Philip Morris International Launches New Counter-Illicit Trade Campaign

The tobacco giant announced a brand new campaign to counter the black market trade of cigarettes and counterfeit tobacco products.

NEW YORK CITY — Tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) announced on June 8 that the company had launched a brand new public education initiative called the United to Safeguard America from Illegal Trade (USA-IT) combat black market trade.

“Illegal trade is a major problem that fuels serious organized criminal networks and damages our economy,” said Martin King, the chief executive officer of PMI America.

“No matter the commodity, these criminals will seize any opportunity to exploit markets and communities to bolster their nefarious activities. PMI is pleased to be joined by so many cross-sector partners who are leading the fight against illegal trade and the black-market criminals profiting at the expense of Americans’ security,” King said.

The PMI coalition of national and state private and public sector partners, through the campaign, will provide local officials, law enforcement, and thought leaders with information and training programs to help tackle illegal trade and raise awareness.

According to a press statement from PMI, the campaign will run throughout 2021 in eight states facing critical illegal trade issues. These states include Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. USA-IT also includes the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, attached to the Department of Homeland Security and its U.S. Immigration and Customs Engagement (ICE) component.

PMI and the National IPR Coordination Center have previously collaborated on various campaigns countering the illicit trade of cigarettes, tobacco, and countless other products and services.

“Counterfeit and smuggled goods pose serious threats in many states. The situation has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with criminals seizing opportunities to traffic all types of counterfeit and illegal products, including highly demanded personal protective equipment (PPE),” states the press release. “Since January 2020, online counterfeited goods have jumped nearly 40 percent.”

Cigarette Smugglers Exploit the Covid-Related Demand for Medical Supplies 

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Irish Study Analysed E-Cig-Only and Dual Use Behaviours Amongst Teens

The study titled, “E-Cigarette-Only and Dual Use among Adolescents in Ireland: Emerging Behaviours with Different Risk Profiles,” consisted of a cross-sectional analysis of the youth survey, with the aim of extracting nicotine-use patterns within a 30 day time frame.

A total of 4422 adolescents had been surveyed, out of these, 22.1% were current nicotine product users, consisting of 5.1% e-cigarette only users, 7.7% conventional cigarette only users, and 9.3% dual-users, ie. the highest prevalent behaviour was dual use. Non-surprisingly, the odds of association for risk factors, were weaker for e-cigarette only, in comparison to cigarette only use or dual use.

Factors that reduce the likelihood of smoking

Participation in team sports was found to reduce the use of conventional smoking. “Participating in team sport four times/week or more significantly reduced the odds of conventional cigarette and dual use but had no association with e-cigarette only use (Cig: adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 0.63, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.44-0.90; Dual-use: AOR 0.63, 95% CI 0.43-0.93),” read the study Abstract.

“Similarly, having higher value for conventional social norms reduced the odds of conventional cigarette and dual use but not e-cigarette only use. This is the first study to show, among a generalisable sample, that dual-use is the most prevalent behaviour among adolescent nicotine product users in Ireland. Risk factor profiles differ across categories of use and prevention initiatives must be cognisant of this.”

US Study Says Dual Use is as Harmful to Heart Health as Smoking

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Experts Warn Bloomberg-Funded Groups About Interference

Last October, two Philippine members of the House of Representatives were forced to suspend public consultations on vaping and heated tobacco products, after the local FDA, was forced to admit that it had received a grant from the Union and Bloomberg Initiative.

“The Union co-manages the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use Grants Program, which awards funds to projects delivering high-impact tobacco control interventions in low- and middle-income countries,” said Rep. Estrellita Suansing during a virtual consultations’ session, which took place on October 8th.

Subsequently last December, over 35 national consumer organizations voiced their concern about the funding. They reiterated the need for an investigation into the matter, after which public health policy experts called for a deeper investigation, to determine whether the action violated Philippine and United States laws.

Are such grants being offered in return for policy amendments?

Moreover, concerns are now being raised as to the extent to which such grants and/or technical assistance are being offered in return for policy amendments. In line with countless health and policy experts, Prof. David Sweanor, advisory committee chair of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law and Policy in Canada, has recently said that naturally the Bloomberg donation to the Philippines FDA would have influenced the agency’s independent judgment.

