Thursday, November 15, 2018

Tobacco Harm Reduction Takes a Hit in Minnesota

We've all heard the heartbreaking news that over 480,000 Americans die from smoking related causes every year. We've also heard the projections that a BILLION people around the world will die from smoking this century. Heartbreaking to think of so many early deaths, so many families grieving for loved ones. So much money spent on the health effects of smoking. 

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is a proven strategy in countries like the UK and Sweden, and if America had any brains at all, we would follow the lead of these countries and embrace THR ourselves. These products help smokers switch to a safer alternative, and don't pose a risk to people who are around smokers.

When it comes to THR, the United States has taken a more cautious approach. As a matter of fact, we've gotten way off track here in America. We forgot the war was on smoking, and have switched our focus to nicotine, which is a stimulant much like caffeine is. Because we've forgotten about the war on smoking and changed our strategy to a war on nicotine, we are going to see more needless deaths than we should be seeing.

Minnesota is a prime example. We have gone down the path of restricting adults access to THR products which are legal in MN. We are doing that one city and county at a time. From banning adults from being able to purchase a flavored THR product anywhere they can buy a cigarette, to banning some adults from purchasing any THR products, to restricting where some people can buy THR products, we're a mixed bag of regression and oppression here in Minnesota.

Just this week the city of Brooklyn Center passed an ordinance that restricts the purchase of some THR products to adult only stores, while leaving it legal to buy a pack of cigarettes at the corner gas station, the local grocery store, and the neighborhood pharmacy. It will now be easier in Brooklyn Center to purchase the cigarettes that can kill you, than it will be to buy things like vapor technology that can help people quit smoking and save lives.

Also this week Ottertail County, MN decided to circumvent the jurisdiction of cities to pass ordinances over THR products (THR is lumped in with tobacco in MN) and ban young adults from purchasing THR products by calling their new ordinance a "Public Health" ordinance instead of a "Tobacco" ordinance. The county has now decided to tell all cities in it's borders that young adults can not buy products that can help them quit smoking for reasons of "Public Health". What is healthy about that?

I'm not sure what the lawmakers in MN are thinking (or smoking?), or if there is something weird in our water, but it breaks my heart to see our leaders making it hard or illegal for adults to purchase the products that can help them switch from smoking to a safer alternative. Are we telling our citizens that even though we say they should quit smoking, secretly we hope they never will?

Thursday, August 30, 2018

What happened to the war on smoking?

There was a time everyone believed smoking was safe. Then along came the Royal College of 
Physicians proclamation that it wasn’t and the war on smoking was born. What happened to the war 
on smoking and why aren’t the declining numbers of smokers being celebrated?

Between government funded (taxpayer) health departments and nonprofit health / tobacco control 
organizations, it is mind boggling the millions of dollars that are spent on tobacco control in this 
country. Where does the money come from? Some states use a small portion of the Master 
Settlement Agreement (MSA) payments.

Nonprofits also receive donations from citizens and corporations. The pharmaceutical industry often 
donates to health orientated organizations. This includes companies who manufacture everything from 
nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products, to quit smoking medications, to cancer treatments. Is
this a conflict of interest? If you make products that are supposed to help people quit smoking or 
survive cancer, what happens if everyone quits smoking?

I’m starting to wonder when fingers are going to be pointed at the pharmaceutical industry, the 
anti-tobacco groups, and our government? Why is it that NRT products and medications have such a 
low rate of success in helping smokers quit? People are told if they fail to quit smoking to keep trying 
even if it takes them 30 tries to quit.

What a merry go round of job security this makes! Pharma companies have a few success stories to 
brag about, most smokers will fail to quit and have to buy smoking cessation products many times, 
while pharma companies look like the good guys for donating to organizations that want to prevent 
people from smoking. These organizations have worked for decades to solve the problem of smoking 
related death and disease, and even though we have less smokers, we haven’t solved the problem.

There’s a new kid on the block that's helping people to quit smoking. It’s called vapor technology. A 
product that is not made by the pharmaceutical industry. This is a product that has a much higher 
success rate of helping smokers quit than traditional NRT products and cessation medications. Vaping 
is not FDA approved for quitting smoking, and even though there is no tobacco in vapor products, the 
FDA deemed it a tobacco product. 

