Special Report: When it comes to e-cigs, Big Tobacco is concerned for your health

admin   •   March 23, 2015   •   2445

An employee “Vapologist” (R) stands behind the bar as he puffs on an e-cigarette with customers at the Henley Vaporium in New York City in this December 18, 2013 file photo.
CREDIT: REUTERS/MIKE SEGAR/FILES

(Reuters) – The health warning on a MarkTen electronic cigarette package is 116 words long.

That’s much longer than the warnings on traditional cigarette packs in the United States. Nicotine, the e-cigarette warning says, is “addictive and habit-forming, and it is very toxic by inhalation, in contact with the skin, or if swallowed.” It is not intended for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, or people … who take medicine for depression or asthma. “Nicotine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure and cause dizziness, nausea and stomach pain,” says MarkTen, a leading brand in the United States. The ingredients can be “poisonous.”

MarkTen’s parent company Altria, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, said the language seemed appropriate. There is no required health warning on electronic cigarettes in the United States, so “we had to do what we thought was right,” said a spokesman for Altria Client Services.

The company’s frankness about the perils of nicotine dates back to the late 1990s, when it led a campaign for cigarettes to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Small tobacco companies at the time said the big guys would use regulation to seal their dominance. Today, small e-cigarette makers are saying the same thing. Many argue that firms like Altria and Reynolds American want hefty rules to help neutralize the threat that e-cigarettes pose to their businesses. By accentuating the risks of ‘vaping,’ they say, big firms may deter smokers from trying the new devices, even though most scientists agree they are safer.

“If you read that (warning) as a smoker, you might think ‘Oh, I’ll just stick with a cigarette,'” said Oliver Kershaw, a former 15-a-day-smoker who quit through e-cigarettes and founded websites that advocate them.

Big tobacco companies have pushed for a range of controls on e-cigarettes. These include lengthy health warnings, reduced product ranges, restricted sales, and scientific testing requirements. Kershaw and others say such efforts risk squeezing small players. Too many rules would stifle innovation and reduce the range of products to “a very simple, utilitarian e-cigarette,” said Fraser Cropper, CEO of Totally Wicked, an independent e-cigarette company based in the UK.

Big tobacco companies say their goal in pushing for firm control is not to hurt smaller competitors. Regulation will benefit consumers and e-cigarette companies alike by ensuring safety and quality standards and boosting confidence, they say. Small companies should not be exempt from responsible behavior.

“Our stated goal is to get to e-vapor leadership, to have the strongest brands in the marketplace,” said the Altria spokesman. He could not predict the impact of increased regulation on smaller firms. “I don’t know how they run their businesses and what it would cost them to meet those requirements.”

Most anti-tobacco campaigners agree that e-cigarettes should be regulated. But some believe they deserve a lighter touch than tobacco because they can help smokers quit, and may be less harmful than smoking.

Measures that make e-cigarettes less appealing or hard to come by may keep people smoking, these people say. Clive Bates, a former head of UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), thinks public health officials who advocate tough controls end up helping Big Tobacco’s conventional brands.

“They really are all doing their utmost to protect the cigarette trade,” Bates said. “They just don’t realize it.” He thinks regulations should encourage smokers to quit, or switch.

The image of e-cigarettes is already changing. The proportion of people in Britain who think vaping is just as harmful as smoking doubled last year to 15 percent, according to a survey by ASH. In the United States, a similar picture is emerging. The growth in U.S. sales of e-cigarettes slowed to 5 percent in the fourth quarter last year from 19 percent a year earlier, according to Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog. She attributes that partly to increased uncertainty about the products.

Derek Yach, a director at Vitality Institute, a health research company, doubts there is any “conspiratorial effort” to crush the new business. But he says that “if the dominant message is one of doubt, then the status quo gets maintained.” Yach once headed tobacco control at the World Health Organization and worked at PepsiCo.

Japan Tobacco International, the world’s third-largest tobacco company, thinks strict regulations could hurt young firms. “If you make it extremely hard (to comply), you would drive small companies out of business,” said Ian Jones, JTI’s head of scientific and regulatory affairs for emerging products. “You would lose the value of the category, you would lose the spark.”

“OPEN SYSTEMS”

E-cigarettes came onto the market a decade ago promising a safer nicotine fix. The devices heat nicotine-laced liquid to create an inhalable vapor, rather than burn tobacco. That gives smokers the traditional hand-to-mouth ritual without the deadly smoke.

The global vaping market, which could top $7 billion this year, is evenly split between cigarette look-alikes, often sold by tobacco companies, and refillable “vapors, tanks and mods” – devices which users modify to suit their needs. These are often made by smaller firms. Demand for them is growing three times as fast as the overall market, as users say they find them more satisfying than early all-in-one models.

Serious devotees favor such refillable “open systems” that let them mix and match liquids and batteries to vary their nicotine intake. Open systems are often sold in vape shops and lend an edgy, do-it-yourself creativity to the vaping community. According to Wells Fargo, there are now around 8,500 vape shops in the United States and 19,400 globally. Vape shops account for about one-third of all U.S. sales, while the Internet accounts for another third.

