-rolled in tendu tree leaves, which are the choice of 100 million smokers. About 300 bidi barons control a business that produces at least 550 billion smokes per year and operate with little government oversight. Bidi tycoons are closely tied to federal politicians. More recently, Talwar has become an ally of Praful Patel, the country’s aviation minister and a leading bidi merchant.
Another industry target is Indonesia, the largest country that has yet to adopt the WHO tobacco standards. Standard cigarettes sell for about $1 a pack in Indonesia, and the domestic favorites – clove-flavored kreteks – are widely marketed to teens and children. It’s also a nation rife with official corruption – federal police are investigating several cases of alleged bribery among legislators, including some who have played roles in setting tobacco rules.
And in populous Nigeria, where per-capita consumption is just 103 cigarettes a year, ICIJ has found aggressive sales pitches to young people, especially women, via “underground” parties where free smokes are handed out, and retailers operating with scant oversight from a government addled by corruption. Last year, the Nigerian senate dropped action on a national anti-tobacco bill, after holding only one public meeting, in which tobacco makers and growers warned that the bill would wreak economic havoc in the country. Anti-tobacco activists in Nigeria say the move came as industry representatives have focused new lobbying on influential politicians and government health officials.
Still another tactic surfaced in Colombia. Last year, Philip Morris promised a $200 million investment in Colombia – just as politicians were discussing new rules designed to crack down on the industry. The agreement states that Philip Morris will contribute to tobacco seed improvement programs in the country, open a tobacco research lab, and fund forums on job creation and investment. The agreement also says it will provide “matching funds for crop substitution programs, including those that foster the growing of tobacco.”
“The timing of this agreement shows it was no mere business decision,” said Gigi Kellett, who directs tobacco research for Corporate Accountability International, a Boston-based nonprofit. The deal also conflicted with Colombia’s April 2008 adoption of the WHO agreement, which calls for producing countries to explore crop alternatives to tobacco.
As they did in Mexico, tobacco companies and their allies have raised threats of legal action against governments to blunt the impact of tough new controls.
Uruguay, for example, may end up in international court after Philip Morris warned the country to back away from plans for one of the world’s toughest anti-tobacco laws that would require dire health warnings covering 80 percent of cigarette packaging, and limit tobacco companies to selling just one variation of each brand.
Philip Morris said the country’s proposed tobacco controls violated international trade rules and would hinder its right to sell a legal product. It filed a claim with the trade-dispute settlement branch of the World Bank. Uruguay’s new president José Mujica, unwilling to take on the corporate giant, initially backed down. On July 23, the country’s health minister delivered a routine message on state television, outlining changes that would shrink the size of the health warnings and allow tobacco companies to once again sell more than one variety of each brand.
ICIJ’s examination of the Uruguay episode found that it was more than a simple claim of over-regulation by Philip Morris that led Mujica to retreat. Government sources in Uruguay say that while Philip Morris was applying legal pressure from abroad, the country’s domestic tobacco executives were privately pushing Mujica to strike a deal. The reason: Uruguayan manufacturers had complained that foreign tobacco was being sold at cut-rate prices that undermined domestic sales, and pushed for a compromise on tobacco controls as leverage to get foreign cigarette makers to raise their prices.
Since then, though, Mujica has had a change of heart. Backed by pledges of legal support from international anti-tobacco groups, the Uruguayan president now says his government may go ahead with some reforms.
Some tobacco companies simply didn’t have time for such niceties as hard-boiled lobbying and legal threats. In at least two instances, industry representatives have descended into blatant payoffs to foreign officials, earning scrutiny from federal corruption prosecutors in the United States.
Alliance One International and Universal Corp. are two U.S. suppliers of raw tobacco. In Thailand, Bobby Elkin was an executive with a company that later became Alliance. Prosecutors say Elkin orchestrated more than $500,000 in payoffs to officials from the government’s Thailand Tobacco Monopoly, which controls the nation’s cigarette industry. And in Greece, China, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, and Mozambique, Alliance and Universal executives also doled out cash and gifts to government officials and friendly politicians.
The companies settled the cases with federal prosecutors, paying almost $30 million in combined fines. In late October, a judge in Virginia sentenced Elkin to probation, saying the former tobacco executive had faced a tough choice: conduct business how it’s done in those countries or lose a market. The judge also characterized Elkin’s actions as similar to how the CIA gathers intelligence.

