Astroturfing, Grassroots and the Tobacco Industry

Need information about tobacco and electronic cigarettes?  You simply go to your computer and type “electronic cigarettes” or “tobacco ” into the search bar of your browser.  But are you getting information from a grassroots organization that can help you make an informed decision, or was the article written by a fake person or group who wants a sympathetic public for their cause?   Fake news seems to be the latest buzz word in the media these days, but astroturfing has been around and seems to be gaining in popularity, even in the tobacco industry.

A prime example of this was found in Australia, the first country in the world to make it mandatory that all cigarette packs adopt a “plain packaging” design to make them look similar and remove individual branding.  Prior to the Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging Act going into effect in December 2011, the Alliance of Australian Retailers (AAR) took out full-page ads against the new law.  This group said they represented those who would be hurt the most by this: “the owners of your local corner stores, milk bars, newsagents and service stations.”  The AAR group was supposedly the mouth for the little people in order for them to be heard.  But leaked documents revealed the tobacco industry was funding the group and had tobacco industry insiders providing input to defeat the law.  Once this information was made public, groups who once sided with the AAR withdrew from it.  The plain packaging law went into effect and has had the outcome the health advocates expected, teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1984, with about 5% of 12-17 year olds reported as current smokers, down from 7% before the law went into effect.  It hasn’t stopped the tobacco industry from continually warning about or threatening the economy with black market cigarettes.

Here in the states, the tobacco industry has always worked behind the scenes setting the tone of tobacco laws.  Back in the 1980s they worked  to create the appearance of a grassroots movement of citizens opposed to tobacco control policies.  In the 1990s the tobacco industry tried to create and fund a ‘smokers’ rights movement.’

The Tea Party is a prime example as they “promote less government regulation and lower taxes,” but special interest groups and corporations behind the scenes are funding, organizing, training, and pulling the strings of those in the front.  Groups set up and funded by the tobacco industry, but implemented by PR firms include, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and FreedomWorks which support the tobacco industry’s agenda to oppose tobacco taxes and smoke-free laws.  FreedomWorks has taken that agenda and trained activists in 30 other “countries including Israel, Georgia, Japan, Nigeria and Serbia.” Other groups that worked for the tobacco industry included CSE (Citizens for a Sound Economy) and NSA (National Smokers’ Alliance).

Publications put out by these groups also “disputed the health effects of secondhand smoke, promoted ‘choice’ and individual rights and encouraged smokers to defend their rights and freedoms.”  They opposed the OSHA regulation of secondhand smoke in the workplace, as well as the FDA regulation of the industry starting in the mid 1990s.  They also opposed the 1994 healthcare reform because of a $0.75 cigarette tax to help fund it.  And any time your state decides to increase the tobacco tax, you can be assured these groups will be opposing that too.  The flow chart above shows the connections the tobacco industry has with organizations and people.

The tobacco industry doesn’t oppose legislation because it’s not fair for smokers, it is because it will effect the tobacco industry’s bottom line.  The next time you see opposition to increase tobacco taxes and protect public health, you have to ask yourself, “who is really behind the curtain?”

 

To read more about third-party efforts of the tobacco industry, click HERE.
Other sites used include:  Astroturfing
The top image is from the site: Astroturfing
The bottom flow chart is from the site: Tobacco Control

 

 

 

 

 

 

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DNA and Smoking

When people talk about smoking and the diseases it cause, most think of lung cancer, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.  Very few know smoking actually causes genetic damage in various organs through mutations in DNA which can lead to cancers in other organs.  At this point, scientists have associated smoking with at least 17 types of human cancer.

Your DNA is unique to you.  If you remember back to Biology class in high school, it is the genetic or hereditary material found in your cells.  The majority of your DNA is found in the cell nucleus (nuclear DNA), but a small amount is found in the mitochondria (mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA).  DNA can replicate, or make copies of itself, which is important as cells divide and new cells form because “each new cell needs to have an exact copy of the DNA present in the old cell.”  Our DNA is quite good at repairing itself, but over time damage or mutations may occur.  Some mutations are harmless, but others can lead to damage.  If this happens the cell will either stop replicating (or copying), and turn itself off; stop replicating by dying; or continue to divide even though it is abnormal.  When this happens it can lead to cancer.

