Category Archives: Tobacco/Smoking

Menthol cigarettes – what’s the big deal ?

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD

The discussion around whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should keep or ban menthol-flavored cigarettes has produced a number of news headlines in recent weeks, because in July the agency released a report reviewing current science around these cigarettes. This science will inform many of the decisions the agency may make about menthol cigarettes, and the millions of current and potential smokers who will be affected by those decisions. But the menthol story goes back much further than just the past few weeks.

Menthol and cigarettes: a brief history

Menthol is an organic compound which can be made in a laboratory or derived from mint oils, and has a distinctive and, for most people, pleasant odor and taste. It is used to enhance the flavor, popularity, and ease-of-use of many food products, candies, and medications.

As a medication, it can be used as a mild local anesthetic, counter-irritant, and, more specifically, for the relief of minor throat irritation. That is why menthol was first introduced in cigarettes in the 1920’s and gained broader popularity with the introduction of a filtered menthol brand, Salem, in the mid-1950’s.

Over the years, largely because they mask the harsh taste and/or throat-irritating properties of inhaled tobacco smoke, mentholated cigarettes have gained a wide audience, such that about 30% of all 44 million smokers in the U.S.… Continue reading →

Light smoking as risky as a pack a day?

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD

Do you occasionally have a cigarette, maybe not even every day? Although people resolve to quit smoking in the new year, you might think only heavy smokers need to quit. But that isn’t the case.

Light or intermittent smoking has become a very common pattern for people of any age.  Many of these people do not feel addicted to tobacco and do not even call themselves “smokers.” There are, however, some real risks associated with any level of smoking. Non-daily smoking, or smoking 1-5 cigarettes a day, was first noticed as far back as 1989 because it was a stark contrast to the more common pattern at that time — 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. At that time, very light smokers were labeled “chippers” (a term that also referred to occasional users of opiates who appeared to not be addicted). Chippers didn’t appear to smoke to relieve withdrawal, and sometimes didn’t smoke for a day or more. [more]

Number of ‘chippers’ growing

Since that time, occasional smoking has become a lot more common. The number of U.S. smokers who claim to not smoke every day increased 40% between 1996 and 2001. In fact, half of U.S.… Continue reading →

Mind the (Smoking) Gap: Those Who Want to Quit and Those Who Actually Do

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD

For those who have traveled London’s Underground, or Tube, the term “Mind the Gap” will be familiar. It’s the warning for riders to be aware that there is a gap of several inches between the station platform and the train cars. In the public health community, we also have a gap: the gap between the number of smokers who want to quit and those who actually succeed. The American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout, held this year on November 15, is an opportunity to remind us that we also need to “mind the gap.”

In the United States, this gap is very wide. Nearly 70% of the country’s 43.8 million smokers say they would like to quit smoking; 52% report making at least one serious attempt to quit each year; but a disappointingly low 4% are actually successful in doing so. [more]

How can the Smokeout help us “mind the gap?” In the event’s 37 year history – going all the way back to just after the smoke-laden “Mad Men” era – we have learned a great deal about helping smokers move from wanting to quit to actually doing so. For instance, we now know that nicotine is a highly addictive drug – nearly as powerful as heroin and cocaine – and that smoking is both physically addictive (due to the pull of nicotine) and psychologically addictive (due to the rituals we build around smoking), making quitting a challenge for most smokers.… Continue reading →

The FDA and Tobacco Regulation Three Years Later

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD


As the official sponsor of birthdays, the American Cancer Society has every reason to be proud of a “toddler” celebrating its third birthday this year. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act – aka the Tobacco Control Act – was strongly supported by ACS and ACS CAN and signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2009.

For the first time and after nearly 2 decades of debate, this historic legislation gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the authority to regulate tobacco products. In doing so, Congress enabled the FDA to establish the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), which is charged with regulating the manufacture, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products in order to reduce tobacco use by children under 18 and protect public health.

More specifically, the Tobacco Control Act authorizes the FDA to act in a number of ways, including:

  • Restricting tobacco sales, distribution, and marketing
  • Requiring stronger health warnings on packaging and in advertisements
  • Requiring disclosure of tobacco product ingredients
  • Reducing (but not eliminating) the amount of nicotine in tobacco products
  • Creating standards for tobacco products
  • Regulating “modified risk” (i.e. potentially harm reducing) tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, snus, dissolvables, etc.
Continue reading →

Hookahs are trendy, but are they safe?

By Tom Glynn, PhD



Hookah smoking is no safer than cigarette smoking. If you read no further, that is the take-home message for this blog — no matter what you may have heard or read, the scientific evidence is clear that hookah smoking is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.


Countering the widely-held, although mistaken, belief that hookah smoking is safer than cigarette smoking is important, so let’s take a step back and consider what hookah is, learn about its history and current popularity, and then look at the facts about the scientific evidence regarding its effects on health. [more]


An ancient practice


Hookah is a bowl-shaped device with a tubular pipe.  It also may be called waterpipe, shisha or hubble-bubble.  Charcoal-heated air is passed through a tobacco mixture and then through a water-filled chamber and, ultimately, through the pipe for the user to inhale. Though it sounds complicated, a hookah is an ingenious and relatively simple way of delivering tobacco smoke. (see photo, on left)


The practice of hookah smoking goes back nearly 500 years. It most likely began in India after Columbus brought back the first tobacco plants and seeds from the Americas, where tobacco had been in use for centuries.… Continue reading →

Here Come the Dissolvables

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD


No, “The Dissolvables” are not a Saturday morning TV cartoon show – they are the tobacco industry’s latest attempt to maintain, and even expand, the number of tobacco users in the U.S., at a time when fewer people are smoking cigarettes.

