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January 16th, 2015:

Women on the front line in battle against smoking

14 Jan 2015

Tribune News Service

Females tiny minority among smokers and are leading the charge for tougher laws on tobacco

Nearly every day on the mainland women go to work in smoke-filled offices, exposed to the fumes of cigarettes smoked mainly by male colleagues. After work is over many go home to breathe secondhand smoke created by husbands or other members of their family.

China is known as the Smoking Dragon, but its addiction to tobacco is not shared between the sexes. According to the most recent national survey, 288 million men smoked regularly in 2010, compared with 13 million women.

Lately, however, women have been striking back. The State Council proposed last autumn the nation’s toughest restrictions yet on indoor smoking and the marketing of tobacco. The announcement was a major victory for the tobacco-control movement, which includes several women who have been on the front lines for decades.

“This is a very important step,” said Yang Gonghuan, an epidemiologist who has been documenting tobacco’s toll on public health since the 1980s.

“It is very difficult to push for these kinds of changes on a national level. It has taken many, many years.”

Although the mainland is known for its smog and other environmental problems, no public health issue poses more of a threat than tobacco. An estimated one million people die each year from lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases across the country.

The nation’s anti-smoking movement includes many prominent men. Former NBA basketball player Yao Ming and other celebrities have lent their names to the cause. An activist named Li Enze filed a lawsuit in 2013 against the country’s tobacco monopoly, alleging that it had fraudulently marketed a low-tar cigarette brand called Black Tiger.

Yet in government and among tobacco-control groups, women are leading the charge. National health commissioner Li Bin has been outspoken in seeking a national indoor-smoking ban. Li sits on a top-level panel that drafted the restrictions unveiled in November. Two of her key deputies are women.

Among academics, Yang is known for her extensive research into tobacco use and disease. Brookings Institution researcher in the United States, Li Cheng, said Yang had played a crucial role in the country’s anti-smoking campaign, particularly by co-authoring an influential 2011 report that documented the health effects.

Chinese have smoked tobacco for centuries and up until the early 1900s women regularly could be seen with men puffing on pipes. But with the advent of cigarettes, Chinese intellectuals and foreign missionaries started frowning on women who smoked. According to Carol Benedict’s book Golden-Silk Smoke: A History of Tobacco in China, 1550-2010, society started to describe female smokers as “modern women”, a label also given to the promiscuous and unpatriotic.

As a result, women quit smoking, even as leaders such Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping smoked openly in public, encouraging the habit among men.

Today, the mainland is the world’s biggest consumer of tobacco. It is also the largest manufacturer, producing more than 2.3 trillion cigarettes yearly, nearly half the world’s total.

Unlike in the United States, private companies such as Philip Morris do not dominate the market. Instead, China National Tobacco, an arm of the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration, controls nearly all the cigarette brands sold.

That puts the central government in an unusual dual role: one arm, the health ministry, tries to restrict tobacco use and warn of its dangers, while other government agencies benefit from tobacco’s profits and tax revenues, which totaled nearly US$120 billion in 2012.

“This is why tobacco control in China happens so slowly,” said Yang, a professor of medicine in Beijing. “The tobacco industry is very powerful.”

In recent years, attitudes towards smoking have started to shift. Top leaders in the Communist Party are either nonsmokers or are careful not to be spotted lighting up in public. Late in 2013, the party banned government officials from smoking in public or giving cigarettes as gifts. Individual cities have enacted their own restrictions on tobacco.

The draft regulations unveiled in November, if enacted and enforced, would take the mainland into another realm. The proposed rules would ban indoor smoking and make private businesses responsible for enforcing the ban, subject to fines if they did not do so. It would further limit the marketing of tobacco and require larger warning labels on cigarette packs.

A smoking gun

16 Jan 2015

We have to wonder what could possibly be causing the Westminster Government to drag its heels on a commitment to introduce plain, standardised packaging for tobacco products.

The early evidence, following the launch of plain packs in Australia, is positive, with no sign of the dire consequences predicted by opponents. The coalition government initially pressed ahead on the issue, then backed down as the tobacco companies threw millions of pounds at opposing a measure which poses a fundamental threat to their profits.

Following huge support from the health community, and a positive report from an independent expert review, draft regulations were published and it seemed that plain, standardised packaging was once again on the way.

The Scottish Government, which strongly supports the measure, agreed to hold back and put its trust in UK-wide action.

Time is running out for regulations to be passed before Parliament dissolves before the May elections. To ensure sufficient time for the various parliamentary processes to be negotiated, ministers must be making preparations to vote on plain packs now. Yet still we wait for news.