Should menthol cigarettes be banned?

Menthol cigarettes now account for more than one-quarter of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. In fact, menthols — often described as “cooling,” “soothing,” and “smooth” — make up a growing share of the shrinking cigarette market. Between 2004 and 2008, the percentage of adult smokers who smoked them increased from 30 percent to 34 percent.
Experts say that menthol cigarettes’ minty flavor makes them more appealing to young people, more addictive, and harder to quit than regular cigarettes. Menthol is the “ultimate candy flavoring,” says Phillip Gardiner, a researcher at the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, in Oakland.
The Food and Drug Administration hasn’t yet decided on whether it agrees. When the FDA was given the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009, the agency banned cigarettes with flavors such as chocolate and fruit, because candy-like cigarettes are more attractive to kids. But menthol escaped the cut.
Since then, tobacco and public health experts have said that menthols should be banned, too — or at least regulated more strictly. The FDA’s new tobacco advisory committee is currently sifting through the evidence.
Short of an outright ban on menthol cigarettes, the FDA may decide to regulate their marketing and even the menthol content. The FDA committee has scheduled a second meeting on the matter in mid-July, although the committee’s final recommendation isn’t due until March 2011.
But are menthols really worse than non-menthol cigarettes? The committee’s task won’t be an easy one. The opinions that physicians, public health experts, and tobacco executives have regarding menthol cigarettes seem to be stronger than the research supporting them.
Menthol ads target black community
Tobacco company representatives have maintained that menthol cigarettes are no more or less addictive and harmful than other brands on the market — although they are quick to acknowledge that all cigarettes are addictive and potentially deadly.
“The clear, science-based judgment must be that menthol cigarettes are not more harmful than non-menthol cigarettes,” William True, Ph.D., the senior vice president of research at the Lorillard Tobacco Company, told the FDA committee in March. “A menthol cigarette is, well, just another cigarette, and should be treated no different.” (Lorillard is the maker of non-menthol-newport, the most popular menthol brand in the U.S.)
The debate over whether menthols are more addictive and harmful than regular cigarettes is complicated by cultural and racial factors. Since the 1960s and 1970s, tobacco companies have largely marketed menthols to younger people and blacks, who now smoke the cigarettes at higher rates than other groups. Roughly 70 percent of blacks smoke menthols, compared with just over 20 percent of whites and 26 percent of Hispanics, according to the latest government data.
“Menthol cigarettes are marketed to the most vulnerable sectors of our society, particularly starting in the 1960s,” Gardiner says. “It’s essentially predatory marketing.”
As a result, the health effects of menthols can be difficult to untangle from broader factors that influence smoking. Although blacks tend to smoke less than whites, they “get lung cancer more often and die more often than non-African Americans,” says William Hicks, M.D., professor of clinical medicine at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, in Columbus, co-author of a recent report on lung cancer in African Americans for the American Lung Association.
Research suggests that blacks and other minorities have a harder time quitting menthol cigarettes than white smokers. One study, published in 2009 in the journal Preventive Medicine, found that among nearly 8,000 current and former menthol smokers, blacks and Hispanics were 45 percent less likely to quit smoking than white smokers.
It’s unclear what accounts for this disparity. It may be due to unidentified cultural and economic factors, or even physiological factors. A nicotine byproduct known as cotinine “stays in the body twice as long in African Americans, and this may be a marker of greater addictiveness,” says Gardiner.
The research has some weaknesses, however. As True pointed out at the FDA committee meeting, it is very difficult to separate out the effects of menthol from other cultural and racial factors that may influence smoking habits and dependence.
What is menthol anyway?
