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June 10th, 2015:

Customs busts own agents in biggest-ever haul of black-market smokes

The State Revenue Service’s (VID) Customs Police nabbed the largest catch of illegal cigarettes ever this month – amounting to 32 million cigarettes and involving three of its own customs officers and a border guard officer, VID informed the media Wednesday.

Altogether six persons were detained on June 2 on suspicion of smuggling in from Russia 32,760,800 contraband smokes, including the three workers from customs, one from the border guard service and two vehicle drivers.

An estimated five million euros would have been kept out of state coffers had the shipment made it to the black market, being the largest-ever busted in a single VID Customs Service raid.

Increasing smoking age will reap long-term benefits

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Tobacco additives may have helped ‘promote addiction’

Tobacco researchers identified additives that could have made cigarettes more acceptable and addictive, according to a new analysis of tobacco company documents.

It suggests that chemical additives, called pyrazines, were identified and began to be included in the ‘recipe’ for some tobacco products in the 1960s and 70s to make low-tar, or ‘light’, cigarettes, taste richer and smoother.

“It fits into the familiar pattern of manipulation we’ve come to expect from an industry responsible for millions of deaths worldwide each year” – Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK

The analysis of documents from tobacco giant Philip Morris was carried out by a team from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.

Writing in the journal Tobacco Control (link is external), they suggest that the compounds may also reinforce the addictive qualities of nicotine.

According to Professor Linda Bauld, cancer prevention expert at Cancer Research UK, the findings are not unexpected.

“It’s not surprising to see reports suggesting that a tobacco company may have been altering its deadly products to try to keep smokers hooked – it fits into the familiar pattern of manipulation we’ve come to expect from an industry responsible for millions of deaths worldwide each year,” she said.

Nicotine dependence is primarily caused by nicotine prompting the release of a brain chemical called dopamine – which is involved in pleasure, arousal and mood change.

But growing research suggests that nicotine alone can’t account for the intense addictive properties of smoking tobacco.

The investigation looked at internal documents from Philip Morris made available in the late 90s as a result of litigation. It also reviewed scientific research on the composition and role of cigarette additives.

The documents analysed go back as far as the late 60s, as tobacco’s dangers became apparent and ‘low tar’ products became more desirable.

They document how the company discovered that pyrazines could curb the harshness and irritating effects of tobacco smoke, thus easing the inhalation and uptake of nicotine.

Several pyrazine derivatives also seem to have a role in boosting the amount of dopamine released during smoking.

The researchers expressed their concern over the role the additives may play in nicotine dependence.

“The [effects of] pyrazine flavour additives might provide cues for reward-related learned behaviours, and could play a critical role in the development, maintenance, and relapse of tobacco dependence,” they wrote.

“Taken together, pyrazines appear to increase product appeal and make it easier for non-smokers to initiate smoking, more difficult for current smokers to quit, much easier for former smokers to relapse into smoking,” they wrote, concluding that this “may mask the risks of both active and passive smoking.”

Professor Bauld stressed that, no matter what additives are present in tobacco, “there’s no such thing as a ‘safe’ cigarette”.

“That’s why there needs to be continued, comprehensive, strategic action on smoking – on all fronts – to realise the vision of a society free from the harms of tobacco,” she said

Public health group calls for levy on tobacco firms to help fight smoking

Health organisations say tobacco industry should pay levy to help smokers quit and prevent young people picking up a habit that costs UK at least £12bn a year

Passive smoking causes more than 150,000 cases of illness in children every year, the Royal College of Physicians has found. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA

Sarah Boseley
Wednesday 10 June 2015 00.01 BST

The government should impose a new levy on tobacco companies to help pay for the harm they cause, according to 120 public health organisations launching a proposed new strategy against smoking.

By 2035, the proportion of the population who smoke should be brought down from 18.5% to just 5%, says the group, which is led by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

They hope their proposed five-year strategy document, Smoking Still Kills, will be taken up by government in the same way that their previous reports have informed government policy. In 2008, they published Beyond Smoking Kills, named after the Labour government’s 1998 white paper, Smoking Kills, which proposed many measures that later became law, such as the ban on tobacco displays in shops.

Smoking costs the NHS at least £2bn a year and a further £10.8bn in wider costs to society, including social-care costs of more than £1bn, says the document. With the public health budget now set to lose £200m a year, the group says that the tobacco industry should pay an annual levy to offset those costs and assist with the effort of stopping young people picking up the habit as well as helping smokers to quit.

The tobacco companies, which last year made over £1bn in profit, are responsible for the premature deaths of 80,000 people in England each year, and should be forced to pay for the harm they cause.