In August, Reynolds – which does not produce mods – urged the FDA to “ban open system e-cigarettes, including all component parts.” Such systems, Reynolds wrote, present a “unique risk for adulteration, tampering and quality control.”

If the FDA does not want a ban, Reynolds suggested, it should regulate vape shops as manufacturers. That would subject them to FDA inspection, registration, manufacturing standards and product clearance requirements.

Vape shops often mix nicotine and flavoring, just as pharmacies compound drugs, said Richard Smith, communications manager at Reynolds. This means “the vape shop seller is a manufacturer under the applicable laws and regulations.”

E-cigarette independents say such a move targets them; analysts note that the business model of big tobacco firms depends on mass production, not mix-and-match.

“I think they (Reynolds) probably want that snuffed out before it gains traction,” said Philip Gorham, an Amsterdam-based tobacco analyst at Morningstar.

Reynolds says that’s not true. “We fully support innovation in tobacco products, including vapor products,” said Smith. The company wants “a level playing-field where all manufacturers are subject to equal treatment.”

DOING THEIR DUTY

Shane MacGuill, a tobacco analyst at market research firm Euromonitor International, said Reynolds’ move may seem zealous, but companies have a duty to shareholders: “It would be remiss … of them not to try and push for the competitive environment that is as favorable to them as possible.”

Steven Parrish, a former Altria executive who retired in 2008, said that as long as people are honest, there’s nothing wrong with advocating to protect their interests. And embracing regulation can help the tobacco industry win trust.

“I think one of the things the industry would like to see … is a world in which the tobacco industry is much more like the pharmaceutical industry in terms of how it operates,” he said: “Very heavily regulated and maybe not loved and admired, but at least acknowledged as a legitimate business.”

That makes young people a particularly sensitive point of tension.

Most e-cigarette companies want tighter controls on who can buy, such as a minimum age. Altria’s NuMark goes further. It says U.S. purchases should also be “clerk-assisted or conducted in an otherwise non-self-service environment.”

Smaller e-cigarette makers say that would hand a big advantage to tobacco companies.

U.S. convenience stores are the main outlets for tobacco products. Tobacco firms offer the stores rich incentives to promote their brands, and according to Morningstar, tobacco can provide more than a third of stores’ profit. Cigarettes can only be sold behind the counter. They are displayed on heavily branded shelving which the tobacco firms often provide.

Putting e-cigarettes behind the counter would force the products to compete for consumer attention in space that tobacco firms influence, small companies say.

“As long as you say it has to be 12 feet from a child’s hand at the counter, it guarantees (the e-cigarette) gets onto their wall,” said Jan Verleur, CEO and co-founder of VMR, a Miami-based e-cigarette company.

Altria says retailers choose how and where to display products.

EARLY WARNINGS

Some small e-cig firms are pushing back. Totally Wicked is challenging Europe’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which was adopted in 2014 and comes into force in 2016.

It’s up to member states to apply the EU rules in their own way, but the directive says manufacturers must tell regulators what’s in a new product six months before launch. Producers will have to list ingredients, emissions, toxicological data, nicotine doses and uptake, as well as health effects. A new notification is required for every big change.

Totally Wicked is fighting the TPD in the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Such detailed reporting is more onerous even than for traditional cigarettes, the company argues. It says it is disproportionate, considering that e-cigarettes are probably less harmful. Its CEO says the six-month notification would slow innovation in an industry where manufacturers can move from concept to shelf in 10 weeks.

British American Tobacco’s Nicoventures unit agrees with Totally Wicked that the six-month notice period “runs the risk of stifling innovation,” according to a spokeswoman.

But global tobacco leader Philip Morris International – which used to be part of Altria – said it thinks this kind of advance notification is appropriate to ensure standards. Its own tests already go beyond the TPD rules, a spokeswoman said. Robust scientific research is “something we believe in as the core of our work in this new product category.”

In the United States, the FDA aims to deliver its final ruling on e-cigarettes in June. E-cigarette firms there say anything that requires lengthy and costly trials could be manageable for big business but may hurt smaller companies. “The more science that’s required, the more expensive it becomes,” said Sanjiv Desai, general counsel of U.S. e-cigarette firm VMR.

A spokesman for the FDA said it was weighing the burden on everyone, including small manufacturers. It plans to help small companies by phasing in new rules. The European Union also plans to give firms time to adapt. It has said clear rules will help smaller firms; it plans to assess the costs of notification.

For Yach, the former WHO tobacco official, regulators should remember that e-cigarettes are more than a new business. “A heavy smoker has a 20 times greater risk of lung cancer,” Yach said. “Switch to e-cigarettes and that risk is virtually going to zero.”

(Edited by Sara Ledwith)

US accuses Iran of more than 1,000 deaths during protests

Jeck Deocampo   •   December 6, 2019

US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook responds to a question from the news media during a press conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 4 September 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/SHAWN THEW

Washington DC – The United States government on Thursday held Iran responsible for the death of more than 1,000 people in the recent protests that shook the country.