Menthol is a type of alcohol found in oils extracted from mint plants (such as peppermint). Although some tobacco products are flavored with natural menthol, most menthol cigarettes — and cough drops and candies — use a synthetic version. About 90 percent of all cigarettes contain trace amounts of menthol, but only mentholated varieties contain enough of the flavor for it to be noticeable.
Tobacco companies have touted the “cooling” and “soothing” properties of menthol cigarettes since the 1920s — and that’s true, in a sense. Menthol is a mild anesthetic that excites cold receptors in the mouth, throat and airways, causing a slight numbing sensation that can make tobacco smoke seem less harsh. (This may be why menthol is added to regular cigarettes.)
“Mentholated products of all types, whether taken orally or inhaled, are better tolerated,” says Hicks. “There’s less irritation and, over the short term, some soothing effect.”
Researchers have long suspected that the cooling sensation might make menthols more harmful by masking the harshness of tobacco and allowing smokers to inhale more deeply (or more often), but they haven’t yet been able to prove it. Some studies show that menthol smokers actually inhale less smoke or take fewer puffs compared to people who smoke regular cigarettes.
Experts have also argued that the menthol sensation may contribute to nicotine addiction by making the cigarettes more palatable to young people. And there is some evidence that menthols are a “starter” cigarette.
National surveys have shown that teenagers are more likely to smoke menthols if they’ve been smoking for less than a year, and the percentage of white and Hispanic kids who smoke menthols is higher in middle school than in high school.
These figures suggest that inexperienced smokers are more likely to smoke menthols, but they don’t necessarily show that smoking menthols (rather than regular cigarettes) is more likely to lead to addiction.
Menthols may be harder to kick
Still, one of the main arguments made by people who support a menthols ban has been that the flavoring seems to make the cigarettes more addictive and harder to quit.
“Some studies have shown that menthol smokers have had less successful rates of quitting smoking than non-menthol smokers, feel less confident in their ability to quit, and have more relapses and quit attempts than non-menthol smokers,” says Olivia Wackowski, MPH, a tobacco specialist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Public Health, in New Brunswick.
In a 2009 report to the FDA, Gardiner and a co-author indicated that this could be because menthol may increase nicotine absorption and has stimulating effects on the central nervous system.
“When you reach for menthol cigarettes, not only are you getting nicotine, which activates certain sensory properties in the brain, but also menthol, which activates certain sensory activities,” Gardiner explains. “That’s why it’s harder to quit. There’s an interaction between menthol and nicotine. It’s received more readily in the brain.”
Whether menthol actually enhances the addictiveness of cigarettes remains open to debate, however. Several studies have found that quitting is very difficult regardless of what kind of cigarette a person smokes, and researchers haven’t been able to confirm that menthols have a different effect on the nervous system than non-menthol cigarettes.
However, some research has found that people who smoke menthols are more dependent on nicotine. Studies have shown that, compared to people who smoke regular cigarettes, menthol smokers light up nearly twice as quickly after waking up in the morning and are also more likely to wake up at night to smoke. (Both are common measures of nicotine dependence.)
Still, the evidence isn’t strong enough to prove definitively that menthols are more addictive than regular cigarettes, says Wackowski.
“We can’t say that menthol is more addictive,” Gardiner agrees. “The problem is that cigarettes kill you anyway, so trying to prove that one substance is doing more harm than another has proved to be not fruitful.”
Is time running out for menthols?
Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, an antismoking advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., feels that addictiveness should be only one of the measures used by the FDA in deciding whether to ban or regulate menthols.
“The FDA should look at menthol based on a broad public health standard, taking into account not only addictiveness but also increased toxicity, harm, or disease risk,” he says. “The FDA needs to look at all the evidence. We could learn a lot by requiring industry to turn over all their documents and also take into account how menthol is marketed and targeted.”
By Amanda Gardner,
June 15, 2010

