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July 6th, 2016:

WHO urges countries to consider ‘global nicotine reduction strategy’

A panel of tobacco researchers that advises 180 World Health Organization (WHO) nations on creating constructive fresh regulations for tobacco products has lately suggested the group to think of a ’global nicotine reduction strategy’.

As part of the strategy, only very low nicotine cigarettes would be available for sale legally. Such cigarettes would have very slight nicotine in the tobacco that wouldn’t create cigarette addiction. The advice also cautioned that just nations with extensive tobacco-control programs should attempt doing this.

A University at Buffalo researcher has written in new paper published online July 1 in the journal Tobacco Control that the scientific proof so far hasn’t backed such a recommendation at this time, even in the case of nations that have quite strong tobacco control programs.

Lynn T. Kozlowski, a professor of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, has warned that a lot more is required to be known regarding the effects of this kind of a ban or prohibition on traditional cigarettes prior to the implementation of the recommendation by any of the WHO nations.

Kozlowski, PhD, added, “Countries need to appreciate that such a ban or prohibition of traditional cigarettes has not yet been assessed anywhere in a community with a representative sample that includes individuals with mental health or other substance abuse issues”.

The 2003’s WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was the first international treaty formed by the WHO. The treaty was ratified by around 180 nations. The WHO possesses a panel of tobacco researchers, called ‘TobReg’, that gives advises to the Framework Convention’s members.

According to a report in Buffalo by David J. Hill, “This strategy would require that very low nicotine cigarettes could be the only cigarettes sold legally. These cigarettes would have so little nicotine in the tobacco that they would not create an addiction to cigarettes. This advice also warned that only countries with extensive tobacco-control programs should try this.”

But the scientific evidence to date doesn’t support such a recommendation at this time, even for countries with very strong tobacco control programs, a University at Buffalo researcher writes in a new paper published online July 1 in the journal Tobacco Control.

Lynn T. Kozlowski, a professor of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions, cautions that much more needs to be known about the effects of such an untested prohibition or ban of traditional cigarettes before any WHO nations implement the recommendation.

“Countries need to appreciate that such a ban or prohibition of traditional cigarettes has not yet been assessed anywhere in a community with a representative sample that includes individuals with mental health or other substance abuse issues,” says Kozlowski, PhD.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration finalized a rule known as the Deeming Regulation, extending its authority under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, or Tobacco Act, to all tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), also known as vapor products,” according to a news report published by Daily Signal.

A June 16 consumer update states that the FDA’s goal is to protect Americans from tobacco-related disease and death. Some of the steps being taken include restricting sales to minors, requiring health warnings, and making manufacturers show that the products “meet the applicable public health standard set by the law.”

The United Kingdom’s Royal College of Physicians has said that e-cigarettes can prevent almost all the harm from smoking. Its report states, “The available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5 percent of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure.”

The Deeming Regulation definitely will not help consumers understand this, because the Tobacco Act prohibits companies from making “false and misleading product claims.” The law categorically assumes all claims about safety are false, no matter how true they might be.

EU ends anti-smuggling deal with tobacco firm PMI

The European Union is ending the anti-smuggling agreement it has with tobacco multinational Philip Morris International (PMI), sources confirmed to EUobserver.

The European Commission has decided not to renew the deal after it expires on Saturday (9 July), effectively choosing to listen to the European Parliament’s wishes.

EU commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, responsible for the file, wrote to PMI and member states on Tuesday night (5 July) that “there is no need for a prolongation of the PMI agreement”.

The commission will not start negotiations with PMI to extend or renew the 12 year-old deal, which laid down rules for cooperation between the tobacco firm and national customs authorities, as well as the EU’s anti-fraud agency Olaf.

The letter to member states, seen by this website, laid out that the deal with PMI “has effectively met its objective of reducing the prevalence of PMI contraband on the illicit EU tobacco market”.

However, Georgieva also wrote that “the reduction of PMI contraband did not lead to an overall reduction of illicit products in the EU”.

“The market and legislative framework has changed significantly since the entry into force of the agreement,” she wrote.

The Bulgarian official added that new EU legislation on tobacco products, and a treaty signed under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control “are the best instruments to fight illicit trade by regulatory means”.

The move was first reported by the Financial Times, and confirmed by multiple sources in Brussels to this website.

