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February, 2009:

Time To Raise Tobacco Taxes – And Save Lives

SCMP – Feb 18, 2009

Stocks in companies offering products such as tobacco and alcohol are much loved by investors because they are believed to be recession-proof. Taxmen feel the same way. Tobacco tax is for all seasons; it is one of the few categories of public revenue that can reasonably be raised regardless of the economic cycle. In this downturn, the government is under pressure to bring relief to businesses in its budget next week as industries of all types clamour for tax breaks. The tobacco industry, still with deep pockets, might be the exception.

To deter people from smoking, the government should increase tobacco duty. The Committee on Youth Smoking Prevention yesterday recommended doubling the tax. This is certainly feasible. There is a strong case for a significant increase. Duty on cigarettes has not been raised since 2002. As a result, our city has some of the cheapest cigarettes in the developed world.

Because of the potentially deadly nature of the products it sells, the tobacco industry can expect little opposition from the public to a rise in the tax. Unlike many consumer industries, it finds it much easier to pass on costs to smokers because of their addiction. But high prices would discourage young people from taking up the habit. Smoking can cause addiction and all kinds of chronic diseases. It is imperative youngsters be deterred from taking up the habit.

The ban on smoking in public, introduced at the start of 2007, has proved a success. Businesses, such as restaurants, which initially opposed it have come around. Many find that, though they have lost customers who smoke, non-smokers who previously avoided the establishments have taken their place. Many bars were exempted from complying with the ban until this summer. They are now lobbying for the exemption to continue because of the economic downturn. But they were against the ban even when times were good. The government must make the ban universal, as planned. We cannot completely stop smoking, but raising taxes and extending the smoking ban to all enclosed public spaces will deter enough people from
smoking to save many more lives.

Altria Must Pay $8 Million in Florida Smoker’s Death

Altria Must Pay $8 Million in Florida Smoker’s Death (Update3)

By Jef Feeley and Mort Lucoff

Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) — Altria Group Inc., the biggest U.S. cigarette maker, must pay $8 million to the family of a smoker who died of lung cancer, a Florida jury ruled in the first of 8,000 individual cases to go to trial in the state.

A state court jury in Fort Lauderdale ruled today Altria’s Philip Morris USA unit is liable for $3 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages over Stuart Hess’s 1997 death. The family’s lawyer told jurors during trial that Hess, 55, “choked his life away” smoking the company’s cigarettes from age 15. Altria makes Marlboro and Virginia Slims cigarettes.

The verdict is the first in thousands of lawsuits filed after the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate a $145 billion punitive-damages verdict awarded by a Miami jury to a statewide class of smokers in 2006.

Florida’s high court, which ruled the smokers can’t sue as a group, extended the time for individual smokers to sue and allowed them to rely in their individual cases on factual findings by the Miami jury, including that cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer.

The decision comes nearly ten years after the first verdict in the overall case, where a Miami jury found in 1999 that cigarette makers were responsible for the death and health problems of hundreds of thousands of Florida smokers. That ruling set the stage for the record $145 billion damage award.

“We’re going to file an appeal” of today’s award, said Kenneth Reilly, Altria’s attorney. “We’ll defend it vigorously like we have in all other cases.”

Possible Reduction

Altria fell 4 cents to $15.53 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading today. The company’s shares have risen 3.1 percent this year.

Altria’s lawyers contend Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld is likely to reduce the award because jurors found that Hess didn’t rely on the company’s statements about the safety of cigarettes after May 1982. His family can’t claim damages for that period because he was fully aware of the risks associated with smoking, the lawyers said.

Reilly said that the judge may throw out the punitive damage award and cut the compensatory award down to about $1.2 million, a reduction of 58 percent. That’s the number that jurors assigned to Hess for his share of responsibility for acquiring lung cancer from smoking.

Alex Alvarez, one of the Hess family’s lawyers, countered that “the full $8 million verdict will stand” because jurors found the company intentionally acted in a way that harmed Hess.