Peter Kellner, chair of the report’s editorial board and president of YouGov, said: “The NHS is facing an acute funding shortage and any serious strategy to address this must tackle the causes of preventable ill health.

“The tobacco companies, which last year made over £1bn in profit, are responsible for the premature deaths of 80,000 people in England each year, and should be forced to pay for the harm they cause,” he said.

“Investing in evidence-based measures that reduce smoking is highly cost effective; for example stop smoking services have been shown to be one of the most cost-effective ways to improve people’s health. Placing a levy on tobacco companies to fund such work is a win-win – saving both money and lives.”

The report says that smoking is entrenched more than ever in disadvantaged households and calls on the government to address the health inequalities that result. In England more than 1.2 million children and 3 million adults live below the poverty line in households with smokers. The strategy would require tobacco companies to publish their sales figures broken down to local levels.

The current Tobacco Control Plan for England runs until the end of this year. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash, said they had been working on the document for more than a year and they were hopeful that it would be favourably received by the government.

“This is an area on which there is lots of consensus,” said Arnott, pointing to the exchange on Twitter between the shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, and the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, over plain packaging. Burnham congratulated Hunt in setting a timetable for introduction and Hunt responded welcoming “a rare moment of consensus! Let’s hope both our children can grow up in a smoke-free generation”.

In last year’s autumn statement, the chancellor, George Osborne, said he would consult on a tobacco industry levy. That concluded in February, but Osborne said in March that the government would “continue the consultation on whether to introduce a tobacco levy through informal consultation with stakeholders”.

Arnott said that anti-smoking efforts must not slacken, or the decline in smoking rates would stop. When the Tobacco-Free Living initiative of Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, ended in 2010, smoking rates in the city began to rise again.

Prof Jane Dacre, president of the Royal College of Physicians, points out that smoking is still the UK’s biggest killer. “As the RCP’s reports show, we still need strong policies to help the disadvantaged groups in society most affected by smoking – such as people with mental illness and lower-income families,” she said. “In particular, our children need protection – passive smoking causes over 150,000 cases of illness in children every year.

“The new government has an opportunity to make a real difference by accepting and implementing the recommendations of Smoking Still Kills, which has overwhelming support from health and medical organisations, and local authorities.”

Health lobby seeks more restrictions on tobacco industry

“Smoking Still Kills”, which is published by Ash and funded by Cancer Research and the British Heart Foundation, follows a similar report in 2008 that called for a series of tough regulations that have since been passed.

Plain packaging, a ban on tobacco displays in shops, above inflation tax rises, a ban on cigarette vending machines and a ban on smoking in cars when children are present were all in Ash’s report seven years ago and have become law.

Now the antismoking charity is pushing for more stringent controls on tobacco.

“No one can say that the job of tobacco control is done when millions of smokers in England face the risks of smoking-related illness and premature death, hundreds of young people start smoking every day, and smoking remains the principal cause of health inequalities,” the report says.

The centrepiece of the new report is a levy on tobacco companies, which is called a “Tobacco Companies Obligation” and would be based on the volume of each company’s sales.

A levy would fall hardest on Bristol-based Imperial Tobacco, the largest seller of cigarettes in the UK with a 44 per cent market share, and Japan Tobacco International, which has a 41 per cent market share.

The money raised would be used to fund smoking cessation services, and Ash is seeking a change to the law to prevent tobacco companies passing on the cost of the levy to consumers in the form of higher prices, which they have said they would do.

Last year, the Labour party called for a levy and the previous Conservative-led coalition government launched a consultation. However, in the March Budget, George Osborne, the chancellor, kicked the issue into the long grass.

The report, which says warning smokers away from ecigarettes “would be a disaster for them and for public health”, comes a day after the Welsh government said it would ban the use of the products in enclosed public places from 2017.

Other measures proposed in the report include a 5 per cent tax rise on cigarettes each year above inflation, which is significantly higher than the current tax escalator of 2 per cent above inflation.

A ban on smoking in prisons, which are currently exempt from the ban on smoking in public places, and during theatrical performances are also proposed in the report, as well as prohibiting smoking in all cars and vehicles, not only when children are present.

Giles Roca, director-general of the Tobacco Manufacturers’ Association, said the proposals were “simply a case of an antismoking professional lobby group trying to find new ways to attack smokers and a legitimate industry”.

“Aside from the unwarranted intrusion on individual freedoms, this continued drive to over-regulate the UK tobacco market will simply create greater opportunities for organised crime groups involved in smuggling on a massive scale,” he said.

World No Tobacco Day 2015

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