The agreement included annual payments into both national and EU coffers, which totalled around €1 billion over the entire agreement period. Member states were in favour of, or did not oppose, a new agreement.


A spokeswoman for PMI on Wednesday afternoon confirmed the company had received a letter from the Commission.

“In its twelve years of implementation, the anti-illicit trade agreement with the EU has worked to significantly reduce the flow of PMI counterfeit and contraband cigarettes,” she said in an e-mailed comment.

She did not state specifically if PMI was disappointed the agreement would not be renewed.

“The supply chain control measures outlined in the agreement will remain an integral part of how we do business in the EU and around the world,” the PMI spokesperson added.

Home Briefs: Action against six tobacco retailers

Action against six tobacco retailers

The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has either revoked or suspended the tobacco retail licences of six errant retailers for selling tobacco products to minors under 18.

The six were caught via ground surveillance and enforcement activities conducted by HSA, it said yesterday.

Song Hui Kiosk in Ang Mo Kio had its licence revoked after it was found to have sold tobacco to a 14-year-old in school uniform. The other retailers – Shivaranjani Minimart, 26 Foodloft, Al Kaaba Mini-Mart, Sin Hup Lee Store and O A Jalil – will be barred from selling tobacco products for six months.

Since 2013, HSA has suspended 32 tobacco retail licences and revoked 22 others.

North Korea, a smokers’ paradise, now urging people to quit’-paradise-now-urging-people-to-quit

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea, one of the last bastions of free, unhindered smoking, a country where just about every adult male can and does light up almost anywhere he pleases and where leader Kim Jong Un is hardly ever seen without a lit cigarette in his hand, is now officially trying to get its people to kick the habit.

It’s a battle Pyongyang has tried before and won’t easily win, especially since, beyond some stepped-up propaganda, it doesn’t appear to have a lot of funding. But this time around, the effort does have one big thing going for it: the increasingly vocal support of North Korean women, virtually none of whom smoke.

Ri Yong Ok, a 57-year-old pharmacist whose heavy-smoking husband nearly died of lung cancer, is leading the charge.

“I’ve been on TV, my whole family has been on TV, so everyone knows who I am,” Ri, flanked by no-smoking posters, told The Associated Press during an interview at the small anti-smoking center she manages in Pyongyang. The center, one of only 11 in all of North Korea, has something you almost never see in the North — a no-smoking sign placed prominently above its entrance.

“I’m optimistic that we can get people to stop,” she said. “Our goal is education.”

The potential health benefit to the nation could be tremendous.

Ri estimated about 54 percent of adult male North Koreans smoke — a higher figure than the 43.9 percent given by a World Health Organization report released at the end of 2014. Smoking is a social taboo for women and it’s illegal for anyone under the age of 17.

North Korea has toyed with the idea of pushing harder to get smokers to kick the habit before — Ri’s humble anti-smoking center has been around since 2007. But it has stepped up its effort to at least provide more education of smoking’s health risks since an anti-smoking decree was made by Kim in April.

The start of the new drive prompted speculation in the foreign media that Kim himself had quit, since cigarettes were conspicuously missing from his hands in photos carried by the state media of his “on-the-spot guidance” visits around the country from around that time.

The buzz didn’t last long. He was pictured smoking on a visit to a children’s camp in June.

North Korea joined the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005 and dutifully holds events on World No Tobacco Day every year. The infomercial on Ri and her family was broadcast by state-run TV on that day this year and a big anti-smoking poster for no smoking day hangs in her offices.

According to recent government reports, the country has reduced the amount of land devoted to growing tobacco. In May, state media quoted a Health Ministry official saying the ratio of male smokers in 2013 was down 8 percent when compared with 2009 and “the number of nonsmokers is remarkably increasing with each passing day.”

“I would guess about 300 people visit smoking cessations centers a day, nationwide,” in a country with a population of about 24 million, Ri told AP.

Cigarettes are a big business in North Korea.

Unlike many other consumer products, the array of domestically produced brands that are available to the public is amazing — from the status-symbol 727s (which take their name from the anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War) to brands like Pyol (Star), Craven and Tazo (which means ostrich and features the bird on every pack).

