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President handed fast-track authority for trade deals

| June 26, 2015

In what is being seen by some as a major victory for US President Obama, the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday voted 60-38 for legislation granting the president fast-track authority to complete trade deals, according to a story on National Public Radio (NPR).

Such authority means that trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently being negotiated away from the public eye, mainly by corporate representatives, will be fast tracked through Congress, which will be allowed to vote yes or no to the deal but not to offer amendments.

The TPP and other trade agreements often include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms, which have been condemned by some politicians as anything from a charter for big corporations to rip off taxpayers to an attack on democracy. The Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, writing in The Hill, said the US should not be signing trade agreements that could be used as a basis for action to prevent democratically passed public health laws from taking effect.

And the US democrat, Elizabeth Warren, described ISDS as an obscure process that allowed big companies to go to corporate-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside any court system in order to challenge laws they don’t like. These panels, she said, could force taxpayers to write huge checks to big corporations without those corporations having to file suits in court, and with no chance of an appeal or judicial review.

Meanwhile, the NPR reported that, on the same day that the Senate passed the fast-track legislation, it approved also Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) legislation, which is aimed at helping displaced workers.

The TAA legislation had been backed strongly by the White House and Democrats and was expected to clear the House of Representatives.

Earlier this month, House Democrats defeated the TAA legislation in an attempt to derail fast track authority.

Smokers still a substantial minority within EU

| June 25, 2015

Figures from a just-released Eurobarometer survey indicates that 26 percent of EU residents are current smokers, down from 28 percent in 2012, according to a story in Malta Today, relayed by the TMA.

The survey was conducted among nearly 28,000 residents of the EU’s 28 nations.

Sweden, with 11 percent, and Finland, with 19 percent, were found to have the lowest proportions of smokers, while Greece, with 38 percent, and Bulgaria, with 35 percent, had the highest.

Twelve percent of EU residents have tried e-vapor products, the survey found, up from seven percent in 2012, while two percent use them.

Four percent of current EU smokers also use e-vapor products, with the highest rate of dual use found in the UK (11 percent), France (eight percent), Denmark (seven percent) and the Netherlands (seven percent).

Three percent of former smokers use e-vapor products, with the highest rates found in the UK (eight percent), Ireland (six percent) and France (six percent).

No more than one percent of never smokers in any country are current electronic cigarette users.

Meanwhile, Ireland, with 74 percent, Cyprus, with 73 percent, and Malta, with 69 percent, had the largest proportions of survey respondents who supported banning corporate colors, logos and promotional elements from tobacco product packaging.

Such packaging restrictions had the lowest level of support in the Netherlands (43 percent) and Bulgaria (45 percent).

Sweden, with 70 percent, Finland, with 68 percent, and Malta, with 67 percent, had the largest proportions of respondents in favor of increasing taxes on tobacco products, while support for higher taxes was lowest in France (39 percent), Greece (41 percent) and Bulgaria (43 percent).

The survey findings are at: http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_429_en.pdf (Malta Today 6/23).

Malaysia aims to cut retail tobacco outlet numbers

| June 25, 2015

Malaysia has adopted two main strategies to eventually make the entire country a smoking-free zone, according to a story in The Sun Daily citing a statement by the Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

One strategy was to increase, in stages, the country’s smoking-free areas, while the other was to reduce the number of places where cigarettes could be sold.

“These are two of the strategies to control and reduce the number of smokers,” Subramaniam was quoted as saying.

“Eventually, we are hopeful that the country can be declared a smoking-free zone although we do not know when that can be realised.”

Speaking during a news conference in Putrajaya, Subramaniam said another long-term measure was to raise the price as well as the duty on cigarettes.

As part of the event, the minister handed over certificates of appreciation to six retailers and traders who had voluntarily stopped selling cigarettes at their premises.

Praising the initiative by the shopkeepers, Subramaniam said he hoped that more retailers and traders in Putrajaya, the federal government administrative center, would emulate their example.

He said that as a ministry responsible for maintaining the health of the people, it was only proper that greater restrictions on smoking be enforced at the ministry itself.

As such, he said, since the monitoring and enforcement of restrictions on smoking were implemented at the ministry on May 1, 13 notices of offences and seven warnings had been issued.

Furthermore, all staff at the ministry who smoked had been instructed to attend programs aimed at helping them to give up the habit, while employees who did not smoke were being told of the dangers of cigarette smoke, he said.

Growers urged to use courts to get their money

| June 25, 2015

Uganda’s Parliamentary Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on Tuesday told tobacco growers to sue Continental Tobacco Uganda for allegedly disregarding the House Committee on Agriculture’s 2013 directive to pay five billion shillings (US$1.5 million) to the growers for tobacco they supplied to the company between 2011 and 2012, according to a story by Nelson Wesonga for Monitor, relayed by the TMA.

Their lawsuit she said, should seek not only the money owed to them, but also general damages for failure to pay them, special damages for loss of income, and interest – so that the company felt the pressure.

Kedaga made her suggestions during a meeting with about 30 tobacco growers from Kibaale District.

Some non-smokers take up habit during Ramadan

| June 25, 2015

Although the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is often seen as providing an opportunity for Muslims to quit tobacco smoking, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the month might be marked by an increase in smoking, according to an Indo-Asian News Agency story quoting the Khaleej Times and published in the Business Standard.

“We spend more time in the lively atmosphere of restaurants [during Ramadan],” said the UAE-based Indian doctor, Sunil Sheshadri, who works at Abu Dhabi’s NMC Healthcare. “As a result, a marked increase in tobacco consumption occurs due to shisha smoking.

“Non-smokers too admit to indulging in post-meal shishas as part of the tradition of gathering with friends and family until the early hours.”

But in warning of the ill-effects of smoking shisha, Joseph Kurian, head of cardiology at Abu Dhabi’s Lifeline Hospital, said one session of shisha was the equivalent of smoking about 20 cigarettes, and so should not be taken lightly.

“It has a drastic effect on health as it aggravates cardiac problems and worsens blood pressure,” Kurian added.

Smoking down but vaping up among US’ youngsters

| June 24, 2015

While the incidence of cigarette smoking among young people of middle- and high-school age has fallen in the US, the use of electronic cigarettes has more than doubled in three years, according to the results of a federal survey relayed by HealthDay.

The 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey found that 25 percent of high school students had used a tobacco product [taken to include electronic cigarettes] during the month prior to the survey’s being undertaken. The survey found also that one in 13 young people of middle-school age had admitted to using a ‘tobacco product’ during the month.

Between 2011 and 2014, the proportion of young people smoking cigarettes fell from 16 percent to nine percent. During the same time hookah use among high school students doubled.

Of the 4.6 million young people who admitted using ‘tobacco’, 2.4 million used electronic cigarettes.

This was said to be the first time that electronic cigarette use had been found to have exceeded the use of every other ‘tobacco product’.

Two point two million young people said they had used more than one tobacco product during the past month.

‘One thing the study confirms for us is that the tobacco product landscape has changed dramatically,’ Benjamin Apelberg, branch chief of epidemiology at FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said in a press note.

‘Middle- and high-school kids are using novel products like e-cigarettes and hookahs in unprecedented numbers, and many are using more than one kind of tobacco product.’

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