Scientists are interested in the way DNA mutates and found “a direct link between the number of cigarettes smoked in a lifetime and the number of mutations in the tumor DNA.”   Lung cancers had the highest mutation rates at 150, but smoking-related mutations were also seen in other parts of the body.  Over 5,000 tumors were studied and compared between smokers and non-smokers.  Smokers’ DNA showed “particular molecular fingerprints of DNA damage, called ‘mutational signatures,'” which scientists then “counted how many of these particular mutations were found in the different tumors.”  A smoker with a pack-a-day habit could expect an average of “150 extra mutations in each lung cell every year,” although “the numbers of mutations within any cancer cell will vary between individuals.”

Scientists said the results were a “mixture of the expected and the unexpected.”  They expected to see “mutations caused by direct DNA damage” to those cells that came in direct contact with tobacco smoke, (lungs, mouth, larynx and pharynx).  However, they were surprised at the results from indirect effects found in other parts of the body;  smoking affects these cells in some way that causes them to mutate DNA.

Looking at your DNA, scientists can see the “exposures that caused the mutations that lead to the cancer.”  However, they still don’t understand the causes in the first place.  They do know is that “tobacco smoking seems to accelerate the speed of a cellular clock that mutates DNA prematurely.”   One thing seems clear, smoking dramatically increases your chances for many cancers.

Check out these links for more information on this subject:
Smoking a pack a day for a year causes 150 mutations in lung cells
What happens when DNA becomes damaged?
DNA

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Tobacco: The Great Polluter

The experts say smoking hurts you and those around you, and it is true.  But did you know that tobacco is also responsible for hurting the environment in ways that go beyond tobacco litter on the streets?  Every step of tobacco production, from planting and harvesting to the end user throwing the discarded tobacco product on the street, impacts the environment in some way.   Whether you are a tobacco user or not, it still affects your way of life.  Take a moment to think about this as you celebrate Earth Day 2017 on Saturday.

First of all, farmers need land to plant.  While farmers in the U.S. don’t cut down forests to plant the tobacco, that is exactly what is happening in other countries.   Compared to food crops, tobacco crops quickly deplete the soil of its nutrients, causing farmers to continue cutting down forests for additional farm land.  When it comes time to harvest the plants, more trees are cut down to supply the wood for curing the tobacco leaves by burning, adding to pollution.  According to one article, “tobacco farming accounts for about 1% of land use, yet causes a disproportionate 2-4% of global deforestation.”  When the land no longer becomes viable, farmers move on, but the land remains bare turning it into deserts

During the growing phase, tobacco harms the environment because of the large amounts of chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers which are required and can run off and hurt water sources causing pollution.  When cigarettes are smoked and discarded, they again pollute the environment and harm wildlife by leaching toxins into streams, rivers and lakes.

That little cigarette when smoked inside produces some of the most toxic chemicals resulting in pollution that is “higher than the federal air quality standards designed to protect public health…”  The smoke is comprised of particulate matter making it easy to see, but many of the gases, such as benzene, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, are invisible.  And taking the smoke outside isn’t any better.  The EPA has standards and guidelines for outdoor levels of pollution as well which is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air; just one cigarette can produce 300 micrograms per cubic meter of pollution.

Cigarettes may be small, but discarded butts are the world’s number one source of litter.  The filters are made of cellulose acetate and take between 12 and 15 years to decompose.  All those chemicals and heavy metals such as barium, chromium and lead, remain in the discarded cigarette and then leach out into soil and water.

Everyone seems to have an answer to global warming, but no one seems to be looking into how tobacco plays its part.  It gives us deforestation and desertification.  It causes fertilizers, pesticides, radiation and heavy metals to leach into our environment and pollute our air, land and water.  Discarded butts are the number one source of litter throughout the world.  And carelessness with a tossed cigarette produces about 10% of the world’s forest fires.  One writer described cigarette smoking as “an act of human carelessness.”  We couldn’t agree more.

