PART 2: JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT CIGARETTE SMOKING WAS DYING OUT: NOW THIS
We thought we had finally gotten rid of these blood suckers, or at least banned a lot of their advertising, put warning on cigarettes, prohibited smoking in public places, and even made it uncool to smoke.
But Big Tobacco has found its champion in Donald Trump and his Republican Party. They are working hard to help the industry do to this generation of kids what they did to so many before them. And they’re getting well paid to do it. More on that in a moment.
First, let’s take a closer look at the industry’s new product line—“Next Generation” they call it—and how it’s marketing those products.
The industry hasn’t really given up on cigarettes, but it’s got some enticing new nicotine delivery systems. Hey kids, if you don’t think cigarettes are cool anymore, try these. They’re so cool and so much fun!
Vapes, vaporizers, vape pens, hookah pens, electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes or e-cigs), and e-pipes are some of the many terms used to describe electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). ENDS are noncombustible tobacco products.
These products use an “e-liquid” that may contain nicotine, as well as varying compositions of flavorings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and other ingredients. The liquid is heated to create an aerosol that the user inhales.
ENDS may be manufactured to look like conventional cigarettes, cigars, or pipes. Some resemble pens or USB flash drives. Larger devices, such as tank systems or mods, bear little or no resemblance to cigarettes.
Under Obama In 2014, the FDA launched a campaign aimed at preventing the use of tobacco products by kids ages twelve to seventeen.
Obamacare requires most private health plans to include a quit-smoking benefit. Medicaid expansion does the same for millions of low-income Americans.
In 2016, the FDA issued a final rule that gives the agency oversight authority over all tobacco products, including all these e-cigarettes targeting kids. The rule allows the FDA to restrict sales of these products, prohibit flavors and take other public health actions.
DONALD TRUMP TO THE RESCUE. OF OUR KIDS? DON’T BE SILLY.
You may know that several years ago British American Tobacco (maker of Lucky Strike, Dunhill, Rothmans and Benson & Hedges cigarettes) acquired Reynolds America (Pall Mall, Newport and Camel) for $54 billion. It’s now the biggest tobacco company in the world. The Trump administration allowed the acquisition without raising any antitrust questions.
At the time the deal went down, the CEO said he was eager to realize “the benefits of operating these two great companies as one stronger, global tobacco and Next Generation Products business with direct access for our products across the most attractive markets in the world.”
In poorer countries, the company’s priority is peddling old-fashioned cigarettes. In America, it’s e-cigarettes and vapes—Next Generation. And to realize those “benefits,” they only have to keep greasing that greasiest of palms.
British American Tobacco said it will ultimately save $13.3 billion under the new Trump-Ryan-McConnell tax law. That’s just one tobacco company! That $13.3 billion it “saved” was ripped off from American taxpayers, It’s money that should be helping to fund our crumbling public schools, our crumbling roads and bridges, our disemboweled postal service—whatever we Americans own in common that is being ripped to shreds. But Big Tobacco is one of Trump’s big donors and it’s laughing all the way to those offshore banks.
In 2018, British American Tobacco—now including Reynolds—reported spending $2.6 million on lobbying. In 2019, it was $3.2 million. Remember: eighty-four percent of tobacco lobbying money goes to Trump and into Trump-related entities.
Reynolds American reported a donation of $1.5 million to America First Policies in 2017, making it the largest known contributor to that “dark money” organization. (“Dark” in that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors.) Reynolds also gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Never heard of America First Policies? It was started by six former Trump and Pence campaign aides in January 2017 to support the Trump policy agenda. Brad Parscale, then the Trump campaign’s digital director, was one of the original founders.
THE DARK CULTURE OF AMERICA FIRST POLICIES
It’s not only the dark money but the organization’s dark culture, a real viper’s nest of racists, anti-Semites, anti-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-whatever you can think of.