The impact of tobacco in the European Union

Ahead of the 2010 No Tobacco Day (31 May), the European Commission unveils the results of a Eurobarometer survey which shows that a strong majority of EU citizens support stronger tobacco control measures. For example, three in every four Europeans supports picture health warnings on tobacco packs and smoke free restaurants. The survey also shows, however, that nearly one in every three Europeans still smokes, despite the fact that tobacco kills half of its users. The Commission is planning to launch an open consultation shortly with a view to revising the 2001 Tobacco Products Directive and is stepping up its tobacco control efforts throughout the EU.
1. What is the impact of tobacco on health in the EU?
An estimated 14 million people in the EU27 suffer from the six (1) main disease categories that are associated with smoking, i.e.
Approximately 650 000 EU citizens die prematurely every year because of tobacco.
Smoking affects non-smokers too. According to conservative estimates, 79 000 adults, including 19 000 non-smokers, died in the EU-25 in 2002 because they were exposed to tobacco smoke at home (72 000) and at in their workplace (7 300). It can be assumed that the magnitude of the problem has not changed remarkably during the last years.
2. How widespread is exposure to tobacco smoke in the EU?
In countries with no comprehensive smoke-free regulations, tobacco smoke is present in the majority of public places, most of which are also somebody’s workplace. In the case of children and adolescents, most of the exposure to tobacco smoke comes from parents and occurs in the home.
According to the latest Eurobarometer (May 2010):
* Smoking at home is allowed by 4 in 10 EU citizens (38%). The most permissive Member States are Greece, Spain and Cyprus, where at least 1 in 4 allow smoking everywhere in the house. Finnish and Swedish respondents are the strictest about smoking in their homes, with 95% and 86% respectively not allowing smoking in the home at all.
* 16% of citizens allow smoking in the car all the time and 12% some of the time. This depends on whether they smoke themselves. About two thirds of smokers permit smoking in the car (65%) compared with 13% of non-smokers.
* Of those who visited bars and eating establishments in the past 6 months, 45% recall that people were smoking inside the bar and 30% said the same about an eating establishment.
* A quarter of citizens are exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace. At work, about 1 in 10 are exposed to tobacco smoke for less than an hour a day, 1 in 20 for between one and five hours per day and the remaining one in 20 for more than 5 hours per day.
3. Is there evidence that smoke-free policies work?
Smoking bans have positive health effects. While the full health benefits may take up to 20-30 years to be realised, the evidence from smoke-free countries is already very encouraging. Indoor air quality improved dramatically after the smoking bans went into effect, with an 83% and an 86% reduction in the concentrations of particulate matter in Irish and Scottish bars, respectively. Better air quality has been mirrored by substantial reductions in the incidence of heart attacks, including a drop of 11% in Ireland and Italy, a 17% drop in Scotland and even greater reductions in some US jurisdictions.
Numerous studies have also shown significant improvement in the respiratory health in hospitality workers as a result of smoke-free laws, ranging from 13 to 50%. Smoke-free policies have also been reported to reduce tobacco consumption and encourage quit attempts among smokers, thus contributing to a reduction in smoking prevalence.
4. What is the EU’s legislation on Tobacco?
The Directive on Tobacco Products (2001) requires manufacturers to put warnings on tobacco products, bans terms such as ‘light’, ‘mild’ or ‘low tar’, forces producers to provide full information on all ingredients and sets maximum limits for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes.
The Directive on Tobacco Advertising (2003) bans cross-border advertising of tobacco products in printed media, radio and on-line services. It equally bans sponsorship of cross border events. Tobacco advertising and sponsorship on television has already been prohibited since 1989.
The Council Recommendation on smoking prevention (2003) encourages Member States to control all forms of tobacco promotion and sales to minors, as well as to improve awareness and health education.
The Council Recommendation on Smoke Free Environments (2009) calls on Member States to adopt and implement laws to protect citizens from exposure to tobacco smoke in enclosed public places, workplaces and public transport. It also calls for the enhancement of smoke-free laws with supporting measures such as protecting children, encouraging efforts to quit smoking and having pictorial warnings on cigarette packages.