“It is essential that regulatory bodies have the trust of the public. Accepting foreign funding from sources with a vested interest in compromising the FDA’s independence can rapidly destroy that trust. In this case, the money ultimately comes from a US entity with an abstinence-only agenda on low-risk alternatives to cigarettes,” said Sweanor.

Governments should not take money from Bloomberg’s foundation

Other experts who share Sweanor’s views include former director of Action on Smoking and Health (UK) Clive Bates, National University of Mexico’s Institute of Nuclear Sciences senior researcher Dr. Roberto A. Sussman, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) consumer policy analyst Michelle Minton and Sydney, Australia’s St. Vincent’s Hospital Alcohol and Drug Service director Dr. Alex Wodak.

“Governments and their agencies should not take money from Bloomberg’s foundation or the worldwide complex of organizations that it funds. The duty of the Philippines FDA is to look after the welfare of Filipinos, not to take instructions from foreign advocacy operations,” said Bates.

Dr. Sussman highlighted that Bloomberg’s influence through funding is endemic in low and middle-income countries, “mostly because health ministries become dependent on these funds due to a lack of government funding.”

“These funds are typically grants and donations. They are not accountable, nor scrutinized and their records tend to lie deep below the radar. I hope the example set in the Philippines could spread to other Asian countries and to Latin America and Africa,” he said.

LMICs should keep away from such grant-for-policy schemes

Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA, Nancy Loucas, shares Sussman’s concerns and has recently highlighted that countries which direly need funds to implement effective public health programs, are particularly vulnerable and often fall prey to grant-for-policy schemes. “LMICs (low to middle inome countries) should keep away from such grant-for-policy schemes which might compromise the rights of the consumers to choose better products for their health.”

Minton, who is also a senior fellow at the CEI, pointed out that this pattern of US “philanthropists” dedicating funds and resources to interfere with the politics and policies of other nations, is more common than one may think. “More disturbing is the fact that they seem only to care about imposing their moral agenda, regardless of the needs and interests of local populations,” she said. The policy analyst added that this is colonialism not philanthropy. “That’s not charity. It is colonialism and a monstrous violation of human rights.”

Read Further: Maharlika TV

Report Funded by Bloomberg Lists Countries Affiliated With Big Tobacco

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Connecticut Senate Votes To Legalize Marijuana

More change. 

HARTFORD — Lawmakers in the Connecticut state legislature have endorsed legislation that would permit the sale of recreational marijuana across the state. 

After nearly five hours of debate into the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 8, the State Senate voted narrowly to pass marijuana legalization legislation. 

According to the CT Post, the vote difference was 19 to 17 in favor of the marijuana bill. Only one Democratic member of the Senate voted with the Republican minority against the bill. Now, the bill advances to the House where Republican minority leadership promises a filibuster and a variety of other diversionary tactics. 

This measure is also first full marijuana legislative package to be voted on since the state legislature greenlit a statewide medical marijuana market that has well over 50,000 patients at the time of this report. 

One Republican, Sen. Kevin Witkos, voted in favor of legalization in the most recent bill. 

In the House, Democratic Majority Leader Jason Rojas is expected to put up a strong offense in favor of marijuana legalization and, despite threats from House Republicans, is expected to push through the bill to the desk of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont. 

Lamont used marijuana legalization as a campaign promise during the 2018 election. He intends to deliver. 

“I applaud the Senate’s passage of the bill to legalize the adult use of cannabis,” Lamont said in a statement. 

“The war on cannabis, which was at its core a war on people in Black and Brown communities, not only caused injustices and increased disparities in our state, it did little to protect public health and safety.”

The legislation is also a strong development for the mission to legalize marijuana in a state as crucial as Connecticut. 

“It has something to do with the way people understand other people. It should never have been a Schedule I drug,” said Sen. Gary Winfield, the judiciary committee chair for the Senate.

Florida Senate Passes Tobacco Age Bill

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D.C. Council Votes to Prohibit Flavored Vapes

The District of Columbia Council voted 9-3 Tuesday to prohibit sales of flavored vaping and tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and cigars. In a last-minute change, the council exempted bars and restaurants that sell hookah products.

The bill requires a second vote on June 29, but the result isn’t expected to change. Following the second vote, the law will take effect after approval by the mayor and a 30-day congressional review period.