‘Gave Us Justice’

“The jury spoke and gave us justice,” he added.

Hess’s wife, Elaine, stood in a courthouse hallway wiping away tears after jurors handed down their decision. She said she hoped the verdict would send a message to tobacco companies.

“I just hope that all the thousands of other suffering families will also obtain similar justice,” she said.

During the two-week trial, Reilly told jurors the Hess family was seeking “an enormous amount” in the case and said he was relying on their “sound judgment” on the issue of whether the company should pay damages.

The family’s lawyers urged the Broward County Circuit Court jury in closing arguments in the damages phase of the case yesterday to award Hess’s wife and son about $132 million in total damages over his death.

“An award of only $5 million to $10 million would not mean that much to them,” Gary Paige, a lawyer for the family, told the panel.

The 8,000 cases pending in the state are split up among cigarette makers including Altria, Reynolds American Inc. and Vector Group Ltd. The cases are slated to be tried in courthouses across the state in coming months and years.

The manufacturers complain that the practice of allowing Florida smokers to rely on factual findings produced by the original 1999 case doesn’t pass constitutional muster.

‘Blame The Smoker’

“Today’s verdict was the result of an unconstitutional and profoundly flawed trial procedure,” Murray Garnick, an Altria spokesman, said in an e-mailed release. “Fundamental fairness requires the plaintiff to establish basic liability before a jury can award damages.”

Anti-smoking activists hailed the verdict as a first step in winning adequate compensation for consumers injured by the companies’ products.

“We’re delighted that the jury saw through Philip Morris’s attempts to blame the smoker” for his injuries, said Ed Sweda, a senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. “We’ll certainly be looking forward to the 8,000 other trials.”

The next case is slated to begin tomorrow in state court in Ft. Lauderdale before Streitfeld.

The case is Elaine Hess v. Philip Morris, CA 07-11513, Broward County Circuit Court (Fort Lauderdale).

To contact the reporters on this story: Jef Feeley in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at; Mort Lucoff in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at

Last Updated: February 18, 2009 17:57 EST

Raise Tobacco Tax By 25pc

SCMP – Feb 17, 2009

Smoking is clearly a serious problem in Hong Kong. Even with the smoking ban in force in indoor premises, some stubborn people continue to ignore it.

This is evident at local public housing estates and malls run by THE LINK REIT. There have been calls on the government to raise taxes on cigarettes and extend smoking bans, yet the government has not come up with significant plans regarding smoking.

In some parts of California bans on smoking outdoors are already in place. Why can’t we do the same in Hong Kong?

We do need to see further action being taken. And I really do hope that Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah will announce a 25 per cent tax increase on tobacco in his budget on February 25.


Tobacco Tax As Health Care

SCMP – Updated on Feb 16, 2009

Last year, the government failed to raise tobacco taxes for the eighth year in a row. The budget speech is fast approaching and failure to raise taxes would be in direct contravention of World Health Organisation standards and guidelines on tobacco pricing. If this administration cares about public health, failure to increase taxes on an annual basis will be blatant disregard of its moral obligations as a government. There is a direct correlation with increased taxes and a decreased numbers of smokers.

If the government tries to hide behind the “economic” situation as a reason for not raising taxes this year, it will undermine any credibility it has in regard to public health issues.

Not raising taxes in a significant manner, to catch up with eight years of lost revenue to the health system of Hong Kong and increased health costs due to increased smoking, should be seen as a crime.

If the claim is that it cannot be done due to the economy then that would mean the promotion of the myth that tobacco can help people “feel better” in tough economic times.

Hong Kong will be laughed at on a global scale if this is the case.

I look forward to a sharp increase in taxes that will bring us to comparable WHO world levels and will raise needed money for other increasing urgent air pollution-related health problems.

