Today’s post is about cigarette smoking. Although it’s never come up in this blog–no real reason for it–everyone who knows me in person knows that I’m a smoker. It’s hard to find members of the pro-smoking lobby, live ones anyway (Ha ha–Fakename’s attempt at gallows humor). But they do exist.
It’s without question that smoking has some benefits, otherwise humans wouldn’t have been doing it for thousands of years. Apparently we know much more now about what those benefits are: to quote from the Wikipedia article on tobacco smoking, “The active substances trigger chemical reactions in nerve endings which heightens heart rate, memory, alertness, and reaction time. Dopamine and later endorphins are released, which are often associated with pleasure.”
But this is not a pro-smoking post. First, I wouldn’t dare. Second, I can’t really say that I’m pro-smoking. Instead, this post is about recent changes in U.S. law regulating the manufacture, sale, and advertising of tobacco products. I’ve gradually become aware of these regulations over the last month (more about that later), but my eyes were really opened by visiting the website yesterday of Phillip Morris USA.
First, exactly a year ago this month, President Obama signed into law the FSPTCA (the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act), which gave regulatory control to the FDA over all tobacco products, EXCEPT cigars and pipe tobacco. Isn’t that interesting? I guess they have a richer lobby…In any case, another provision of the law was that use of the words “light”, “ultralight”, “mild”, and “low tar” are prohibited on cigarette packaging. That provision took effect last Tuesday, June 22nd. And here’s where I come in…I became aware of that provision about a month ago, when it became increasingly hard to find my brand: Merit Ultralight Menthols.
The grocer explained to me about the law, and that manufacturers were in the process of changing their packaging, either by retaining the same packaging and removing the now illegal words, or by renaming them with other words (i.e., “soft”–bet the FDA hops on that one pretty quick, but really, how many synonyms must there be for “light”?) So it would be a while, they said, before they could order the new brand, whatever it might look like or be called.
So the past month for me has been a scavenger hunt, in which I have systematically run every store I know of out of my brand, and there has been no replacement in sight. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so yesterday, I called Phillip Morris. But first: let’s talk about “light”.
For 40 years, cigarette manufacturers posted tar and nicotine content on cigarette packaging…numbers that were determined using the Cambridge Filter Method, which to make a long story short, used a smoking machine. Eventually somebody determined that people don’t smoke the same way machines do, and in fact, being the cantankerous species that we are, we used every trick available to us to defeat the purpose (smoke more cigarettes, inhale more deeply, cover ventilation holes with our mouths).
While the manufacturers were still allowed to say “light”, they had to say that did not mean it was safer, that it was a matter of taste. And now for “taste”. Non-smokers probably find it hard to believe that cigarettes have a “taste”, but they do. It’s like people who don’t drink beer–for them, a beer is a beer. Now I understand that better too–for a smoker, I’ve been blissfully unaware of the actual ingredients of cigarettes. My understanding was, tobacco, and some other stuff.
I’m not sure this is mandated, but Phillip Morris publishes a list of the ingredients in their cigarettes which occur at a level of 0.1% or above. In my brand, out of 11 such ingredients, ninth on the list is “cocoa and cocoa products”. Well crap! No wonder I’m addicted! I’ve been smoking chocolate! They also publish a list of other possible ingredients that occur at below the level of 0.1% and that list is mind-boggling. Besides the chemicals that you wish you didn’t know about, there is stuff like…chamomile flowers. What?
Next week, another law takes affect: PACT (Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking) which prohibits sending cigarettes through the U.S. Mail. I’ve never ordered cigarettes online…I’ve always had a feeling that you would be in big trouble if you got caught buying cigarettes without paying your state taxes. Although it has been tempting ever since last year when Florida instituted a $1.00 per pack tax, on top of the already existing taxes. I would not have a problem buying cigarettes in Georgia (about 10 miles away) but I don’t know where to find them. So far, that still isn’t considered smuggling.
So yesterday I had this conversation with Phillip Morris, who first verified that I’m an adult before they would even answer general questions. Interestingly, their very first question was “Are you a smoker?” The conversation was rather tightly scripted, and I suspect that if I had said “No”, it would have required them to turn to Page 10 of the manual where it says “Advise the caller if they do not smoke now, they should not start”. Eventually, I learned what the “new” brand is called (“Merit Menthol Silver Pack”) so now I know what to ask for. My grocer could have found that out for themselves, but my guess is they haven’t tried very hard and have ambivalent feelings about even selling cigarettes.
In closing, here are a few factoids about Phillip Morris. They are the largest cigarette manufacturer in the U.S., with a 49.9% share of the market. Their top cigarette is Marlboro, which accounts for 41.8% of that share.