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May 14th, 2016:

Southampton base leading research into cigarette alternatives through British American Tobacco

THEIR research could help save lives.

But the irony is they work for one of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the world.

Southampton is described as “mission control” for BAT (British American Tobacco) research and development by group scientific and research and development director David O’Reilly.

More than 400 work in the research and development (R&D) department at the firm’s premises in Regents Park, which has just celebrated its 60th anniversary. That represents two thirds of the global tobacco giant’s R&D workforce.

The department was set in 1956 immediately after the first reports linking smoking and lung cancer were published.

Since then its scientists have been working on ways to reduce the “toxicants” – poisonous substances – produced by burning tobacco and in the past two decades they have been working on safer alternatives to the cigarette.

As David explains: “Burning a cigarette is one of the most complex chemical reactions known to man.”

Lighting up releases 100 toxicants and as David stresses it is the combustion not the nicotine which causes the problem and claims smoking a cigarette stuffed with lettuce leaves would be just as harmful as a Lucky Strike.

Ten years ago BAT began its Next Generation project to research alternatives ways of delivering the nicotine hit millions crave.

Perhaps the simplest and least vaunted of these is Snus, which BAT discovered in Sweden, where it is seen as the natural alternative to smoking.

Although Snus translates as snuff it is not sniffed but sucked. Users slip a sachet of Snus, rather like a mini teabag about the size of a first class stamp, under their top lip.

David, a Snus user, explains that it helped him quit smoking. “You could argue it has saved my life,” he says as he slips one into his mouth and continues to talk normally.

While studies have shown Snus to be safe and Sweden has the lowest levels of lung cancer in the world, the product has proved to a be a bit of a dead end for BAT, thanks to the EU which has banned it sales.

Snus is a victim of the EU’s tobacco products reguations which class it alongside chewing tobacco products such as Skoal Bandits which were banned because of their links with mouth cancer.

The beauty of Snus is that there is no combustion which leads David to talking about “heat not burn”.

Scientists at Southampton are currently working on a device which creates an aerosol like an e-cigarette (scientifically speaking e-cigs produce an aerosol not a vapour) by heating liquid which is drawn across a plug of tobacco.

BAT are to test out this product in Romania but it will be some time before its ready to challenge the e-cig.

BAT were the first major tobacco firm to produce an e-cigarette – the Vype and the labs at Southampton are working on improvements and refinements all the time.

Although vaping has had a mixed press, for once it seems BAT has medical opinion on its side. A new report by the Royal College of Physicians stated e-cigarettes were not a gateway to traditional smoking and should be widely promoted as a substitute to cigarettes as they were likely be beneficial to UK public health.

Public Health England produced findings which said that e-cigarettes were 95 per cent safer than old style smokes.

“People who use E-cigarettes are don’t see themselves as smokers and they feel good for that,” said David.

The World Health Organisation do not take the same view and its report of 2014 the cautioned about potential risks of using e-cigarettes and they are banned in many countries including Argentina, Brazil and Indonesia.

So where will we be 60 years from now? Will fags be consigned to the ashtray of history and will firms like BAT be 100 per cent vape?

David O’Reilly is reluctant to forecast the future and he says BAT is hedging its bets. Using the analogy of video technology he says they will be “backing VHS and Betamax.”

It is likely that tobacco market will be fragmented with no one dominant product and BAT wants to have a product ready for every kind of smoker.

Perhaps the answer will be the Voke – a tobacco inhaler using the world’s smallest breath-activated valve and involving no heating or burning.

It will be aimed at smokers who want to quit or cut down – it will only be available in pharmacies at first but David does not rule out the possibility that it could be become a non-medical product. Tellingly the prototype he shows me looks just like a cigarette packet.

BAT has been in Southampton for 102 years and now employs 1,200 – more than when it closed down cigarette manufacturing in 2005 – making it one of the city’s largest employers.

In addition to the R&D department, Southampton is home to a distribution, IT and leaf sourcing.

David O’Reilly said: “BAT sees Southampton as a great place to do business.”

In the last six years BAT have invested £26 million in their Southampton offices including £2.1m on a mini processing plant to produce prototypes.

After closing their factory in 2005 BAT set up a £750,000 legacy fund which has distributed £442,000 in grants which, the firm claims, have benefitted 454,000 people in the area.

Revenue officials propose steeper penalties for illegal tobacco trade

The Massachusetts Department of Revenue is recommending increasing the penalties related to buying and selling tobacco that has not been properly taxed. For example, the penalty for selling cigarettes without a license would jump from a fine of US$50 to a maximum fine of US$50,000, with the potential for jail time.

The goal is to crack down on the black market, which is used to evade paying Massachusetts excise taxes.