Click HERE and HERE for the articles used in this blog.

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Flavored Tobacco Updates from the Industry

Keeping up with news in the tobacco industry is easier if you subscribe to Trinkets and Trash, a monthly newsletter which offers the latest news, advertisements and contests offered by the tobacco companies.  Flavored tobaccos have been making the news lately, mainly because youth are drawn to flavors as their first taste with tobacco.  Right on cue, the tobacco industry is promoting their flavors through promotions and adding new flavors.

With their 28 varieties, Skoal promises “a can for every man.”  Sort of a sexist advertising slogan in this day and age.  Their current sweepstakes allows users to win outdoor gear such as camping equipment and barbecue sets, things to use while you use their product. Not to be outdone, Copenhagen has you voting daily for one of three limited-edition Weyman’s Reserve blends that will be released this fall.  Weyman’s Reserves is inspired by the founder George Weyman, made in small batches and barrel-aged.  We bet if the first “limited-edition” blend is popular, they won’t let this marketing gimmick go without releasing the other two blends in the future.  Perhaps Copenhagen can use the Skoal slogan with some changes: “one man, three cans.”

Another flavored tobacco product is the little cigar, and Swisher Sweets continues to target youth by featuring hip hop artists at places like the SXSW in Austin, Texas.  Black & Mild has new “smooth and velvety” flavored cigars in stores come April.  Smooth and velvety must be code for “we’ve run out of flavors but still want to target youth.”

And if flavored tobacco products aren’t enough to target youth, now there is “Smart Toothpicks,” nicotine-infused toothpicks with the same amount of nicotine as a cigarette.  Current flavors include peppermint, cinnamon and wintergreen, but chocolate mint cake and lemon meringue pie will soon be available.  Comes in a pack of 20 individually wrapped toothpicks, and can be purchased through Amazon if you can’t find it on your convenience store counter.  No age restrictions were in place when we attempted to make a purchase through Amazon.   Another product making it easier to hook kids on nicotine.

Finally, an end to the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company fight with the FDA.  They get to keep the Natural American Spirit name, but have to remove the phrase ‘Additive Free’ and ‘Natural’ from the “labels, advertising, and promotional materials.”

Flavored products give the illusion that tobacco is harmless, but hook our youth to a life-long addiction.  Supposedly P.T. Barnum said “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and if he didn’t say it, the tobacco industry surely must have.

Click HERE for Trinkets and Trash March edition.  All images from Trinkets and Trash.

 

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How Does Smoking Affect Depression?

Today is World Health Day and this year the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on depression, a leading cause of disability worldwide.  Depression can strike anyone at any age, although more women than men are affected.  Many people are not always diagnosed correctly because their depression may be the result of social, psychological and biological factors interacting together.  There are also claims that smoking can also lead to depression although not everyone who smokes becomes depressed.  Current estimates by the WHO state that more than 300 million people throughout the world suffer from depression while approximately 1 billion people in the world smoke.

Researchers have known that smokers have higher rates of depression versus non-smokers, but they are still learning the cause and effect.  According to researchers in the British Journal of Psychiatry, one reason could be “common risk factors,” while the other could be a “direct causal link.”  The researchers know that “nicotine causes changes to neurotransmitter activity in the brain.”  And smokers themselves talk about the “antidepressant benefits” to improve their mood by “self-administering nicotine” and getting a temporary feeling of pleasure as the levels of dopamine increase as they smoke.  But the relationship of nicotine in depression is more complex because, while the smoking seems to improve their mood, it also increases the negative emotion.  Over time the smoker’s high from nicotine no longer works.

Some smokers believe their smoking relaxes them or helps them deal with the stress of life when in fact they are treating the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.  Using nicotine during stressful times is causing the smoker to lose their “mental skill” to cope with stress and increasing their reliance on tobacco.  Decreased lung function, breathing issues, and coughing from smoking can cause some smokers to also experience anxiety which may lead to hyperventilation, “a common trigger for panic attacks.”  Continuing smoking only increases the symptoms causing the anxiety and could lead to a panic disorder.  Both stress and anxiety can lead to depression and smoking is making it worse.