The coalition government needs to make up its mind very soon. There is robust evidence that removing branding and designs from packaging will help make tobacco less attractive to young people. There is strong public support for a measure which was supported overwhelmingly in votes at both Westminster and Holyrood. The health community is united in demanding action.

We call on Westminster to keep on track and prepare for a vote in March. To buckle to industry lobbying now would be to fail the next generation.

Sheila Duffy

ASH Scotland

Simon Gillespie

British Heart Foundation Scotland

(Dr) James Cant

British Lung Foundation Scotland

(Dr) Sally Winning

British Medical Association Scotland

Gregor McNie

Cancer Research UK

David Clark

Chest Heart & Stroke 

Theresa Fyffe

Royal College of Nursing Scotland

(Prof) Derek Bell

Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

Brian Auld

Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS)

Andrea Cail

Stroke Association

(Dr) Alan Rodger

Retired Oncologist

Shisha lounge fined £14,000 after owner caught allowing smoking in Cricklewood store

13 Jan 2015

John Shammas

A shisha lounge has been slapped with a £14,000 fine after Brent Council caught the owner allowing smoking in an enclosed space.

Hassan El-Zein, 26, owner of Beirut Gardens in Cricklewood Broadway, was also found not displaying health and under-age warnings on tobacco packing and shisha pipes.

He failed to appear at Willesden Magistrates’ Court on January 6, but El-Zein was convicted and  was given a total of £8,140 in fines, £120 victim surcharge and £2,185 in costs to the council.

The company Beirut Gardens Limited was also fined £2,660, £100 victim surcharge and £500 in cost to the council.

As El-Zein was not in court the magistrates made a collection order, meaning that if the he does not pay within 28 days, bailiffs may be sent to his home and business.

The magistrate said: “The defendant did not offer any explanation in his defence and the council officers gave clear evidence and proved beyond reasonable doubt that all the offences took place.”

The case was brought about by Brent Council who were carrying out a routine inspection at Beirut Gardens in April.

Councillor George Crane, Lead Member for Environment at Brent Council, said: “The high fine reflects the seriousness of the offence that has been committed.

“Smoking in enclosed places damages the health of staff and non-smoking customers and supplying tobacco products without health and age warnings is irresponsible and illegal.

“I hope this high fine will deter other businesses from committing similar offences.

“We want to create a safe borough for people that live or work in  Brent and enforcing the law around the smoking ban is a part of that.”

Tobacco generates CNY 1 trillion in profit and tax

15 Jan 2015

The state tobacco monopoly generated CNY 1.05 trillion (EUR 146 billion) in profit and taxes last year, a gain of 10 per cent from 2013, Xinhua news agency reported.

CNY 911 billion was turned over to the government, according to State Tobacco Monopoly Administration (STMA) data cited by Xinhua. In 2013, the tobacco industry handed over CNY 816 billion, which accounted for 6.3 per cent of total government revenue that year. STMA expects to hand over about CNY 1 trillion to the government in 2015, Xinhua said.

Plain tobacco packaging encourages more people to stop smoking and fewer to start

15 Jan 2015

Evidence shows that plain tobacco packaging measures encourage more people to stop smoking and fewer to start. Consumers perceive plain packaging as ugly and dull — it decreases the attractiveness of tobacco products and smoking, particularly to young people and women.

“When we offered them Marlboros at half price — in generic brown boxes — only 21% were interested, even though we assured them that each package was … identical, except for the different packaging, to what they normally bought at their local tobacconist. How to account for the difference? Simple. Smokers put their cigarettes in and out of their packets 20 to 25 times a day. The package makes a statement. The consumer is expressing how he wants to be seen by others,” according to information disclosed by the tobacco industry in the context of the 1987 Minnesota lawsuit.

The tobacco industry has always used the packaging of tobacco products as a powerful advertising tool and as a way to circumvent bans on promoting tobacco products.

Australia adopts plain tobacco-packaging measures

Australia is the only country in the world that has adopted and introduced plain-packaging measures. They came into effect in December 2012. Despite the short time span since the measures were adopted, there is evidence showing a sustained 78% increase in calls to the tobacco quit line since such packaging was introduced. That increase is not attributable to anti-tobacco advertising activity, higher cigarette prices or other identifiable causes.

Policies in synergy to reduce tobacco consumption

A new evidence brief by WHO/Europe — Plain packaging of tobacco products: measures to decrease smoking initiation and increase cessation — provides evidence of the effectiveness of plain packaging measures in smoking prevention and cessation.