5. What are national smoke-free regulations?

So far, 12 EU Member States provide for comprehensive protection from exposure to tobacco smoke.
Total bans on smoking in all enclosed public places and workplaces, including bars and restaurants, are in place in Ireland, UK and Cyprus. Italy, Malta, Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Slovenia, France, Lithuania and the Netherlands have introduced smoke-free legislation allowing for special enclosed smoking rooms.
However, in the remaining Member States, citizens and workers are still not fully protected from exposure to tobacco smoke in indoor workplaces and public places. Bars and restaurants are a particularly difficult area of regulation.
Partial smoking bans in the hospitality sector are in place in Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Greece, Portugal, Romania, Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Spain and most German Länder
For additional details see: table on implementation of smoke free measures in EU

6. What are the main possible changes in the Tobacco Products Directive that the Commission is analysing?

* Improving consumer information, for example by having bigger and double-sided picture warnings, standard packaging, qualitative information on harmful substances and information on cessation services.
* Introducing a control, restriction or ban, on harmful, addictive and attractive substances in tobacco products.
* Improving mechanisms for reporting and analysing tobacco products by introducing harmonised reporting systems and introducing accompanying fees.
* Examining the current rules on sales of tobacco products, in particular with regard to promotion at the point of sales, vending machines and distance sales.
* Addressing newly emerging products.
7. Will the Commission propose lifting the ban on oral tobacco/snus?
Snus is a smokeless tobacco product. It is a moist snuff which is placed under the lip for extended periods of time. The sale of snus is illegal in the European Union. Sweden is the only country in the EU that is exempt from this ban. The derogation was granted on condition that Sweden shall take all the necessary measures to ensure that snus is not placed on the market in other Member States.
The opinion of the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) of February 2008 states that snus is a harmful product. This opinion calls for a very cautious approach; there are currently no plans to lift the ban.

8. What is the EU role in tobacco control at international level?

The EU plays an active role in tobacco control at international level. It was a driving force for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which entered into force on 27 February 2005.
The EU is a full Party to the Convention since June 2005, as are 26 of its Member States (all but the Czech Republic).
The implementation of the Convention is a political and legal commitment for its Parties.
The first legally binding protocol under the Convention concerns the illicit trade in tobacco products and is in the final stages of negotiation.
In addition to the Convention itself, guidelines have been developed to facilitate and guide the implementation process. Such guidelines exist for tobacco product labelling, advertising, smoke free environments and protection of public health policies from the interests of tobacco industry.
Currently guidelines are being finalised on tobacco ingredients and their disclosure, on cessation and on awareness raising and education. They are expected to be adopted by the fourth conference of the Parties in November 2010.
Further information, WHO

