Here is a letter I e-mailed today to the Food and Drug Administration. Tomorrow is the deadline to comment on the FDA’s new powers to regulate tobacco products, created by a bill Barack Obama signed earlier this year. This is an exciting bill that has a lot of potential to make some real headway toward reducing smoking and use of tobacco products.

And letters can work! A couple of years ago, I was outraged to find a ad for Natural American Spirit (NOT an Indian cigarette brand, BTW. Actually, RJ Reynolds.) cigarettes in my daughter’s Discovery Magazine. I wrote an angry letter to the magazine, telling them this is a magazine read by kids and stocked by many schools and they wrote back apologizing, informing me they had banned all cigarette advertising and I got a free year’s subscription for my wrath.

As an aside. These are numbers that I find shockingly few people are aware of. About 15,000 people every year die in the U.S. from using illegal drugs. About 30,000 die every year from abusing prescription drugs. About 100,000 people every year die from alcohol (that includes both liver disease and DUI fatalities). More than 400,000 people every year die from tobacco. That’s nearly triple all the people who die from alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription drugs combined.

That 400,000 number may be slightly exaggerated. It likely includes people who smoked for 20 or 30 years, quit smoking, then died at the age of 90 from a stroke. But, this is not an exaggeration: 130,000 smokers die every year just from lung cancer, over 100,000 die every year from COPD (emphysema and chronic pneumonia). That’s nearly a quarter million smoking Americans every year dying just from lung disease.

Anyway, it’s an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. This is my letter to the FDA:

I am writing to comment on the impending FDA regulations on tobacco products.

Thank you for taking up this major endeavor. I hope the FDA makes a real difference in this matter that will genuinely save some lives.

Let me tell  you my background. I lost my father, a four-pack-a-day smoker,  to lung cancer when he was 49. He was diagnosed with emphysema two years before his death, but continued to smoke. He literally smoked up until the day he died. I was 16 when he died. My mother, a two-pack-a-day smoker, continued to smoke after his death, lying to people that he died of Hodgkin’s Disease.  She has suffered cervical cancer, a heart attack and is now seriously ill with COPD. She has been hospitalized multiple times with bronchitis and pneumonia. She must carry a respirator with her at all times. She refuses to go to movies or get on an airplane, because that would mean going more than an hour without a cigarette. She literally starts to have panic attacks if she has to go more than an hour without a cigarette. She is an addict. It is every bit as painful to watch as a heroin addict.

I grew up with chronic bronchitis and asthma, for at least six to eight weeks every year for the first 25 years of my life. I had pneumonia twice in my 20s. I also had chronic ear infections as a child. Multiple surgeries were done, removing my tonsils, adenoids, putting tubes in my ears, all to no avail. I have now lost perhaps 50 percent of my hearing in one ear because of the damage done. These conditions were caused, in my opinion and the opinion of at least two of my doctors, to daily exposure to up to six packs a day of secondhand smoke when I was a child. Fortunately, thanks to treatment and proper diagnosis, the bronchitis has cleared up and the asthma is no longer a major factor in my life.

I write with strong feelings about tobacco and the need to regulate it. Genuinely regulate it. Regulations with teeth and with purpose. My personal motivation is not vengeance for what happened to my family, but I want to prevent it from happening to others. The best way to do that is through education and keeping kids from starting up smoking or chewing. They can’t get addicted to nicotine if they don’t start to begin with.

I personally don’t think it would be effective to ban tobacco products. That would only serve to turn 45 million nicotine addicts into criminals; and would bring organized crime into trafficking tobacco. But, here’s what I would like to see – at minimum:

1) I personally would like to see all cigarette advertising banned. This includes billboards, magazine ads and displays in stores. I know the FDA is considering a proposal to allow advertising with only text. That would be acceptable by me only if advertising were allowed only in adult magazines such as Hustler or Penthouse. Tobacco companies spend a lot of money advertising in magazines directed at young people, in particular young women, in magazines such as Vogue and InStyle. Vogue and InStyle are primarily read by young women and teens, and the tobacco industry is well aware of this. A “text only” rule would not suffice to keep children from being exposed to cigarette advertising.

I particularly like the no “power wall” rules in Canada and Great Britain. While traveling in Canada, I found it refreshing that you didn’t see an entire wall of tobacco product advertising behind the counter in every mini-mart.

I know cigarette advertising has been banned on television and restrictions have been placed on liquor advertising in magazines and newspapers by other agencies, so I do believe it has been shown the federal government has the power to impose such restrictions.