Menthol cigarettes are essentially non-existent but, because of the heavy competition among makers, gimmicks abound — one kind of Pyongyang-brand cigarette has filters tipped with smiley faces. Another brand is now putting flavored balls in its filters that when popped give the smoke a vaguely fruity taste.

Prices range from around $5 for the 727s and $7 or so for the popular Japanese Seven Star brand — despite international sanctions on luxury good exports, it’s easy to obtain imported cigarettes in Pyongyang — while Ostrich and other typical domestic smokes go for $1 or less a pack.

Some smokers roll their own blends, a practice that is more common in the countryside. Though the possibility can’t be ruled out, the sight of people puffing away on paper-rolled, odd-smelling mixtures of tobacco and whatever else they can stuff in with it may contribute to persistent but unsubstantiated reports by visitors and foreign media outlets of widespread marijuana use.

Health warnings are now required on cigarette packs, but remain inconspicuously placed in small lettering on the side of most and only state that smoking can be harmful to the health. A similar warning is posted in the smoking area at Pyongyang’s new international airport, though most smokers probably don’t see it — they just go outside.

Even so, the media campaign and pressure from wives, daughters, mothers and girlfriends does appear to be paying off, at least a little.

Yun Jin, a 27-year-old IT worker, said he made the decision to kick the habit after he saw Ri on television.

“I started smoking when I was a university student and smoke about 10 cigarettes a day,” he said before a consultation at Ri’s cessation center. “My mother wants me to quit, but it’s my decision.”

Consultations at the centers are free, in keeping with North Korea’s policy of providing free health care to its citizens. Medicines intended to help them quit are not covered, however.

Ri, being a pharmacist, has developed one such medicine. Brightly colored boxes of it — a 10-day supply of 21 lozenges goes for $10 a pop — cover one of the walls of her center. She boasts that, being entirely made of traditional Korean mountain herbs and medicinal plants, “it’s the best in the world.”

“There are many anti-smoking medicines around the world, but they contain nicotine, so ours is better for quitting,” she said. “But in the end, the most important thing is to really make the decision to quit.”

How One Man and His Team Brought about a Complete Ban on Gutka Sales in Odisha

Meet Imran, a young Odisha resident who has taken the battle against tobacco addiction in the state as a personal crusade and is fighting it with all his might.

“This campaign is like our addiction in the fight against addiction. We have decided to donate one rupee and one hour for the country each day,” says Md. Imran Ali about his crusade against tobacco and alcohol addiction in Odisha.

Imran came across the menace of tobacco in the city while pursuing his Master’s in Social Work degree. During one of his field visits to the Shantipali slum in Bhubaneshwar, he was shocked to see kids as young as 10 years old addicted to tobacco products, especially gutka. On further investigation, he found that the easy availability of tobacco products in the market and ignorance of parents make it easy for children to access these items. This addiction, in turn, becomes a stepping stone to other addictions, like alcohol and drugs, as the children grow up.

The gravity of the situation and its irredeemable impact stuck with Imran. He ended up writing and self-publishing a book named Bloody Gutka, in which he talks about the immense harm done by tobacco products.


This was followed by awareness programmes that he organised with his friends in the slums, where they talked to parents about this problem. Gradually, he brought together some like-minded young people in Bhubaneshwar to form Nasha Mukti Yuva Sankalp (NMYS), a voluntary campaign against tobacco/alcohol addiction and substance abuse.

The group comprises about 30 young people who work on a voluntary basis to contribute towards the cause whenever they can. They started by conducting awareness programmes in schools and colleges across the city, slowly moving on to advocacy in a planned manner.

“We noticed that many OMFED (Orissa State Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation Limited) booths in the state were turning into tobacco and smoking hubs. One could find tobacco products more than milk in many of these booths. I, along with a friend Jitendra Kumar Sahoo, filed a PIL in the Odisha High Court, seeking a ban on the sale of tobacco products at milk parlours,” says Imran.

A senior HC advocate, Biren Tripathi, agreed to take up the case for free and it resulted in victory. The court ordered a ban on the sale of tobacco products in Odisha milk parlours in 2011.


“Winning the case gave us a lot of confidence. I felt that when you are doing some good work, it gets noticed and recognised,” says Imran.

Soon, the group started campaigning for a complete ban on the sale and business of gutka in the state to address the rising number of mouth cancer cases. According to reports, smokeless tobacco accounts for more than 40% of all cancers in Odisha. Over 43% of the population consumes smokeless tobacco in one form or the other.

