Friday, January 19, 2007

Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising

A Harvard University study concluding that cigarette makers have for years deliberately increased nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them more addictive led to renewed calls Thursday for greater federal oversight of the industry.

"Given the harm that tobacco causes, it shouldn't be a game of cat-and-mouse to figure out what the industry is doing to cigarettes," said Dr. Josh Sharfstein, commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who is now chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, promised to reintroduce within weeks a bill that would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes.

Kennedy said the Harvard study, which was released this week, "is dramatic new proof that Big Tobacco is addicted to addicting millions of young smokers."

Kennedy's bill passed the Senate in 2004 but failed in the House. With Democrats now in control of both houses, public health advocates said they had new hope that the legislation -- debated for more than a decade -- could pass.

Philip Morris, the nation's largest cigarette maker, released a statement taking issue with the Harvard study but saying the company supported Kennedy's bill.

The company, which is owned by the Altria Group, said its own reports showed that nicotine yields for its top-selling Marlboro brand were the same in 2006 as they were in 1997. Changes between those years, it said, "reflect that there are random variations in cigarette nicotine yields."

The Harvard researchers analyzed data only from 1997 through 2005, although they promised to include 2006 figures in future analyses.

Dr. Gregory Connolly, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health who was a leader of the study, said there was nothing random about the growth in nicotine yields, which occurred across all cigarette brands and makers.

"We know from our data that there are intentional design changes that result in more nicotine in smoke that increases the capacity for the cigarette to cause and maintain addiction," Connolly said.

Company representatives at Lorillard Tobacco, owned by Loews, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, owned by Reynolds American, did not respond to phone messages.

Cigarette makers have for decades denounced scientific efforts to measure the byproducts and effects of cigarette smoking. And for decades, experts have been arguing over the best ways to measure smoke from smoking.

One common way has been to use machines to mimic smoking. For years, these tests were done at the Federal Trade Commission.

In recent years, however, government regulators have asked cigarette makers to do these machine tests themselves. And beginning in 1997, Massachusetts regulations required cigarette makers to file an annual report with health regulators on the results of these tests.

In August, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued a study showing that according to the industry's own reports, the amount of nicotine that could be inhaled from cigarettes had increased an average of 10 percent from 1998 through 2004. The report was immediately criticized by cigarette makers.

So Connolly and colleagues decided to undertake a far more sophisticated analysis of the underlying data provided by cigarette makers. The Harvard group found that nicotine yields from smoking had increased an average of 1.6 percent each year from 1998 through 2005, or about 11 percent altogether.

A sophisticated mathematical analysis of the data demonstrated that the increase could not be due to random variations, Connolly said.

Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising

This Is Why You Can't Inject Cooking Oil Into Buttocks

A former beautician who injected cooking oil into a woman's buttocks as an anti-aging treatment, killing the client, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Martha Mata Vasquez, 39, who pleaded no contest in October to involuntary manslaughter, practicing medicine without a license and fraud, apologized during Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

"I'm very sorry to my family, and I'm sorry to them (the victims and their families)," the married mother of two said.

Vasquez had charged clients up to $1,400 for each injection of Mazola corn oil, claiming the "French polymer" treatment would reduce wrinkles, prosecutors said.

Maria Olivia Castillo, 46, of Castroville died in November 2005 of multiple organ failure caused by a fat blockage brought about by a cooking oil injection, prosecutors said. Similar injections caused medical complications for others and put one patient into a coma, prosecutors said.

Defense attorneys said Vasquez didn't know of the dangers of the injections.

"That couldn't be farther from the truth," said Deputy District Attorney Steve Somers, noting Vasquez continued to perform the procedure after clients became ill.

Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession With Cosmetic Surgery

Dating site gives tips for the camera-shy

NYC antiques dealer sues to shoo homeless people away from his shop

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City antiques dealer has sued four homeless people, seeking to keep them away from his store on a posh shopping street because, he says, they alienate customers and block window displays.

Store owner Karl Kemp also seeks $1 million from the four, named in the lawsuit as John Doe, Bob Doe, John Smith and Jane Doe.

The suit, filed this week, says they can often be found sleeping on the sidewalk, drinking alcoholic beverages and "performing various bodily functions such as urinating and spitting" outside Karl Kemp & Associates on Manhattan's Madison Avenue. Kemp seeks to keep them 100 feet from the store.

Kemp said he decided to sue after complaints to police brought no changes. He also said he was concerned about the health of one of the three men.

"You and I pay taxes in New York City, and some of that is to maintain decent shelters. And he should take advantage of that," Kemp said.

Advocates for the homeless called the lawsuit hardhearted.

"Until we see to it that every single homeless individual has a place to stay, this is our reality," said Shelly Nortz, a deputy executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless.

"The complaint that they somehow occasionally occupy a space that is also home to Gucci and Chanel doesn't mean that they're breaking any law," she said.