Item: Director for Advocacy Carl Higbie was forced to resign as head of the organization that runs AmeriCorps, a Trump appointment, after a racist diatribe on a radio talk show about black Americans, Muslims, women, LGBT people, veterans suffering from PTSD and immigrants, which included advocating violence. Higbie also pushed the false “birther” conspiracy about Barack Obama.
Item: America First Policies policy advisor Juan Pablo Andrade was recorded on Snapchat saying that “the only thing the Nazis didn’t get right was that they
didn’t keep fucking going.” Andrade was a member of Trump’s National
Hispanic Advisory Council, Trump’s National Diversity Coalition and was a Trump campaign surrogate.
In 2017, Britain’s “Guardian” newspaper documented much of this in a story headlined “Tobacco companies tighten hold on Washington under Trump.” This is how it summarized its findings: “Top White House figures—including the vice-president and health secretary—have deep ties to an industry whose donations began pouring in on day one.” Here’s more from that story:
“With the new Trump administration and Congress trying to roll back health and safety regulations, generally the tobacco industry is seizing the opportunity to mount its own assault on the programs and policies that have reduced smoking in this country,” said Vince Willmore, a spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Tobacco companies have moved swiftly to strengthen their grip on Washington politics, ramping up lobbying efforts and securing significant regulatory wins in the first six months of the Trump era.
“As in so many areas, the promise to drain the swamp has been an extraordinary hypocrisy,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, who supported anti-tobacco legislation and was one of the US attorneys general to broker a hundred-billion-dollar settlement with tobacco companies in the 1990s. “Many of his appointees have deep commitments to the tobacco industry,” he said.
“Tobacco industry influence in Washington is pervasive, in many different ways,” Blumenthal said. “They have an active presence on the Hill, they meet frequently with administrative agencies, on hugely significant issues such as regulation of e-cigarettes, tobacco packaging and warnings.”
Not long after Trump promised to transfer power from Washington to the American people, a wave of spending in pursuit of influence was unleashed. In the first quarter of 2017, tobacco companies and trade associations spent $4.7m lobbying federal officials. Altria, the company behind Marlboro, hired seventeen lobbying firms. Reynolds, makers of the Camel brand, hired thirteen, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
Since then, tobacco companies have been putting points on the scoreboard. Politicians and officials with deep ties to the tobacco industry now head the US health department, the top attorney’s office and the Senate, even as remains the leading preventable cause of death.
Along with the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, another very useful source is “Politico,” which has done some great reporting on Big Tobacco and Trump. Here is one early excerpt from July 2017:
Day one of Donald Trump’s presidency started with tobacco donations, senior figures have been put in place within the Trump administration who have deep ties to tobacco, and lobbying activity has increased significantly.
Let me try to summarize all this.
Shortly after Trump took office in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration announced multi-year delays to major parts of its 2016 rule that asserted its authority over all the new ENDS (non-smoke) products.
In 2018, the American Lung Association and several of its health partners filed a federal lawsuit challenging the FDA’s decision to delay. That FDA decision allowed companies to keep selling these products without FDA approval. Not even the candy-flavored products so especially appealing to our kids would be prohibited.
The 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey reported that e-cigarette use rose by 78 percent among high school students and close to 50 percent among middle school students.
In 2019, the American Lung Association and other public health groups won their lawsuit against the FDA, with a federal judge ruling that that FDA’s 2017 delay gave “manufacturers responsible for the public harm a holiday from meeting the obligations of the law.”
On August 15, 2019, as a result of the lawsuit, the FDA was forced to issue a proposed rule requiring graphic warning labels on cigarettes as demanded by a March 2019 U.S. District Court order.
Also in 2019, the agency announced it would at least prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, intended to deal with the epidemic of young kids getting hooked on these products.
In 2020, the agency reversed itself. They’re doing whatever it takes to let these companies target kids again: selling fruity flavors and manipulating behavior through sophisticated social media. Use of e-cigarettes among high school students is now higher than among adults.
San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton co-authored legislation to ban e-cigarette sales, with this warning:
We’ve worked for decades to decrease tobacco usage and try to end nicotine addiction. Now you have this device loaded with nicotine and chemicals that’s drawing people to addiction. We need to keep it out of the hands of young people.