A study also looked at e-cigarette use and a possible link to depression to see if the findings would be the same as with depression and elevated use of traditional cigarettes.  While depressed students may turn to e-cigarettes initially for self-medication like cigarettes, the devices “did not appear to lead to elevated depression levels.”  However, the researchers suggested that the students could be using the devices to quit smoking cigarettes.   Whatever the reason for the students turning to e-cigarettes, since the devices “deliver less nicotine per puff than cigarettes,” the findings were not what the researchers anticipated.

Smoking and depression symptoms appear to go hand-in-hand.  The temporary pleasure smokers derive from the nicotine can quickly make them more dependent on their smoking and making quitting more difficult.  Treating the symptoms of depression may also mean treating the nicotine dependence as well.

Links to articles used in this blog:
Depression
Can Smoking Cause Depression?
e-Cigarette Use in College Linked to Depression
Understanding Nicotine and Depression
Smokers Are More Likely To Suffer From Anxiety and Depression

 

 

 

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The heat of the hookah pipe may be too much to handle

Hookah smoking has been around for hundreds of years and is smoked around the world. Here in the U.S. it is popular with teens and college students, but do they really know what they are smoking and how it will affect them?   Besides the high levels of carbon monoxide from the charcoal used to heat the tobacco, scientists have found another health problem, as if the “heavy metals and cancer-causing chemicals” weren’t enough.  The researchers wanted to look at “the toxicity of hookah smoke on human lung cells.”  It appears the heat source for the tobacco may be killing the cells.

The study looked at two types of commercially available charcoal and two ways of heating the tobacco: the conventional way using heated charcoal and the more modern way using electric heating disks.  The disks are thought to be safer because there is no carbon monoxide emitted, and they were used as the control group.  Both types of charcoal were tested using the same tobacco.  When they tested the charcoal through chemical analysis they discovered one had higher levels of “heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic and lead” than the other.  Lung cells were then exposed to “an extract of the resulting hookah smoke at different dilutions.”

Lower-toxin charcoal “killed about 10 percent of the lung cells after 48 hours.”  The higher-toxin charcoal “killed about 25 percent of the lung cells.”  When the researchers looked at the cells exposed to tobacco burned “electronically by a ceramic disk,” they discovered 80 percent of lung cells were killed.  The ceramic disk, or e-coal, should have been safer because no toxic metals are released as they are when charcoal is burned.

Both charcoal and the e-coal heat the tobacco to 300 degrees Celsius (about 572 degrees Fahrenheit).  But the e-coal is at a consistent temperature while charcoal cools every time someone inhales from the hookah pipe.  While it is just a theory at the moment, researchers think the constant temperature released more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are linked to “a variety of cancers, including lung cancer.”

Hookah smoking remains popular among Florida youth, according to the 2015 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey.   Between 2009 and 2015 hookah smoking is up 94.7% among middle school and 26.0% among high school students.  While middle school students saw an increase of 0.2% between 2014 and 2015, high school students decreased 1.9% during the same time period.  Hookah use among U.S. 12th-grade students declined for the first time in 2016.  In the 12 month period from 2015 to 2016, use “fell by more than one-third, from 20 percent to 13 percent among 12th-grade students” (the only grade level tracked).

Hookah tobacco is now under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory authority and they want to understand “where the toxins are coming from.”  How much smoke a person inhales will also determine how much exposure they receive.   Could hookah smokers develop the same type of “cardiopulmonary diseases as chronic cigarette smokers?”   You can expect more studies in the future.

Click HERE for link to article.

 

 

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Kick Butts Days 2017

Kick Butts Day is happening March 15, 2017 and if you haven’t thought of using your power to affect social change, this is the perfect opportunity.  Although Kick Butts Day is held just one day a year, every day should be a fight against tobacco, a product that kills roughly 480,000 people a year in the U.S. alone.  While the majority of victims are themselves tobacco users, many others suffer from the effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.   According to the official Kick Butts Day website, there are more than 1,000 events planned across the U.S.