“Over the past several months, the Illegal Tobacco Task Force has been working on a framework for collaboration and joint investigative and enforcement action by its member agencies,” said Nicole St. Peter Mac Dermott, a Department of Revenue spokeswoman. “The mission of the task force is to stem the flow of illegal tobacco products into Massachusetts and the resulting loss of state tax revenue.

“The task force will work with the governor and state Legislature to update and modernize the state’s tobacco tax laws to stiffen fines and penalties so that they act as an effective deterrent to unlawful activity and increase compliance.”

The task force includes representatives of the revenue department, the state police, the attorney general, the treasurer and the departments of public health and public safety. It is still discussing the recommendations, which will be part of a report due to the Legislature July 1. The recommendations could be considered by lawmakers next year.

“The task force is doing what we as wholesalers have been talking about for years. It’s to crack down on the illegal tobacco trade,” said Paul Caron, executive director of the Holyoke-based Northeast Association of Wholesale Distributors. “Whatever they do is going to be a tremendous help to legitimate wholesalers and retailers that are abiding by the rules, paying taxes and doing all the things we have to do to control the sale of tobacco.”

According to a 2013 report, Massachusetts loses between $74 million and $295 million a year due to people illegally avoiding paying taxes on cigarettes. Massachusetts’ excise tax of $3.51 per pack of cigarettes is one of the highest in the country, and that creates an incentive for people to buy cigarettes in lower-tax states and sell them illegally in Massachusetts. An illegal tobacco commission issued a report in 2014 that recommended ways to crack down on tax evasion. It did not recommend lowering the tax.

The state agency task force is an outgrowth of that earlier commission, and it provides a way for the agencies charged with collecting revenue and enforcing laws to coordinate efforts related to the illegal tobacco trade.

On Thursday, cooperation between state agencies resulted in the arrest of a Holyoke man, Pedro Perez, for running a multi-state illegal tobacco distribution network in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Pedro T. Perez, 53, of Holyoke, pleaded not guilty in Holyoke District Court on Thursday, May 12, 2016, to the tax-evasion and other charges related to accusations he ran a bootleg cigarette selling ring in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The Department of Revenue proposals would for the first time prohibit cash transactions between cigarette retailers and suppliers, and would require retailers to purchase cigarettes from a distributor who is licensed by the state. Out-of-state distributors can get a license to sell in Massachusetts.

These offenses would be punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for a first offense and $25,000 for subsequent offenses, with the potential for up to five years in state prison or 2.5 years in a county jail.

The purpose of the new rules would be to create an electronic record of all sales and to eliminate cash sales on the black market.

Caron, who was a member of the original illegal tobacco commission, said this was one of the commission’s recommendations. Illegal cash sales from unlicensed sellers are a particular problem with smokeless tobacco, which has an extremely high excise tax, he said.

“Pennsylvania has no excise tax on smokeless tobacco, so people fill the trunk of their car and find retailers willing to buy smokeless tobacco cheaper,” Caron said. Retailers will then sell the illegal tobacco from under the counter, for cash, to customers they know.

The law would also clarify that there is a penalty for possessing and selling illegal tobacco products other than cigarettes, such as chewing tobacco or cigars, which fall under different regulations than cigarettes. The penalty can be as high as $100,000 or 10 years in state prison for someone possessing more than 30,000 untaxed tobacco products.

The penalties for several existing crimes would be enhanced. For example, the penalty for possessing a shipping case of cigarettes where the name and address of the person receiving the package from a manufacturer have been erased was punishable with a $25 to $100 fine and would now be punishable by up to a $500 fine per container and 2.5 years in jail.

State revenue officials say the current penalties are not steep enough to deter the illegal tobacco trade.

A number of other changes are being proposed to simplify and modernize tobacco laws. Some of the statutes have not been changed since the 1940s, and they reference outdated technology. The proposal simplifies laws related to the excise tax, which are now scattered in different places in the state’s general laws. It would not change the tax rate.

There are also proposed changes to licensing — for example, requiring tobacco retailers to renew their licenses yearly, instead of every two years, so state officials can better track which retailers have started or stopped selling tobacco.

Other changes would make the administrative procedures around tobacco forfeiture similar to those around narcotics offenses, and would use the money from forfeited tobacco to fund the illegal tobacco task force.

One change that was already made to tobacco laws as a result of the 2014 commission report is that retailers caught selling illegal tobacco can be stripped of their licenses to sell lottery tickets. This new law was included in the fiscal 2016 budget, although it has not yet gone into effect.

Caron said he is pleased to see the new proposals, although he cautioned that it will be more important to make sure the laws are enforced.

“It all comes down to enforcement,” Caron said. “You can have the strictest laws. If it’s not being enforced, it’s all for naught.”