The Washington, D.C. bill is typical of recent flavor bans, prohibiting “characterizing flavors” other than tobacco. The law also includes synthetic nicotine products, and seems broad enough to capture nicotine pouches, which contain no tobacco and are only available in non-tobacco flavors.

The flavor bill provides for fines as high as $10,000 per offense for businesses violating the sales ban, but limits the penalty for individuals to $25, which may encourage street-level sales of menthol cigarettes—and possibly disposable vapes.

In an effort to eliminate potentially hostile interactions with police, the council assigned enforcement of the law to the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. However, as American Vaping Association President Gregory Conley pointed out, D.C. Metropolitan Police will still have jurisdiction over sales of untaxed cigarettes.

Black and Hispanic law enforcement leaders warned that the law could lead to “more negative and more likely counterproductive interactions between law enforcement and people of color.” They joined with the National Newspaper Publishers Association—which represents more than 200 black-owned community newspapers—to oppose the bill.

“Banning menthol is not going to make the demand for menthol products go away,” said Sgt. Anthony Miranda of the National Latino Officers Association. “We know this because illegal drugs are used by people in every community in every state across this country. When there is a high demand, an illegal market will fill the void, if a legal, regulated market does not. Bans and prohibitions don’t work. They actually create crime.”

Last week, a confrontation between Ocean City, MD police and vaping teenagers led to violence that was captured on video and shared by millions on social media.

But tobacco control groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society’s lobbying arm the Cancer Action Network cheered the D.C. vote.

“The Council’s action is the right move to stop the tobacco industry from addicting a new generation of kids and reversing the enormous progress we have made in reducing youth tobacco use,” said Tobacco-Free Kids president Matthew Myers. Myers’ organization received a $160 million in 2019 from Bloomberg Philanthropies to write and lobby for flavored vape bans.

The D.C. city government has been consistently antagonistic toward vaping. In 2015, the city classified e-cigarettes as “other tobacco products,” which made them subject to an excessive wholesale tax. The current tax rate is 96 percent, which applies to devices and nicotine-containing e-liquid.

The flavor ban, justified as a way to reduce teenage vaping and smoking, is unlikely to have much effect—except to damage legitimate small businesses. D.C. residents live just minutes away from the states of Virginia and Maryland, where flavored vapes and cigarettes are legal. Additionally, a recent Yale study showed that a flavored vape ban in San Francisco made high school students more likely to smoke combustible cigarettes.

Bizarrely, the bill leaves in place the District’s existing age limit of 16 to buy tobacco—even though federal law has prohibited sales to anyone under 21 since 2019.

Washington, D.C. is not a state, but a federal district that serves as the nation’s capital, and is ultimately controlled by the U.S. Congress, which can override locally passed laws—although there is little chance of the flavor ban being overturned.

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Civil Liberties Groups Push For Marijuana Legalization

A coalition of civil liberties groups in the U.S. is pressing Congress to pass marijuana legalization within the month.

WASHINGTON — A coalition featuring the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has asked the Democratic-controlled Congress to finalize legislation that would legalize recreational marijuana across the United States.

Such a call comes as states across the country have already adopted laws and regulations that enable the sale and cultivation of recreational and medicinal marijuana strands.

Kyle Jaeger, an associate editor for Marijuana Moment, reports that the coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, sent a letter to House leadership requesting a fast-track of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act.

“In the face of a growing national dialogue on discriminatory law enforcement practices, including the disproportionate policing of drug use in communities of color, transforming our criminal-legal system and redressing its harms is more relevant and more pressing than ever before,” the letter states.

“Marijuana reform represents a modest but necessary first step toward that transformation and toward repairing the harm wrought by the War on Drugs. The MORE Act remains the most effective and equitable way forward.”

The Leadership Conference features 220 organizations working for criminal justice reform and to protect the rights of drug users and members of communities of color.

The MORE Act cleared the House last year but was killed.

A recent refiling leaves the bill up for debate again and serves as a potential benchmark win for drug legalization and criminal justice reform during the tenure of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

We mention this because Biden and Harris, like running mates on the 2020 campaign trail, openly endorsed the concept of national legalization as a means to counter the terrible impacts of the War on Drugs.

Democrats in the Senate and the House have openly announced that they intend to push for marijuana legalization, using the slim majorities both chambers have over others in the chamber, including Republicans.