In 1996, when Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids started the campaign, approximately 25% of 12th grade students were smokers.  Now that number is at about 6%.  It may seem low, but “more than 3,000 kids under 18 try smoking for the first day every day”, and of that number about “700 kids become new regular, daily smokers.”

KBD brings teens and health advocates together in events to bring attention in three areas: “to raise awareness of the problem of tobacco in their state or community; encourage youth to reject tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing and stay tobacco-free; and urge elected officials to take action to protect kids from tobacco.”  While it may be too late to organize an activity this year, here is a list of activities that may be planned in your school or community.

Wouldn’t it be great if more people understood the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke?  Until then, events like Kick Butts Day hopes to spread the word to prevent kids from smoking.

Click HERE for more information on Kick Butts Day.

 

 

 

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CVS Health and their plan to deliver the First Tobacco-Free Generation

In 2014 CVS Caremark, the second-largest drugstore chain in the U.S., dropped tobacco from their stores stating it was the right thing to do in light of their new image of becoming a health care company.  Analysts’ and CVS expected the profits to drop, and they did, for a time.  But something happened that wasn’t expected: the CVS effect, in which tobacco sales decreased and nicotine patch sales increased in 13 states.  The company also developed Be The First, a “five year, $50 million commitment to help deliver the nation’s first tobacco-free generation.”  As the second year of the program rolls out, $10 million will be used to fund “expanded partnerships and programs,” developed during the first year in the areas of “anti-smoking education, tobacco-control advocacy, and healthy behavior programming.”

Introduced in March 2016, Be The First targets groups in three areas: elementary school children, who will receive tobacco education to decrease the risk of becoming future tobacco users; youth and young adults “who currently smoke or are at risk of becoming regular tobacco users; and “adult smokers who expose children to tobacco use.”  In the first year CVS Health had anti-smoking programs reaching nearly 5 million young people. They have also helped 20 colleges and universities pursue 100% smoke- and tobacco-free campus policies.

In order to reach more youth and youth adults in the area of tobacco prevention education, CVS Health Foundation is partnering with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids with a $5 million commitment.  This funding will provide online training courses for young people to become tobacco prevention ambassadors and will focus on “how tobacco affects youth” and “ways for people to advocate for tobacco-free communities.”  With flavored cigars and the explosion of e-cigarettes on the market, it is essential that youth be educated in the targeting methods of the tobacco industry. The announcement comes during the week of “Kick Butts Day on March 15, the Campaign for Tobacco free Kids’ national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and mobilize their communities in fighting tobacco use.”

While the CVS Health Foundation is encouraging the tobacco prevention education of youth, they are also teaming up with the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE to “win the battle against lung cancer.” They hope to become an advocate in the communities and have customers take “advantage of tobacco-free resources for their towns, schools and public areas.”  CVS Health Foundations will also focus on helping adult smokers with cessation programs to improve their health and the health of their families and children due to secondhand smoke exposure.  By partnering with the National Cancer Institute later this year, and investing nearly $1 million, they will “address smoking cessation in the oncology setting across several of the nation’s leading cancer hospitals.

Removing tobacco in CVS stores “reduced the number of cigarette purchases across all retail settings with an even greater impact on those who bought cigarettes exclusively at CVS Pharmacy.”  Ending tobacco sales may have lowered their profits, but it increased their commitment to make communities healthier. Educating our youth and young adults about the dangers of tobacco and providing providing customers with the ability to spread tobacco-free messaging throughout their communities, can bring us one step closer to “delivering the first tobacco-free generation.”

Click HERE to read more about the CVS Health Foundation and HERE to read more about the newest Be The First partnerships and programs.

 

 

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March Celebrations to Help You Quit Tobacco

There are plenty of days and ways to celebrate March.  Why is any of this important?  If you are quitting tobacco, you need some ideas to change up your routine, so get out your calendar and start filling it in.

Once you quit smoking, food will taste better to you, and the month of March has plenty of celebrations to tickle your taste buds.  If you love food, you will sing for joy with some wonderful sweets in March and here are just a few “national” days: Blueberry Popover (10th), Oatmeal Nut Waffles (11th), Coconut Torte (13th), and Pi Day on the 14th (my favorite is Chocolate Silk).  There is also Chocolate Caramel (19th) Bavarian Crepes (22nd), Chocolate Covered Raisin (24th), Black Forest Cake (26th), and Lemon Chiffon Cake on March 29th.