NRT Product vs. Vapor Product

As more people quit smoking and make the switch to 95% safer vaping, tobacco companies are 
making less money. States are bringing in less tobacco taxes, and there is less money handed out in 
MSA payments. Less people are using NRTs and prescriptions to quit smoking, so the pharmaceutical 
companies are making less money. As more people quit smoking (or never start) the whole health care
industry will make less money as fewer and fewer people get smoking related illnesses or cancer. 
Fewer people with cancer means less surgeries and hospitalizations, less chemo and radiation and 
less medications - which brings us right back to the pharmaceutical industry.

Why do the nonprofits who waged war on smoking (which kills people) now wage war on nicotine 
(which doesn’t kill people)? Do they want everyone to quit smoking or just enough people to look like 
they are accomplishing something? Why is the nicotine in vapor products the focus of attention? It is 
the same nicotine that is in NRT products. Why are these organizations screaming about the dangers 
of nicotine in vapor products when the FDA says the nicotine in NRT products is safe to use for an 
unlimited amount of time? What happens to these nonprofit groups and political campaign funds if the 
pharmaceutical companies stop donating?

Maybe we need to start paying closer attention to Big Government and Big Pharma. The pharma 
industry has touted their products for years to help people quit smoking and too many smokers have 
failed to quit. Vaping is not a pharmaceutical product. Vaping is the CONSUMER solution to the 
tobacco problem. People like it and it works.

It’s starting to feel like most of you should keep smoking, because somebody needs the money. If you 
die in the process, you are just a casualty of war. And it’s not the war on smoking, it’s the war on what 
money is in whose pocket.

If you end up to be one of those casualties, may you rest in peace. I'm sorry money was more 
important than your life.

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Twenty One - What if we limit adulting to just one age?

Is anyone in this country getting confused about who can do what at what age? When you are an adult depends on where you live in the United States and what you can do is often limited by what state, county, and city you live in. You're a kid in one location and an adult in another. What a confusing message we are sending to the younger generation!

I have a solution to this problem. Let's just make the legal adult age 21. Let's ban young people from all things that can damage their health or well-being until they are 21. Let's remove all things from their lives that might teach them unacceptable values until they are 21. Let's wrap our young in an innocent cocoon of bliss and shield them from everything until they are 21.

We have lots of do-gooder busy bodies out there lobbying for our health and to save the children / young adults from so many things. Let's make their lives easier and just change the whole kittenkabboodle to 21. Let's address a few of the many things that cause harm in one form or another to young people. This will begin our list of what to ban anyone under 21 from having access to...

No cell phones until 21. Too many young people use electronics to cyber bully others. They do things like share naked pictures of each other (sexting), they use it as a way to find out where parties are and go out drinking. Kids make drug deals with cell phones.

How about no TV, computers or tablets until 21? There is too much violence and sex on the TV. Kids are sitting around, filling their minds full of garbage and getting fat. They are getting lazy. Send them out into the fresh air and have them get some exercise. We'll have less behavior problems in our schools when kids have burnt off some of that energy while protecting their minds from the junk on TV. Computers and tablets would ONLY be used for educational activities before the age of 21. The internet is a land mine of filth and ugly things that children should not be exposed to.

We also should ban video games until our young people are 21. Well, maybe we could allow some educational ones for when the weather is too bad to go outside. Video games are violent, sexualized, full of stereo types, have drinking and smoking in them, and don't teach our young people about life.  Is your under 21 going to whine about being bored? Hand them a good book, give them a chore list, and if they are old enough have them go get a job.

Let's ban all sugar until 21. Obesity is is a HUGE problem and a major public health concern. No pop, no cake, no cookies, and certainly not allow them to drink those chemical laden energy drinks! We should also ban white flour. We should pass laws on how many carbs and empty calories we can feed our kids. We should ban candy and ice cream being served to our children. We should just make a national menu that is healthy and everyone with kids follow it. No independent choice of what to eat or drink until you are 21.

No sex before 21. Young people shouldn't be making babies and risking getting diseases until they are an adult and understand the risks and responsibilities.

No marriage before 21. That's a huge step in life, and people should wait until their brain is more developed before making a major life decision.

Imagine no drivers license until you're 21 because too many young people get in accidents, causing property damage, injuries and death. How much money would be saved? How many lives would be spared?