Vapes contain more nicotine in each refill pod—the equivalent of more than one pack of cigarettes—than traditional smoked tobacco. Habitual user of the Juul vaping brand often go through a pod every two days or so, though of course others inhale more or less.
So what’s the slick argument these predators to keep on selling their poison? Here it is straight from the horse’s mouth. Juul, based in San Francisco, is the country’s largest e-cigarette producer. This is from its website:
From form to technology to flavor, JUUL is easy to use, as there are no buttons or switches. The JUUL Device is a vaporizer that has regulated temperature control and uses JUUL pods filled with a proprietary e-liquid formulation that combines nicotine, benzoic acid, propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavor. These qualities are unique to JUUL and allow you to experience freedom from the mess of cigarette ash and odor. By accommodating cigarette-like nicotine levels, JUUL provides satisfaction to meet the standards of adult smokers looking to switch from smoking cigarettes.
What could be clearer? No mess. No odor. Satisfaction. Plus, they tell you right up front that you’ll draw into your lungs even more toxic chemicals than you’d get from cigarettes. They call their customers “The Juul Community.”
Their full name: Juul “Labs.” Very scientific-sounding, right? Juul
scientists are dedicated to giving you the very best, scientifically
validated experience. CEO Kevin Burns says, “Frankly, we have not done
the long-term, longitudinal, clinical testing that we need to do.”
Once you hear “frankly,” from a politician or an executive of a corporation that wants to sell you something, don’t let your kids out of the house. Here’s the owner of a retail vape shop in San Francisco. At least he’s blunt.
“If you want healthy stuff, open a salad shop. I hate to say it, but [this is] a war on our freedoms as adults to do what we want.”
So whether it’s the old-line tobacco companies or opportunistic newcomers like Juul, it’s clear that your health and safety is not these nicotine-peddlers’ top priority.
Surely you don’t have to ask whose side Donald Trump is on. Not when the FDA has done everything it could do to block or slow-walk the government’s response to this epidemic. Nor do you have to wonder why.
FOLLOW THE MONEY! ‘TRUMP BACKS OFF FLAVORED VAPE BAN HE ONCE TOUTED’
That headline came from a “Washington Post” story in late 2019. While it carefully documents Trump’s back-and-forth on this issue, it doesn’t take the necessary next step. How many times must we be reminded? Follow the money! GO TO WASHINGTON POST STORY ABOUT TRUMP VAPING POLICY SHIFTS.
The scandal-ridden Tom Price, a Georgia state legislator and congressman, was Trump’s first Health and Human Services secretary. A medical doctor who opposed Medicare, he was supported all his career by the tobacco industry. He owned tobacco stock and was even a tobacco lobbyist! As a congressman, Trump’s future cabinet secretary even voted against allowing the FDA to regulate tobacco.
The FDA is part of HHS. Scott Gottlieb, a doctor, was head of the FDA from May 11, 2017 to April 5, 2019. He reported to Price.
Before he headed the FDA, Gottlieb was a director of the e-cigarette company Kure. Gottlieb thought e-cigarettes might be a good alternative for smokers, which is the tobacco industry’s party line. In 2017, he gave e-cigarette companies a reprieve of four years to continue selling before they would have to prove that the public health benefits of their products outweighed the risks.
Meanwhile, FDA officials were making soothing statements about what they might do, sometime in the future. Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said he understands the concerns of the health groups. He promised that the FDA will go after products marketed, or that don’t restrict access, to kids. The current FDA Commissioner, Stephen Hahn, says the agency will take additional steps if it sees signs teens are moving to other products, such as menthol-flavored vaping pods.
While Trump’s tobacco-linked administration stalled, the purveyors of e-cigarettes and vaping devices, a $7 billion industry, continued to hook our kids in epidemic numbers, targeting them with flavored products under such names as Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum and Zombie Blood.