Spokeswomen for Treasurer Deborah Goldberg and Healey, who both have representatives on the task force, declined to comment, saying both offices are still reviewing the proposals. The state police did not respond to a request for comment.

Enough is enough

IN the fight against the dangerous drug menace, which has been an intractable problem in the country for decades, education is key.

This is opportune as news of a dominant tobacco-related company reportedly “closing down its manufacturing facility” near the capital city cannot be more encouraging.

Couple this with the claim that “the sale of the land” and that the shareholders have endorsed the move, the reason to enhance the role of education is even more.

After all, tobacco-related products, namely cigarettes, are addictive and are dubbed the “gateway” to drug abuse. This is the first important lesson.

If the deputy prime minister-cum-home minister expressed shock when he learned that children as young as 7 were hooked on drugs, he would be devastated to know that this is “normal”.

Statistics show that the starting age for smokers is getting lower over the years, not just among men but women, too.

So, the “closure” of any tobacco manufacturing and sales outlets must be taken as a sign of success.

It is virtually impossible to justify, in educational terms, how such an industry continues to bring “value” to its shareholders when it takes away the lives of those who use its products or, otherwise, markedly destroy their quality of life due to diseases as a result of smoking.

The tobacco industry has admitted this by displaying the gruesome pictures on the packaging.

Similarly, no government should allow its citizens to suffer at the hands of such an unconscionable company that eventually kills its customers. Our government acted by hiking the prices of cigarettes.

Between 2013 and last year, three rounds of excise hikes were recorded — 14, 12 and 36 per cent.

Research has indicated, over and over again, that putting prices beyond the reach of smokers and potential ones is one of the most effective ways of tobacco control worldwide.

The rationale is that the number of those “dying” when deprived of cigarettes in no way comes close to the number who are sure to die prematurely from smoking, including children. Still, the prices of cigarettes in Malaysia are not high enough to have that impact.

While the industry claims that the move leads to widespread distribution of illicit cigarettes, this is surely part of its tactics to keep prices low.

Blowing up the argument about cost and revenue loss from such illicit sales has always been done at the expense of conveniently ignoring the “loss” and “cost” incurred in paying high and long-term health bills arising from smoking.

Hence, the recent report that police busted a Johor-linked tobacco-smuggling activity worth more than RM25 million must be applauded and those involved be recognised, if not rewarded, just like how the smugglers are “incentivised” by their paymasters.

The main counterpoint here is often “corruption” will make the action against smuggling more elusive.

In short, all parties fighting in the tobacco killing field must be highly ethical and professional in educating the “sacredness” of life.

In the final analysis, if the drug war is to be won, it must have educational perspectives all the way, by pointing out the flaws in the arguments and systems, and demonstrating that tobacco can be effectively controlled, if not eliminated, as the “gateway” substance.

The time has come to frame this into a new strategy with the “retreat” of a dominant tobacco company. It sets the scene for a new narrative sans tobacco in our midst and telling it as it is for all kinds of addictive drugs, ranging from tobacco to the latest there is, including vaping.

There are no two ways about it. As the saying goes, good riddance to bad rubbish. Enough is enough.

DZULKIFLI ABDUL RAZAK, Honorary professor at University of Nottingham and principal fellow at Faculty of Leadership and Management at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia

Statistics ‘do not bear out claims’ of major tobacco firms

‘BIZARRE’ claims that tougher tobacco laws will boost crime must be ignored to protect public health, an anti-smoking charity said yesterday.

ASH Scotland’s ‘Dodgy Cigs’ report shows the UK trade in black market cigarettes and tobacco has declined every year since 2000, despite the introduction of stronger regulations and the increasing price of over-the-counter packs.

The report is released as new standardised plain packaging and other tobacco regulations come into force.

Major tobacco firms have claimed such moves would boost the trade in smuggled and counterfeit goods.

However, ASH Scotland head Sheila Duffy called this claim bizarre, in light of current trends.

Considering the impact on the Scottish government’s 2034 smoke-free target, she said: “The tobacco industry has often predicted that public health measures will cause rises in illicit tobacco. But this stance looks increasingly bizarre as illicit tobacco continues to reduce while regulation and price increase.

“We need to be wise to these tactics, and support proven public health measures. Standardised packaging will help put tobacco out of sight, out of mind and out of fashion for the next generation, making smoking less attractive for our children. Although it will take many years to see the full effects of this policy, the evidence from Australia, where plain packs have been used since 2012, shows that they can help to protect children from starting smoking and could help adults to quit.

“These new laws won’t single-handedly solve the problem of tobacco addiction. But they are another step on the journey to a tobacco-free Scotland by 2034.”

Updated packaging rules come into force on May 20, requiring new cartons to feature drab colours and graphic health warnings.

By May 2017, all packs sold in the UK will be required to adhere to the regulations.