Doug Woodring, Mid-Levels

Nonsmokers Exposed To Tobacco Smoke Face Higher Risk Of Dementia, UK, US

Judy Siegel-Itzkovich , THE JERUSALEM POST – Feb. 15, 2009

If you are a nonsmoker exposed to sidestream tobacco smoke, you’re at a significantly higher risk of developing dementia and other forms of cognitive impairment, according to new research in the UK and the US.

On Friday, the British Medical Journal published the research conducted at the University of Cambridge, Peninsula Medical School and University of Michigan on 5,000 non-smoking adults over the age of 50.

It is already known that an active smoker is at a significantly higher risk of dementia and that passive smoking can lead to poor cognitive performance in children and adolescents, as well as coronary heart disease, lung cancer, premature death, airway diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and impaired lung function in adults.

But this new study, by Dr. David Llewellyn of the University of Cambridge and colleagues, is the first major one to conclude that second-hand smoke exposure could lead to irreversible dementia and other neurological problems.

They used data from the Health Survey for England in 1998, 1999 and 2001 and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Saliva samples were tested for cotinine – a product of nicotine that can be found for about 25 hours after exposure to second-hand smoke.

Cotinine levels are an objective, short-term biomarker of second-hand smoke. Participants also provided a detailed smoking history.

The researchers used established neuropsychological tests to assess brain function and cognitive impairment – focusing on memory function, aptitude for numbers and verbal fluency (for example, naming as many animals as
they could within a minute).

The tests’ results were added together to provide a global cognitive function score. Participants whose scores were in the lowest 10 percent were defined as suffering from some level of cognitive impairment.

The link between second-hand smoke and cognitive impairment could be explained by the fact that heart disease increases the risk of developing dementia and second-hand smoke exposure is known to cause heart disease.

Dr. Mark Eisner from the University of California writes in an accompanying editorial that while the serious negative health effects of second-hand smoke like cancer and premature death have been established beyond doubt, there is still a lot to learn about the scale of illness caused by second-hand smoke.

“Emerging evidence suggests that parental smoking may impair childhood cognitive development. Later in life, second-hand smoke may cause cardiovascular disease and stroke, which are themselves linked to cognitive decline. Until now, however, the suspicion that passive smoking is bad for the adult brain had not been scientifically confirmed,” he wrote.

Eisner concludes by hoping that greater public awareness about the dangers of second-hand smoke, especially awareness about a much feared disease like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, “would eventually translate
into political action aimed at passing smoke-free legislation in regions of the world where public smoking is still permitted.”

Scientific proof of health damage from passive smoking has persuaded legislators to ban smoking in public places and workplaces around Israel, and to increase fines and other means of deterrence.

Eisner noted in his editorial that “dementia has terrible consequences for quality of life, is greatly feared and is not easy to prevent. Consequently, publicizing the link between second-hand smoke and dementia may resonate powerfully with the public and increase awareness of the harms of passive smoking.

“Greater public awareness would eventually translate into political action aimed at passing smoke-free legislation in regions of the world where public smoking is still permitted.”

HK Smoking Ban To Be Extended, Says Chow

Regina Leung, SCMP – Updated on Feb 13, 2009

Most public indoor areas will be made smoke-free premises when Hong Kong’s temporary smoking ban exemption ends on July 1, says Health Secretary York Chow Yat-ngok. He said the exemption would include bars, clubs, nightclubs, bathhouses and massage and mahjong parlours.

Speaking at the International Symposium on Management of Tobacco Dependence, Dr Chow said late on Thursday smoking killed 6,900 people in Hong Kong annually. This made it one of the city’s leading causes of death.

“The world is in a tobacco epidemic. No nation is spared and no community exempt. We bear together the enormous health and social costs the epidemic has inflicted on us,” Dr Chow said.He said the ban was to reduce the medical costs incurred by smoking.

“A recent a local study found the annual value of medical and productivity loss from smoking amounts to HK$5 billion – in which 80 per cent were from active and the rest from passive smoking,” he said.

Dr Chow said a new fixed penalty system for smoking offences will also be launched in the coming months.