You'd wait until 21 to take out a loan or get your own checking account or a credit card. Want to go to college? No problem, have Mom or Dad take out a loan, you'd be their responsibility! Better yet, let's just keep all young people in school until they are 21. Mandatory minimum first 2 years of college education.

We already restrict drinking to 21. Why not make it that way for EVERYTHING? Voting, making medical decisions, owning a gun, smoking, buying a home, signing a contract, and joining the military.

Let's "do the right" thing and treat people like they are a child until they are 21. Think of all the children we'd be protecting from the adult world! Would they be wiser, make better decisions, and have more common sense? Will the world be a better place if we make them wait until 21 when their young brains are more developed before they step out into the adult world? Would any of them be any healthier or safer?

Oh, but wait!  At one time in history, 21 was the legal age. Unfortunately, back in the good old days we still had underage drinking, smoking, sex, and gambling. We still had obese people and people polluting the air and people shooting each other. We still had addicts and thieves. We had child molesters and abusive people. 21 did not solve any of those problems.

When are you an adult? When are you mature and knowledgeable enough to understand what it means to take something away from an adult and start treating them like a child? Are you willing to ban someone from something that could save their life and make them wait until they are 21? There are always unintended consequences to prohibition. As we pass more prohibitions, crime increases as the black market grows. Are you ready to accept the responsibility of being a party to the cause of illegal activities?

To all the young people out there, lobbying and protesting and fighting for things to be changed to age 21, are you willing for all young people to loose all rights, choices, and privileges they may want  until they are 21? Or are you only willing to see the age changed for things YOU'RE against? If you want to take away something that is legal from someone, then you should be willing to give up something that is important to you. If you're not willing to do that, why do you think you're entitled to tell others how they should live their life? 

Is freedom important to you?



Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Long Letter to Ms. Kimmel for MN House

Dear Ms. Kimmel,

What does a woman in New Ulm, MN have in common with a woman in Brainerd, MN? We are both seekers of common ground. We encourage others to focus on what we agree on instead of focusing on differences. I agree with you that we need more seeking of common ground in this country. We have become too divided, instead of remaining united.

Like you, I also live by the life lessons my family taught me. The biggest lessons they taught me was to "do the right thing" - even if it's not popular with others. They taught me to speak up for those who need a voice.

Like you, I often feel that our political system does not represent us and that our system has become toxic.

Like you, I am deeply concerned with modern politics where those who represent us toe the party line and choose to represent the party instead of us, the citizens of our communities, state, and country.

I love your efforts to hold Common Ground meetings in the communities in your district and I applaud your desire to be a leader and to march for a positive change.

In a short period of time, I was able to learn these things about you from your video on your campaign page, and from reading posts on your facebook page, and from your tweets. I saw many things that I liked about you and your campaign.

So what led my path to cross your path and brought me to the point of writing to you? Before I answer that question, I'd like to share with you my story. It will help you understand why I am the voice for the things I advocate for.

I am 59 years old. In my direct maternal line, I am the oldest one left. Smoking has contributed to the death of most of my elders. I sat with my Mom when she took her very last breath and left us. Heart disease and cancer robbed her of any type of quality of life for a long time, before those smoking related diseases took her from us.

I am a great-grandma and my family means the world to me. At 29 years old, my son almost died when he had a heart attack. He had to be airlifted to another hospital where an amazing medical team saved his life. The 1 hour drive to the hospital seemed like an eternity to me, as I had no way of knowing if my son would still be alive by the time I got there.  He was too young for a heart attack, he had no health issues that would contribute to a heart attack, except for 1 thing... He was a smoker and he had been smoking 2 packs a day for a few years. He started smoking when he was 18. I smoked, his dad smoked, just about all the important adults in his life smoked. 

He also had a lot of stress in his life. My son has a couple of non-visible disabilities that make working for others a challenge due to issues with social skills, ability to focus and manage time and prioritize what needs to be done. He struggles with getting "lost" as his whole life can rotate around anything he is obsessing about at the time.  Another disability makes it a struggle for him to handle any type of written communication. 

He is a Dad and his daughter lives with him during the week and with her Mom on weekends. At the time of his heart attack, he was unemployed. The doctor told him to quit smoking or he'd never see his little girl grow up. He had watched his Dad and I try to quit smoking many times over the years, we tried every method known to man! He watched us fail to quit over and over and over again. He has helped me rush his Dad to the emergency room when his Dad's COPD became so bad he was having trouble breathing.