Sen. Dick Durbin Calls For FDA to Release PMTA List

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Fury after Maryland police tase a teen for allegedly vaping

Shocking footage of police tasing a teenage boy for allegedly vaping in public has spurred outrage across the globe.

A group of Maryland officers was seen forcefully arresting the 18-year-old after claims he was asked to stop vaping on the Ocean City boardwalk.

Eyewitnesses say police instructed the teen, Taizier Griffin, to remove his backpack and lay down on the ground, but tased and hog-tied him when he reached for his bag.

Griffin was reportedly charged with resisting arrest and second-degree assault, however, viral footage of the event showed that he appeared to be complying with police instructions at the time.

Twitter user Rob Wiscount said:

“Besides the obvious police brutality on display here, it is also an astounding display of misappropriation of police resources.

“Ocean City used six officers and 50,000 volts…to stop one 18-year-old…from VAPING!

“If he had a skateboard, they’d have called SWAT?”

Rob Wiscount, Twitter

Rapper Ice T also commented on the incident, tweeting: “Cops tased this kid for Vaping??? RealIy…! At least they didn’t kill him I guess…smh…. wow.”

Astonishingly, the same thing happened just six days later, with a group of four teens being arrested after allegedly ignoring the ban on vaping.

One of the boys involved claims he was tased, whilst another was pinned down and repeatedly kneed in the side by an officer.

Ocean City officials said that ‘officers are permitted to use force, per their training, to overcome exhibited resistance,’ but many are questioning why the police took such aggressive steps to enforce the boardwalk’s vaping regulations.

Clive Bates of The counterfactual, said: “Two insane American things come together: (1) the moral and now legal panic about vaping; (2) the casual violence and extreme escalation propensity of routine policing.

“Protecting health by banning vaping. Protecting young people by tasing them. Keeping the peace by causing a riot…fire them all.”

Clive Bates, The counterfactual

Twitter user Jukka Kelovuori also weighed in, saying: “Getting arrested over vaping is probably way riskier than a lifetime of vaping in itself.”

Officials confirmed that both arrests will be investigated, explaining that they are aware of public concerns about the incidents.

They said: “While the use of force is never the intended outcome, our police department’s first priority is to protect and serve.”

Vaping advocates have raised concerns that widespread bans and strict regulations could lead to more arrests like this.

Yaël Ossowski of the Consumer Choice Center said:

“The MORE you ban and demonize ordinary consumer products, the MORE police interactions you condone.

“We don’t need more situations like this…Let People Live.”

Yaël Ossowski, Consumer Choice Center

The consumer group Rights4Vapers also tweeted: “We cannot let vapers be criminalized.

“Vaping is not a crime.”

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Imperial Brands is to Focus On Five Main Cigarette Markets

Stefan Bomhard, who joined Imperial Brands as CEO in July 2020, has set in motion a plan which will mainly invest in the top five cigarette markets: Australia, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Moreover the plan aims to fine-tune next-generation products to consumer preferences, boost the company’s sales force by bringing in new talent, and change incentive structures.

The plan, is the culmination of a six-month review, and also stated that the company would exit some smaller markets where no further growth is forseen. Moreover, Imperial will be resetting its next-generation products (NGP) strategy, to redirect resources to develop such products in Europe and the United States.

Several e-cig targets were missed over the last five years

Bomhard said that since heated tobacco products are gaining traction in Europe and generating higher margins than in the US, Imperial will focus on its Pulze device in Europe, and the development of vaping products in the US. The targets for next generation products, mainly e-cigarettes, had been lowered after missing several sales targets over the last five years. “The company wrote down the value of that business by 124 million pounds ($170.02 million)last year after sales fell 27% in 2020,” reported Reuters.

“The new strategy will have a renewed emphasis on a more focused group of priority tobacco markets and a more disciplined execution in NGP,” said Bomhard. “We expect the new plan will deliver a gradually improving trajectory in net revenue over the five years with a compound annual growth rate of 1-2% from FY2020-2025.”

COVID-19 led to increased smoking rates

Meanwhile, towards the end of 2020, the tobacco company had readjusted its full-year revenue forecast to reflect the increase in cigarettes sales brought about by the ongoing pandemic. A spokesman for the firm had said that consumers seem to be spending more on cigarettes.