“It appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began,” said State Department Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook.

Hook, however, said he was not certain of that figure because “the regime blocks information.”

According to the US official, in one single protest in the southwestern city of Mahshahr, more than a hundred people died and when it was over, the bodies were loaded in trucks.

“We do not yet know where these bodies were taken, but we are learning more and more about how the Iranian regime treats its own people,” he added.

According to Washington, the number of deaths that occurred during the protests may have been five times the number estimated by Amnesty International, which in its latest report said 208 people lost their lives adding that the number was likely to be more.

Iran, on its part, said that the number reported by AI was not correct and claimed that the actual death toll was lower.

“The numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced,” Iran’s judicial spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

Protests broke out in Iran on Nov. 15 over rising oil prices and its rationing and led to criticism of the country’s theocratic system.

US President Donald Trump also mentioned the protests in Iran on Thursday.

The Iranian regime “has killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time. They’re killing protesters. They turned down their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going,” said the president.

Days earlier, Trump accused Iran of killing “thousands and thousands” of people. EFE-EPA

North Korea says up to US to choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2019

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Township of Samjiyon County, North Korea, 02 December 2019. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attended the ceremony. EPA-EFE/KCNA

Seoul – North Korea on Tuesday said it was up to the United States to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks was drawing closer amid Washington’s continued “dialogue rhetoric”.

“What is left to be done now is the US’ option and it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency KCNA.

The statement quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song saying that Pyongyang had “done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps.”

This refers to North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Drawing nearer is the year-end time limit the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) set for the US. However, the US is keen on earning the time needed for it, talking about the ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ far from acting in response to the measures taken by the DPRK first,” Ri said.

The statement said North Korea had “heard more than enough dialogue rhetoric raised by the US whenever it is driven into a tight corner. So, no one will lend an ear to the US any longer.”

It said the talks touted by Washington was, “in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US”.

Experts believe that if there is no progress in talks in the next few weeks, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

Bilateral negotiations have not advanced since a failed summit in February in Hanoi, where Washington refused to lift economic sanctions in return for what Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear assets.

Both parties held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

North Korean media on Tuesday also showed leader Kim Jong-un inaugurating a real estate project near Mount Paektu, a sacred site for the regime.

Given that important decisions have often followed visits to this area, some experts believe that Pyongyang wants to ramp up the pressure with this gesture.

Last week, North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as East Sea in the two Koreas) from a super large multiple-launch rocket system, prompting Pentagon to deploy reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean peninsula.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft flew over the region for the fifth time in less than a week in a gesture that some believe may be a deliberate warning message against threats from the North Korean regime. EFE-EPA

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China threatens US after Trump passes bills backing Hong Kong protesters

Robie de Guzman   •   November 28, 2019

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks to reporters during a daily Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing, China, 28 November 2019. China responds with anger and warns of countermeasures after US President Donald Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Beijing – The Chinese government Thursday threatened the United States with “countermeasures” and “consequences” after the US president signed two bills into law backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Donald Trump in a statement said he had signed the bills — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019 and one against crowd control munition exports to the territory — out of “respect” to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the people of Hong Kong.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday responded by reminding “the US that Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs where no foreign government or force shall interfere. This Act will only further expose the malicious and hegemonic nature of US intentions to the Chinese people, including our Hong Kong compatriots.”

“We urge the US to not continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences,” it added.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad “to lodge stern representations and strong protest” to the passing of the Act, state news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The two countries are still immersed in negotiations to end their trade war, which could be affected by the bills, however the statement does not specify the countermeasures it intends to apply.

The Hong Kong government also expressed its “strong opposition” to the new laws, saying in a statement that they “contravene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs” and would harm relations with the US.

“The two acts are unreasonable. Although human rights and democracy are mentioned in the title of the Act, some of the provisions in the Act are actually about export control and enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Hong Kong, which are totally unrelated to human rights and democracy in Hong Kong,” a government spokesman said.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, passed last week by the US Senate, requires the US State Department to conduct a review at least annually as to whether Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special trade considerations, and threatens sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Following the approval by the Senate last week, the Chinese government threatened that “China will take strong opposing measures and the US has to bear all the consequences” if it was passed into law. Beijing also reportedly summoned a senior US diplomat over the move.

The second bill signed into law Wednesday prohibits US exports of specified police equipment such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns to Hong Kong.

“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said.

At the weekend, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong swept the local elections, winning 388 of the total 452 district council seats up for grabs. The side aligned with Beijing suffered a crushing defeat with only 59 councilors, compared to the almost 300 it had, while independents won five seats in the elections which saw a record 71.2% turnout.

Hong Kong was passed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it still retains a degree of independence from Beijing under the “one country, two systems” formula. According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system — which includes certain legal freedoms not recognized in mainland China — must be preserved until 2047. EFE-EPA

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