My son had also tried quitting and that apple doesn't fall far from the tree as he also failed to quit. Then a miracle happened! He discovered vapor technology and he quit smoking! Between the stents in his heart and becoming smoke free, he felt better than he had felt in years.  

He then knew what he was supposed to do with his life, he was supposed to make sure other kids kept their parents and grandparents around as long as possible by helping others quit smoking. He decided to open a vape shop. He sold his truck, tools, electronics and anything else he could part with and with $5,000 he started a business. He opened his shop in the low income part of town, because people with lower incomes have a higher rate of smoking and he felt he could help the most people in that location. His prices are super low, as people in the area of his shop don't have much extra income. He struggles to stay in business because of how low his prices are, but he said he'd rather be a poor man with the right priorities, than be a rich man getting rich for no good reason. Yes, that was a proud parent moment!!!!

Because of his disabilities, my son needs some assistance. I post on his business facebook page for him. I often respond to emails for him. On Mondays and Thursdays I help type up orders to send to his vendors for him. I have never earned a dime from his business or any other vape business and I don't want to. 

I have my dream job working 3 a.m. - 9 a.m. at a group home, providing services to adult women with disabilities. I love my job and the contributions I make to the lives of these ladies, assisting them to live as independently as they can. I have every intention of working at the group home until I am too old to do so. I usually go to my son's vape shop when I get done with my job at the group home. A funny thing happened to this momma as I was helping my son, I became an ex-smoker, too. After smoking for over 40 years, my son begged me to try vaping and sure enough, I finally kicked the smoking habit!

My son started a second business, manufacturing e-liquid for his vape shop. He also sells it to a couple of other shops. The development of quality products that appealed to his customers was very important to him. I helped him develop the flavors of his liquids. There are those out there who claim that all these small businesses who developed flavored liquids are all big tobacco and they are trying to hook kids so they become smokers. That is so far from the truth, that I struggle to wrap my head around anyone saying this. 

There are some tobacco companies who make those fake cigarette looking things as part of the e-cigarette market, but most vape shops don't sell those. They sell open systems that customers fill with liquids and the majority of those liquids are made by small businesses. It is illegal to sell these products to children and it should be. Vapor Technology is to help adults quit smoking, to help them make the switch to something less harmful. 

I wrote about developing the flavors for my son: Confessions of an e-liquid mixologist and I hope you find the time to read it. Sometimes my son needs to leave his shop because of something his daughter has going on at school or he has an appointment. He has no employees at his shop in Brainerd, so I'll watch it for him while he is gone. I really enjoy these times and I especially enjoy his older customers. This leads me to a couple of more stories to share with you. One is here in my blog: Cotton Candy is not marketing to kids. The other one is a video and it's about a lady who quit smoking thanks to finding vaping: "I think you saved my life"

I was already busy in life volunteering for many things in my community and around the country. Advocacy was already an important part of my life. After my son's heart attack and seeing most of my family quit smoking thanks to vaping, one more thing just had to be added to my plate! I needed to become a champion of helping people quit smoking! I needed to help more families break free from the heart break my family has suffered. I needed to spare daughters of watching their Moms in pain, struggling to breath, too weak to go to the bathroom, sitting alone in the dark listening to their Mom's breath fade away. I needed to spare Mothers from having to make emergency trips to a distant hospital wondering if their child would be alive when they got there. I needed to spare little girls from crying as a helicopter lifts their Daddy into the sky, not knowing if they will ever see Daddy again.

These life events lead me to where I am now, an advocate for smokers. For a healthier life. For a way out. For a technology that has helped millions of people around the world quit smoking! I give a voice to those who choose to quit smoking, who need the right tools to achieve that goal, and who need a way to remain smoke free. The World Health Organization says a billion people will die this century from smoking. It is my mission to lower that number, 1 smoker at a time. And I am very proud to say, that I and many others like me, have made amazing progress towards that goal. We're saving lives, we are keeping families in tact, we are reducing harm to others, and we are lowering the medical burden that smoking causes society.