Of course, these figures are not surprising and are precisely why countless public health experts had argued that closing vape shops whilst leaving regular cigarettes available for sale, would spell disaster. A UK paper published on BJGP Open had in fact warned that the outbreak of COVID-19 risked increasing smoking rates amongst both current and former smokers.

Juul Strives to Substantially Increase Its Stock in UK Vape Shops

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AVCA’s Vape Flavour Petition Dismissed by Kiwi Government

With 17,357 Kiwis who signed the petition dismissed outright despite all the available scientific evidence in favour of vaping products, petition organiser, Nancy Loucas, who is the co-director of the Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy (AVCA), said that the whole process has been incredibly disheartening.

When first launched in 2019 ahead of the Government’s vaping legislation being introduced, AVCA’s petition to Parliament requested: ‘That the House of Representatives debate the Government’s proposal to limit flavoured nicotine e-liquids to mint, menthol and tobacco’. Sadly, this was fully ignored and only presented to Parliament five days after the vaping bill disputed in the petition had already been passed.

When local authorities recently reopened consultations for the draft bill, Loucas had resubmitted the petition. She had called on new Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall and new Health Select Committee Dr Liz Craig, both public health experts, to look at the evidence and base their decision on science, not emotion.

Petition rejected

Sadly, the petition has been rejected. The Ministry of Health said that it “does not support any further expansion, via regulation, of the available flavours sold by generic retailers at this point in time. Our recommendation is that the provisions should come into force as intended on 11 August 2021.”

Commenting on the petition, the Select Health Committee’s tone was a dismissive one. ‘We believe that the proposal to limit vaping flavours has been adequately canvassed and debated, both by the Health Committee of the 52nd Parliament during the select committee stage and in the House.”

Public submissions were not given enough attention

On receiving these responses Loucas voiced her disappointment. “Last year inadequate time and attention was given to the submission process with Parliament sitting on my petition for months. MPs only referred it to the Health Select Committee after they’d passed the vaping legislation on 5 August. Then the Ministry of Health dismissed it, before the select committee finally got around to throwing it out just now. It’s all been very disappointing,” she said.

“All the scientific evidence supporting smokers’ access to a wide range of vape flavours was ignored. The only winners in all of this are the multi-national tobacco giants,” she added. “If the Government’s Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan is to succeed, vaping must be elevated as the safer alternative and popular vape flavours must remain accessible to adults desperate to quit deadly cigarettes.”

New Zealand: Vape Products With Health Warnings In The Maori Language

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Germany: Bill Raising Vape and Tobacco Taxes is Approved

The amendment means that a 10-millilitre bottle of e-liquid which currently costs around 5 euros, will be costing an extra 1,60 euros in 2022, and an added 3,20 euros by 2026.

A new proposed tax imposed for tobacco and nicotine alternative products was introduced by the German Government last April. The draft measure was first released in February by the German Finance Ministry. The amendment would go into effect on July 1st, 2022, and would have updated tobacco taxes for the first time in a decade.

Sadly, the measure which was approved last week, would result in safer alternatives being taxed in the same way as regular tobacco products. Starting in 2022 and carrying on to 2023, nicotine-containing products will be taxed at 0.02 euros per milligram of nicotine alkaloids, and this will be raised to 0.04 euros per milligram in 2024. Subsequently, another 15 cents per pack will be added in both 2025 and 2026.

The amendment means that a 10-millilitre bottle of e-liquid which currently costs around 5 euros, will be costing an extra 1,60 euros in 2022, and an added 3,20 euros by 2026. The Association of the E-Cigarette Trade (VdeH) has warned that increasing prices on safer alternatives may drive many vapers to revert back to smoking.

Vapers voiced their concerns about the tax

Last month, a Covid-friendly demo was organised by the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) giving vapers in Germany and Europe, the opportunity to voice their concerns and opinions. “These laws are a major threat to the more than two million vapers in Germany, who have already switched from cigarettes,” said the WVA in a press release.

“Vaping has already saved millions of lives. Yet policymakers and tobacco control advocates refuse to see reality and would rather put their own ideology ahead of saving lives. These proposed new laws will be a major set-back for vapers and for smokers who want to quit. That’s why our members felt obliged to act, and to bring the Vape Army to the streets of Berlin in this covid-friendly demo,” added the group.

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Germany: Peaceful Protest Against Imminent Vape Laws Organized in Berlin

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