That is quite a list of sweets, and they could increase your blood sugar levels.  But did you know that smoking not only dulls your taste buds, it also increases your risk of diabetes because there is a LOT of sugar in cigarettes and smokeless tobacco? In case you are concerned about your blood sugar numbers, March 28th is National American Diabetes Association Alert Day. Click on the highlighted diabetes link above to find out more about this disease.

Of course, March is not filled with all sweets, there are some other “national” celebrations as well.  For example, Crabmeat, Meatballs, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Sloppy Joes, Corn Dogs, Poultry and Ravioli are all celebrated in March.  Let’s not forget French Bread, Chip and Dip, Lobster Newburg, Spinach, Spanish Paella and Clams on the Half Shell.  Now that we have just about covered your grocery list for the month, there are a few other days that deserve your attention.

Breaking up with tobacco isn’t easy and if you haven’t succeeded yet, Get Over it (9th), and just try again.  Plan some activities to keep your mind off tobacco and enjoy some fresh air, by Planting a Flower (12th), or Learning About Butterflies (14th).  And if you make mistakes on your way to quit, it’s okay, Let’s Laugh (19th) about it.  A new Puppy (23rd) will help you in your quit because you will want to Take a Walk in the Park (30th) or just Goof Off (22nd) with your new four-legged friend.

Of all the celebrations during March, the biggest one is probably Kick Butts Day, held this year on March 15th.  This is a “national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco.”  Local schools are planning creative activities to raise the awareness to the problems of tobacco.  Support the students and contact your area schools to find out how you can help.

As you go through your quit journey, remember, there may be some Awkward Moments (18th), but celebrate the fact that  “I Am in Control” (30th)

To see the entire list of national days for March, click HERE.

 

 

 

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Trinkets and Trash – February 2017 edition

Every month Trinkets and Trash releases their report from the previous month regarding the latest tobacco news, including ads and contests.

The February edition of Trinkets and Trash boosts something unusual in the world of tobacco…a recall of tobacco products by U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company that actually took place at the beginning of February.  Customers complained of “sharp metal objects found in select cans” of Skoal, Copenhagen, Cope and Husky causing the recall of 32 varieties.  If you hadn’t heard about this recall, you can check out the list here.  And whether you have been thinking about quitting or not, now is a great time.  You don’t have to find bits of metal in your can of smokeless tobacco to be harmed from using it.

zonnicIf you have already broken your New Year’s resolution to quit tobacco, you aren’t alone. And one company is letting you know that perhaps you “started to darn big” by trying to end smoking all at once.  Just take it one cigarette at a time and use Zonnic gum and mini lozenges instead.  They even go as far as to suggest that if you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t starve yourself, you just taper off.  Zonnic will help you with your quit by providing coupons.

The pressure was on Walgreens during their shareholder’s meeting at the end of January to end tobacco sales, much the same way CVS did.  The Walgreens motto “at the corner of happy and healthy” seems contrary with the sale of tobacco products.  It appears Walgreens is considering ending tobacco sales.

Internal tobacco industry documents showed the industry targeted minority and African American neighborhoods in marketing  menthol cigarettes.  It appears the tobacco industry is targeting them once again.  Although menthol cigarettes only count for about a third of all cigarette sales, 85% of African Americans smoke the mint cigarettes, compared to 29% of whites.   In July 2016, the N.A.A.C.P. “voted to support state and local efforts to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes.”  Now the tobacco industry is countering efforts by public health advocates to restrict menthol sales by enlisting black leaders such as Rev. Al Sharpton to hold meetings to “warn of the unintended consequences of banning menthol cigarettes,” and using the possibility of harassment by police “to counter efforts by public health advocates to restrict menthol sales.”  The flyers for these forums fail to mention Reynolds American’s sponsorship.

You can read more of Trinkets and Trash by joining their mailing list and following them on Twitter @trinketsantrash.

 

 

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