This will impose a HK$1,500 fine within 21 days to all offenders who smoke illegally. The smoking ban will also be extended to public transport interchanges.

The smoking ban has been in force in Hong Kong’s indoor public places since 2007. This includes workplaces, schools, restaurants and some outdoor areas such as beaches and parks.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco products kill more than five million people a year and will eventually kill 50 per cent of all regular smokers.

Loss for Cigarette Maker in First Florida Tobacco Trial – Friday, February 13th, 2009

In the opening phase of the first of 8,000 tobacco trials in Florida, big tobacco lost. According to Bloomberg News, a jury made up of three men and three women agreed that deceased smoker Stuart Hess’s nicotine addiction caused his 1997 lung cancer death. The move is seen as a significant setback for Altria, and its subsidary Philip Morris USA, said Reuters.

A lawyer for Hess’s family and widow said he was pleased with the recent verdict and said the jury will be hearing much more about the damage tobacco has caused in the past few decades, reported Bloomberg News, which noted that, in this case, there are at least two more possible phases to the trial that could involve damage assessments against Altria Group Inc. Altria is the largest cigarette maker in the United States.

Hess’s wife blamed an addiction to nicotine for her husband’s death; Stuart smoked for four decades and died at age 55. Altria argued that Hess had quit smoking from time-to-time, indicating—it felt—that Hess was really not addicted to nicotine, reported Bloomberg. Lawyers for the Hess family said that Stuart had tried, but was unable to quit smoking because of his nicotine addiction, said Reuters.

In 1994, thousands of Florida smokers brought the class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies for the injuries they sustained from smoking. In 1999, the jury agreed that cigarette makers deceived smokers about the safety of their product, and awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the plaintiffs; a Florida appeals court reversed the decision in 2003.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate the punitive damages and stripped the lawsuit of its class-action status; however, the Florida court allowed individuals who could have won judgments under the original verdict to use findings from the yearlong jury trial to bring new cases against the cigarette makers, which means that the smokers will not have to prove the issues in the follow-up cases.

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the tobacco companies’ appeal of the Florida court’s decision, which was mainly an attempt to prevent Florida smokers from using the 1999 jury findings in their lawsuits. Hess’s case is one of thousands filed following the class-action suit rejection by the Florida Supreme Court.

In the second phase of the Hess trial, which begins today, the jury will be determining if Altria is at fault and if damages should be awarded; the third and final phase will be used to determine punitive damages, said Bloomberg.

Adolescents perceived effectiveness of the proposed European graphic tobacco warning labels

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Youtube: Tar From Cigarettes

Impact on the Australian Quitline of new graphic cigarette pack warnings including the Quitline number

Copyright © 2009 by the BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.


C L Miller1,2, D J Hill3, P G Quester4 and J E Hiller2

1 The Cancer Council South Australia, Eastwood, South Australia, Australia
2 Discipline of Public Health, School of Population Health and Clinical Practice, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
3 The Cancer Council Victoria, Victoria, Australia
4 Business School, University of Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Correspondence to:
C Miller, The Cancer Council South Australia, PO Box 929, UNLEY BC SA 5061, Australia;

Background: In March 2006, Australia introduced graphic pictorial warnings on cigarette packets. For the first time, packs include the Quitline number.

Objective: To measure the combined effect of graphic cigarette pack warnings and printing the Quitline number on packs on calls to the Australian Quitline service.

Methods: Calls to the Australian Quitline were monitored over 4 years, 2 years before and after the new packets were introduced.

Results: There were twice as many calls to the Quitline in 2006 (the year of introduction), as there were in each of the preceding 2 years. The observed increase in calls exceeds that explained by the accompanying television advertising alone. While call volume tapered back in 2007, it remained at a level higher than before the introduction of new packets. No change was observed in the proportion of first time callers.

Conclusion: Introducing graphic cigarette packet warnings and the Quitline number on cigarette packets boosts demand for Quitline services, with likely flow on effects to cessation