When awareness drives and online campaigns did not lead to any positive impact, they filed another PIL in the High Court. This time, an NGO named CLAP (Committee for Legal Aid to Poor) stepped forward to help them. NMYS was successful once again and the state implemented a complete ban in 2013.

Continuing with his mission to make people aware about the hazards of tobacco, Imran directed an Odiya documentary called Salaam Jeevan, addressing the health, economic and environmental hazards of tobacco.


It was shown in 2,500 colleges in the state with the help of the youth wing of the Odisha government. Imran also wrote a book with the same name, which was followed by yet another documentary called Silent Killer. It is a short documentary that shows the effect of tobacco consumption on families in general and Imran circulated it on WhatsApp to reach more people.

Members of NMYS also assist mouth cancer patients by directing them to the Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre that treats underprivileged people for free. Imran has started a counselling centre for tobacco users with one of his friends B Nayak, who is a doctor.


“Mouth cancer does not develop suddenly. It has many warning signs and symptoms, which if caught and medicated early, can help in the treatment of the disease. We focus on the preventive part of the disease at the counselling centre,” he says.

Imran feels blessed that he has people who are willing to help his team by contributing towards the cause in kind. Professional editors, voice-over artists, cameramen, etc., agree to volunteer for his movies for free.


All the members of the group work on a voluntary basis. They come from varying backgrounds – education, health, business, etc. Imran too works part time as a teacher in a college. He is originally from the Bhadrak district of Odisha but moved to Bhubaneshwar after completing his graduation in sociology.

Imran decided to dedicate his life to social work when he applied for a post-graduation course. No bank was willing to give him an education loan. He wrote to the then President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam, seeking help. And the President’s office replied with a notice to the bank demanding immediate attention. “I received the loan within two days. The incident made me think that if the first citizen of the country is so dedicated towards the welfare of common people like me, then my duty and responsibility toward the country become even greater,” he says.

“Every time we take patients to the hospital and help in their treatment, they show so much gratitude that I feel richer than any millionaire. It is a traumatising experience for people when they come to know about cancer. It is important for someone to support them and give them courage in such times. That is why I have decided to keep doing what I am doing,” he concludes with a smile.

EU to end anti-smuggling deal with Philip Morris

After months of wavering, the European Commission has decided not to renew its controversial agreement with Philip Morris International on tobacco smuggling and counterfeit products.

According to an EU official, commissioners meeting in Strasbourg Tuesday followed a recommendation from Vice President Kristalina Georgieva that continuing the deal — in place since 2004 — did not make sense. The agreement, under which the company cooperated with EU and national customs officials in fighting the illegal trade in cigarettes, had been heavily criticized by anti-tobacco groups and by members of the European Parliament.

In a letter to national capitals explaining the decision, seen by POLITICO, Georgieva said new international rules on smuggling had made the Commission’s arrangement with PMI unnecessary.

“There is no need for a prolongation of the PMI agreement,” she wrote, citing legal provisions in a World Health Organization convention, as well as the EU’s tobacco products directive adopted in 2014, as helping to fight tobacco smuggling.

Anti-tobacco groups had been pressuring the Commission not to renew the agreement, arguing it gave industry the opportunity to lobby customs officials and hide potential illegal activities.

The PMI deal became a template for similar arrangements between the EU and other tobacco giants like Japan Tobacco International, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Limited. Those agreements remain in place until they come up for renewal.

Some critics said the PMI agreement was not well equipped to tackle new tobacco smuggling trends like rolling tobacco or “cheap whites,” which are cigarettes produced on the black market.

Earlier this year, MEPs voted for a resolution calling on the Commission not to renew the PMI agreement, arguing it was outdated and did not respect the latest tobacco smuggling convention of the WHO, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

“There have been major doubts about the effectiveness of the Philip Morris International agreement in reducing the illicit trade in tobacco products,” said Bart Staes, a Green MEP and member of the budgetary control committee.

Commission sources in recent months said the Berlaymont had been in a difficult spot on the issue: Even as MEPs voted to end the agreements, many EU countries were in favor of keeping them.

About €1 billion in public revenue from cigarette taxes has been safeguarded by the agreement with PMI, according to the Commission.