All 50 states passe fire-safe cigarette legislation

“Fire Safe” cigarettes, hailed by the fire prevention organization the National Fire Protection Authority as an effective fire Fire safe cigarettesprevention tool, will be sold in all 50 states by July 2011 per recent.
Fire safe cigarettes have extra sections of paper lining along the cigarette that put a cigarette out if not regularly smoked. The extra paper effectively acts as a “speed bump” for a burning cigarette.
Most states already require the sale of fire safe cigarettes and all R.J. Reynolds Tobacco cigarettes sold nationally already have fire safe technology built in to them.
Wyoming is the 50th state to enact legislation requiring the sale of fire safe cigarettes. It becomes law there in July 2011. Already, 43 states have similar legislation in effect. Massachusetts was one of the first five to regulating cigarettes, with a 2006 law signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney.
The NFPA has pushed for state-by-state legislation since 2006 for fire safe cigarettes as a way to reduce accidental fires, organizing the group the Coalition for Fire-Safe Cigarettes in March 2006. Within two years, 22 states enacted legislation requiring fire safe cigarettes.
According to the NFPA, unattended cigarettes are the leading cause of home fire fatalities, killing between 700 and 900 people a year. Most often fires start when people leave cigarettes burning while smoking in bed, drop them in couches or do not extinguish them fully in ashtrays.
A smoldering cigarette can take up to three hours to burn out completely, according to the NFPA.
Canada already has national legislation that requires the manufacture of fire safe cigarettes as far back as 2005.
In New York, where legislation is already enacted, smoking-related deaths have fallen sharply, according to the NFPA.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, makers of, Winston and cigarettes, also already makes all of their cigarettes with fire safe manufacturing practices since October 2007.
Cigarette-ignited fires are the leading cause of residential fire deaths. Each year in this country, 700 to 900 people die in cigarette-ignited fires. One quarter of those people killed — often including children and the elderly — are not the smoker. Fire-safe cigarettes are designed to self-extinguish if dropped or left unattended. They are less likely to ignite clothing, bedding or other material.
The most effective fire prevention tips for cigarettes are to fully extinguish them. If possible, drop cigarettes in a container of water or, like matches, run them under the tap.
Always keep watch of cigarettes and fully extinguish cigarettes by crushing them in ashtrays. Do not throw cigarettes out the window of cars or drop them on the ground.

State sues electronic cigarettes retailer

Sacramento – They look and may even taste like cigarettes, and their manufacturer claims they are a safe, tar-free alternative to the cancer-causing real thing.
But California Attorney General Jerry Brown says that electronic cigarettes – also known as e-cigarettes – contain dangerous chemicals and are being inappropriately marketed to children, and that their makers have no evidence to support claims that the product is safe.
On Wednesday, the state’s top cop filed suit in Alameda Superior Court accusing Smoking Everywhere, one of the largest e-cigarette retailers in the United States, of violating a number of state laws by making misleading statements, failing to warn consumers of the product’s potential harm and engaging in unfair business practices. A similar suit was filed against the same company by Oregon’s attorney general last year.
Brown wants the court to prohibit Smoking Everywhere from selling its product in California until the company produces evidence that e-cigarettes are safe.
Smoking Everywhere isn’t the only company to sell e-cigarettes in California, but a spokesman for Brown said he is targeting the manufacturer because they have been in talks with the attorney general and could not come to an agreement.
Smoking Everywhere’s e-cigarette kits retail for about $40 apiece online, look just like regular cigarettes – down to the light at the end of the product that glows when a person inhales – but are battery-operated and contain cartridges filled with nicotine.
When a user inhales, a heating device converts the chemicals contained in the cartridge into a vapor that can also be exhaled and resembles smoke.
“Right now there is no quality control, the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) is not regulating them,” said Dana Simas, a spokeswoman for the attorney general.
“We want to make sure if there is nicotine, it’s a consistent amount and that there are no dangerous products such as anti-freeze in them.”
Last year, an FDA analysis found that e-cigarettes contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals – including an ingredient used in anti-freeze. The FDA, which seized several shipments of e-cigarettes, is embroiled in a court battle with e-cigarette manufacturers over whether the agency has the authority to regulate the product.
Simas said that while the company is not allowed to sell the product to minors, they have no age verification process on their Web site, where you can purchase the e-cigarettes.
“They’ve sold hundreds of thousands of them at mall kiosks and they sell them in flavors like strawberry, bubble gum, peaches and cream – things that attract younger buyers,” she said.
Company officials did not return a call seeking comment, but the product is touted on their Web site as “a tar-free way to enjoy smoking and the freedom to smoke most everywhere. The smokers still get their nicotine, but don’t get the side effects attributable to tar which contains real tobacco.”
Marisa Lagos, Chronicle Sacramento Bureau
January 14, 2010