In the summer of 2019, public health authorities identified an outbreak of a deadly vaping-related lung injury. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the condition EVALI—e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury. In a matter of weeks, EVALI became the most serious side effect in e-cigarettes’ history. As of Feb. 18, 2020, the CDC had reported 2,807 cases of EVALI resulting in hospitalization. The CDC also blamed 68 deaths on the condition.
Last November, Trump hosted a White House meeting with representatives of the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association pitted against industry representatives. There were the usual genuflections to our glorious, all-knowing leader, which needn’t be shown, but after having boldly announced a ban on vaping products, here he is backing off the ban, and calling some of these products “safe.” He says banning them means the kids will get the products from unsafe Chinese manufacturers.
Watch the following White House video and you’ll hear it for yourself.
At the beginning of 2020, the FDA announced it would ban the sale of flavored cartridges, like those used in Juul’s pen-like devices, except for tobacco and menthol. But e-liquids would still be commercially available; these are the ones are that are used in vaping devices that come with a refillable reservoir tank.
Thousands of flavored e-liquids not in pod form—products readily available in vape shops and even in some convenience stores—are not covered by the ban. Also exempted are disposable e-cigarettes, including a brand called Puff Bar that comes in flavors such as strawberry, cool mint and mango and is becoming increasingly popular among young people, according to public health groups.
Erika Sward of the American Lung Association: “I think it’s a joke to call it a vaping ban at all.”
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says children and teens will simply switch to products still on the market. “I expect to see the shelves filled with many products that have been exempted.”
FDA enforcement of any ban? Mitch Zeller said the agency has a plan. But announced plans have a way of evaporating when the public isn’t paying attention.
Remember: Trump’s FDA slow-walked regulations every step of the way. Now, this year, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and its “disruptive impacts on both regulated industry and FDA,” it got a federal district judge in Texas to agree to further postpone the required cigarette-pack warnings until October 16, 2021.
By now, of course, youth vaping has reached epidemic levels. Federal data shows that almost twenty-eight percent of high school students had vaped in the previous thirty days, up from less than twelve percent in 2017. Although Trump once indicated the government would institute a strict ban on most of these products, he backed off amid objections from the vaping industry. It’s no coincidence: Big Tobacco and the rest of the vaping industry pours millions of dollars into his and other Republicans’ political pockets.
The industry seized the marketing opportunity presented by Covid-19 to create pandemic-themed promotions. Examples: free giveaways of protective masks with purchases; offers of COVID-19 themed discounts (get 19% off nicotine e-liquids by entering the code COVID-19).
British American Tobacco references COVID-19 to promote its e-cigarette Vype and heated cigarette Glo. Models are shown wearing face masks with branding for Glo.
Philip Morris International has made references to COVID-19 to promote its heated cigarette, IQOS.
Vaping companies even make claims about the health benefits of e-cigarettes.
This happened—and continues—at the same time that health experts are warning that both smoking and vaping increase the risk of serious complications from COVID-19. GO TO REPORT ON COVID-19-THEMED MARKETING.
Want to know more? As mentioned earlier, The Guardian newspaper has done a remarkable, gut-wrenching series on smoking and the industry that produces and sells the products. It remains a huge industry around the world. In the United States, it targets kids, the poor, and adults without college degrees, the latter making up a disproportionate share of the Trump-Republican base. GO TO GUARDIAN SERIES: TOBACCO, A DEADLY BUSINESS.
And then, of course, we also have the government’s own statistics to consider.
CDC FACT SHEET
In 2018, 67% of high school students and 49% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the past 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time.
The number of middle and high school students using e-cigarettes rose from 3.6 million in 2018 to 5.4 million in 2019.
More than one of every four high school students (27.5%) reported in 2019 that they used electronic cigarettes in the past 30 days—an increase from 1.5% in 2011.
About two of every one hundred middle school students (2.3%) reported in 2019 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days—a decrease from 4.3% in 2011.
Finally: Here are the cigarette warnings that you won’t see until late in 2021, if ever.