My passion for saving lives is where our paths have crossed. Tobacco 21 is a hotly debated topic in Minnesota. Some believe it will reduce the number of kids who smoke, some believe it will cause an increase. Some believe it's OK to not treat an adult like they are an adult, some strongly oppose that. Some believe in personal rights to choose, others believe it's OK to take away freedom of choice from an adult if it will prevent someone younger from making a bad choice. Even though I believe it's an adults right to choose what they do with their own bodies I don't oppose Tobacco 21 for that reason. I oppose it because it includes vapor technology. 

I believe that a younger adult has every right to access this life saving technology as much as an older adult does. I believe my son's cardiologist who says that vaping saved my son's life, because it helped him quit smoking. I believe that all Mothers should be able to recommend something to their adult children to help their adult children kick the smoking habit. I believe that parents should quit smoking so their kids aren't exposed to second hand smoke. There are many parents out there who are 18 - 20 years old and my belief that their babies should be free of the harms of 2nd hand smoke are strong and I would do anything in my power to help those young adult parents protect their babies by helping those parents quit smoking. 

February 26, 2018 The Journal had a letter to the editor 18 states have passed T21, we should too! which contained some information that wasn't accurate - starting with the headline. Please read the article and then click comments. You will see that I left a comment. And then, some one you might know left a comment about me. Her name is Heather Bregel and it says that she is the "Co-Campaign Manager at Mindy Kimmel for MN House". Here is a screen shot of her comment:

After Ms. Bregel felt it was appropriate to troll my facebook page and then write a derogatory comment about me and make accusations that are not true, I looked at her facebook page to try to learn what she is about and what might have made her say such things. I discovered a young woman who is very active in her community and in politics. She champions for some very important causes and provides a voice for those who need standing up for. I discovered I share a lot of common ground with her, too! I can only see the posts that are "public" because we are not facebook "friends", but what I could see made me think I would enjoy knowing this person because we share the need to stand up for what we believe in. I did NOT see the person who left the nasty comment about me. 

The reason I'm reaching out to you, Ms. Kimmel, is that I'd like to encourage you to encourage those representing you to become seekers of common ground, just like you are. I found Ms. Bregel's comment hurtful and offensive. As a mother who has had to bury so many loved ones because of smoking and who almost lost her son to smoking I guarantee that the last thing on earth I would ever do is market a tobacco product to a kid!!! I also would not market or encourage a kid to use a vapor product. 

It is common practice in the tobacco control / public health community to cross a line when it comes to their passion to eliminate smoking to make false accusations and bully society into conforming to their agenda. That comment made me feel bullied. It took a lot of restraint to not comment back in a way that would not be very professional. I had to back away from the computer for a bit and go searching for some common ground. I'm asking that Ms. Bregel also seek common ground. I can tell from one of her facebook posts that she opposes bullying: 

As someone who is seeking a leadership role in Minnesota, I am encouraging you to continue your message of asking people to find common ground. To not spread hate and intolerance, to find a base that we agree on and work on solutions based on that area of agreement. I can see that Ms. Bregel also encourages love to triumph over hate. I'd like to see you encourage those running your campaign to continue being passionate about what they believe in while avoiding making false claims about others. I think we can all agree that when it comes to our leaders and the people representing them, we desire to see more truth and transparency. We don't need hate, back stabbing, and lies paving the road to St. Paul. 

Feel free to explore my facebook page.. Will you find posts about vaping? Oh Yes! Lots of them. There will be information, there will be studies, and news articles. You might even find me sharing a post about my son's business. You will find posts about being kind to others, about things happening up here in Brainerd, about people with disabilities. What you won't find is posts by me encouraging kids to use tobacco or vapor products. Both are illegal for kids. We all know the life long problems that smoking can cause those young people. Vaping is not smoking. Vaping is for adults, to help them quit smoking, it is not a product for children. I have friends on facebook from around the world. Many have seen my posts about vaping, have tried it, and are now ex-smokers. I'll proudly wear that feather in my cap, I helped people quit smoking. 

If that makes me the bad gal (or guy as Ms. Bregel thinks I am), then we will struggle to find our common ground.

Kim "Skip" Murray
Tobacco Harm Reduction Specialist - Minnesota Smoke Free 
Board of Directors - Tobacco Harm Reduction 4 Life 
Mom, Aunt, Grandma, Great-Grandma
Advocate of Kindness, Compassion, Equal Rights, Open Access to Records, and Vapor Technology
Direct Service Professional - Achieving Independence
Former Co-Director - Unclaimed Persons