“Dissolvables,” as they have become collectively known, are products made of compressed tobacco and are available in a variety of forms, including sticks, pellets, and strips (think the Listerine breath strip). They dissolve in the user’s mouth, delivering nicotine, as well as thousands of other chemicals and substances. Examples of these products are below.  [more]


While the concept of dissolvable tobacco is not entirely new – Star Scientific tobacco company first developed dissolvable tobacco pellets a decade ago – they have not been marketed aggressively until recently, when both RJ Reynolds (RJR) and Philip Morris (PM) tobacco companies began producing the sticks, pellets, and strips for test audiences in several states.

Marketing Plans

It is unclear what RJR and PM’s marketing plans are for these products. Some tobacco users will likely see them as a way of getting nicotine when they are unable to smoke (on airplanes, in theaters, etc.), and others may see them as a way of weaning themselves off cigarettes entirely.… Continue reading →

Ewwww, that’s gross! A New Era in U.S. Cigarette Labeling

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD

OK, admit it – you have no idea what current cigarette packs in the U.S. have to say about the dangers of tobacco use. I’ve been working in this field for nearly 30 years and I’m not really sure, either. And we’re not alone – very few of us remember that they say things like “Quitting Smoking Now Greatly Reduces Serious Risks to Your Health” in very tiny letters and are virtually hidden on one side of the pack. [more]

But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just announced that the era of small, wordy, nearly invisible cigarette pack warnings is over. Beginning in September 2012, cigarette packs in the U.S. will be required to cover the top 50% of the front and back of every pack with graphic depictions of the consequences of tobacco use and warnings, in large letters, that say things such as “Cigarettes Cause Cancer” and “Smoking Can Kill You.”

You can go here to see all nine of the images and warnings that will be on the packs starting next year. But beware – tobacco industry opponents of the new warnings have called them things like “ghoulish,” “grisly,” and “ghastly,” and for once, they’re not entirely wrong.… Continue reading →

Quitting with a Little Help from Your Friends?

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD

It’s no secret that trying to quit smoking is hard. It can trigger irritability, anxiety, depression, and all sorts of other unpleasant emotions and physical feelings. But quitting is one of the most important things you can do for your health, and for the health of others. 


Sometimes smokers who want to quit are told that they should get their social network –the people around them — to help, maybe by announcing to friends and family that they’re going to quit, and asking for their support. [more]


That support could be emotional — listening to the smoker vent frustrations, providing encouragement, or simply being extra tolerant of crabbiness caused by nicotine withdrawal. It could also be practical, like helping out with tasks when withdrawal symptoms get to be too much, or providing a distraction when a craving hits.


Support Linked to Success


Research shows that people desperately want to help their loved ones quit and often contact telephone hotlines and other cessation resources for information on how to help. The question is, does this support really make a difference? If so, it’s something we should encourage.


To find out, we need to look at the research evidence.… Continue reading →

Electronic Cigarettes – Boon, Bane, Blessing, or Boondoggle?

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it is taking steps to regulate electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as tobacco products, acting under its authorities in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009.


That’s got everybody talking about these rather strange devices, which have become increasingly popular over the past few years.


E-cigarettes resemble a standard cigarette but use a battery and an atomizer to heat a solution which, when inhaled, delivers vaporized nicotine to the user. They have been described both as a miracle answer to the devastating effects of cigarette smoking and as a grave danger to public health.


As with so many highly celebrated, or reviled, products, their true nature likely lies somewhere in between. Let’s consider what many are saying about these devices.


Conflicting Viewpoints


Those who favor e-cigarettes list as benefits:


  • Their ability to deliver nicotine to the user without many of the other 7,000+ chemicals in a regular, burned cigarette;


  • Their absence of secondhand cigarette smoke;


  • Their resemblance to regular cigarettes, which provide the tactile and visual sensations – holding them in a certain way, a glowing tip, blowing smoke, etc.
Continue reading →

Want to quit smoking? Here’s how.

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD

“I think I can. I think I can. I know I can. I know I can.” These words are a familiar refrain to the millions of Americans who want to quit smoking. We promise ourselves that this is the year that we are going to get healthier, to save more money, or to be nicer to our friends and family. But there are so many challenges – it’s too cold or rainy to exercise, I need that dress or that app, and who could be nice to Uncle Jack?

Yet there is good news if you are among the 45 million American adults who is still a smoker. You can become healthier, save more money, and do something wonderful for your friends and family- you can stop smoking.


How can stopping smoking make you healthier? Short-term, the effects of stopping are immediate – your blood pressure drops, your blood begins to flow more smoothly, and your lungs begin to clear out. Long-term, your risk of 15 types of smoking-related cancers is reduced, and your risk of a variety of smoking-related heart and lung diseases begin to resemble those of a nonsmoker.

How can stopping smoking save you money?… Continue reading →