The guidelines for the implementation of articles 11 (effective health warnings) and 13 (advertising ban) of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control recommend the adoption of plain-packaging measures to decrease smoking initiation and to increase smoking cessation. The new Tobacco Products Directive adopted by the European Union in March 2014 will enter into force in 2016, making it possible for Member States to adopt plain packaging measures at the national level.

The Directive is a step in the right direction and supports the vision of the Ashgabat Declaration for a tobacco-free European Region.

Facts point to the success of plain packaging

Jan 16 2015

Nicholas Talley

Persistent discourse about what some critics see as the failed effectiveness of plain packaging does not detract from proven, consistent facts from reliable sources.

In the 22 months after plain packaging was introduced in December 2012, tobacco and cigarette spending fell by 7.3 per cent, according to ABS statistics.

Until we see evidence proving otherwise, it is crucial we question counterarguments. All too often, these arguments are influenced by Big Tobacco’s attempts to erode the very legislation created to reduce death and disease caused by smoking.

Yes, tobacco excise has played a role in smoking rates falling. But why would we criticise this when it has been part of the united solution? It’s a simple notion — fewer people smoking cigarettes means fewer people dying.

But with smoking rates continuing to fall, who would want to attack life-saving legislation?

The answer is Big Tobacco. So it comes as no surprise the Institute of Public Affairs, which receives Big Tobacco funding, continues to use unreliable data in its arguments to discredit plain packaging.

To say plain packaging has resulted in increased illicit tobacco use is problematic.

Health groups have questioned the validity of the internet surveys used in industry studies as part of KPMG’s report on illicit tobacco. These same surveys have been used to form these claims.

Cancer Council Victoria has shown that data from sources independent of the tobacco industry indicate there are relatively low and stable levels of illegal tobacco use in Australia.

Furthermore, their critique offers alternative estimates on illegal tobacco use in Australia and refers to results from the 2013 National Drug and Alcohol Survey.

These suggest a decline since 2007 in the percentage of smokers who are aware of unbranded tobacco, who have ever smoked it and who currently use it.

Yet time and time again we see Big Tobacco quick to laud dubious evidence in its arguments that plain packaging has failed.

Plain packaging laws are absolutely necessary. They play a pivotal role as part of a raft of measures designed to help smokers quit.

Importantly they prevent people from taking up smoking and, as a result, less people die and suffer from smoking-related disease.

The opinion piece on Wednesday by Simon Breheny, Legal Rights Project director at the Institute of Public Affairs, is just the latest example of a Big Tobacco smoke-and-mirror job.

Will it be Big Tobacco’s last attempt at peddling their message that plain packaging does not work? Certainly not.

Will their attempts undermine the fact that preventing people from smoking saves lives? Never.

Prof Nicholas Talley is president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians

Cone snail venom holds promise for medical treatments for cancer, addiction

14 Jan 2015

While considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, snails have found a more intriguing use to scientists and the medical profession offering a plethora of research possibilities. Cone snails are marine mollusks, just as conch, octopi and squid, but they capture their prey using venom. The venom of these marine critters provides leads for detection and possible treatment of some cancers and addictions.

Frank Marí, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science at Florida Atlantic University, has focused his research on cone snail venom and has published a study in the current issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

“The venom produced by these animals immobilizes prey, which can be worms, other snails and fish,” said Marí. “The venom is an extraordinary complex mixture of compounds with medicinal properties.”

The venom components selectively target cells in the body and make them valuable drug leads and powerful molecular tools for understanding the human body’s processes. One class of venom components is the alpha-conotoxins, named so because they target nicotinic receptors that are central to a range of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, tobacco addiction and lung cancer.

The venom of a particular species of cone snail, Conus regius, collected by the Marí group at the Florida Keys, is particularly rich in alpha conotoxins. Aldo Franco, Ph.D., who worked in Marí’s lab, described more than ten new alpha-conotoxins in his Ph.D. dissertation at FAU. Among these, they found RegIIA, a compound that potently blocked the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptor. This particular receptor when activated can be associated with lung cancer and nicotine addiction.

“We investigated in detail how RegIIA interacts with the alpha3beta4 nicotinic receptors and embarked on engineering new compounds that were more specific toward alpha3beta4 receptors and not other nicotinic receptors,” said Marí. “Our aim is to open new avenues for cancer and addiction research inspired on compounds from marine animals.”

Cone snails can be found throughout the Florida coast at different depths. Marí and his team regularly collect these animals using SCUBA and sometimes using deep-water submarines.