As I’m sure the FDA likely knows, there has been a discouraging “flatlining” in the drop in the national smoking rate. It is stubbornly stuck at 20 percent, and there has not been the drop-off in teen smoking as was anticipating during the 1998 tobacco master settlement agreement. I believe this is because kids are still exposed to tobacco advertising from a variety of courses. Since 1998, tobacco companies may have retired Joe Camel, but they are spending more than ever on advertising, looking for new, young customers. The best weapon to stop the stubborn persistence of teen smoking to to stop the advertising.

2) I thank the FDA for banning candy-flavored cigarettes, but I would also like to see this rule applied to cigars and to chewing tobacco.

3) I would like to see more graphic warnings on tobacco products, similar to what Canada and European countries have done. I have no problem with photos of diseased lungs or cancer-ridden mouths being required to be placed on packaging.

4) I would like to see studies done on the effectiveness of lowering nicotine content in cigarettes. I know there is some controversy over this, because some would argue that lowering nicotine levels would only encourage smokers to smoke more to get the same levels of nicotine. Still, lower levels of nicotine would also make it more difficult for young smokers to become addicted in the first place.

5) I would like to see studies done on whether it is feasible to lower the levels of arsenic, strychnine, benzene, formaldehyde, polonium-210 and thousands of other poisonous substances in tobacco products. If it is feasible, then the industry should be required to remove or lower the presence of these substances.

6)  I do not know if the FDA has this authority, but I would like to see the agency’s attorneys look into this. I would like to see a nationwide indoor smoking ban, in restaurants and bars both. Not only because it would protect the public and hospitality workers, but because it also helps change the “conventional wisdom” that smoking in public is cool and hip. Call it social engineering, but having to go outside to smoke is a genuine deterrent.

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Pepe, so sorry to hear what you’ve had to endure but this article and your letter are a powerful testament to your will, determination and principle. Well done!

I stand in awe of people such as you who can deal with such difficulty as you have and come through it all almost matter-of-factly and with such a sense of purpose.

On a tangential issue, the epidemic of cancer in the U.S. is reflective of how corporations are pretty much free to poison us through our food, water and air with little interference from government.

It is a victory that the tobacco companies were finally sanctioned and regulated but after how many millions of lives were ruined?

The sad thing is that it is not until the amount of destruction is overwhelming that the government steps in to say, “You really should stop.”

And even then, as you note, the destruction is allowed to continue in myriad ways.

Thanks for writing such a strong and effective letter, I hope you’ll get a worthy reply and if so, you’ll update us on any reply you receive.


Fortunately my parents weren’t big smokers, but I can certainly relate to addictiveness of smoking.
You remember my son who just had lung surgery? He hasn’t had the stitches out and somehow got hold of a pack of Marlboros.
Nothing any of us have said or done will stop him.
I still smoke a bit, American Spirits…It’s one of the legal drugs I do, caffeine, nicotine and sugar.
I quit for many years and then started up again.
Quitting is a very personal journey, that must come from your own desire and choice. It’s one of the hardest things to do.


Great letter, Pepe. I’m glad you were able to impact that magazine too! I’m one of those ex-smokers who can’t stand the smell of smoke any more. I started at age 13 to be cool and smoked for 19 years. It’s been about that long now since I quit. I remember being a basket case for awhile when I quit, feeling skinless and hyper-emotional, but I kicked the damn things out of my life.

Now my beloved young nephew smokes. He started in his early teens as well. What really galls me is the fact that they aim their advertising at teenagers — those most likely to start smoking. I don’t give my nephew a lot of shit about it (who am I to do that?) but I tell him about my experiences with that addiction and how much better I felt after I’d quit.


Go to the award thing by AdLib, and follow the directions.
Then read the comments whereby AdLib explains further.
TYVM, j’avaz has left the building.


I personally know how all the smokers here feel. I was a smoker for many years and am a nice non-smoker. Truth is I am never sure that I will not pick up a pack on any given day and start again. I enjoyed smoking and was always considerate of others who did not smoke, hell I tried to blow the other way even with smokers. Because of my addiction, I never try to tell others to stop unless they ask me. I know how they feel and it sure took me a long time to stop. I do, however, agree alcohol is


I hit the wrong key…………..but I agree Alcohol is a bad drug as well. I have seen many a life destroyed because of alcoholism.


Pepe, I have to say thank you for writing and sharing your letter to the FDA with us. As you probably know, I’m an RN and have spent 21 years at the same hospital seeing over and over again the nearly indescribable misery that smoking causes. To patients and to families.

Like you, I have enormous sympathy for anyone struggling with this addiction. It is truly one of the most powerful I have even seen. Heroin, oxycontin and morphine are close.

These tobacco companies are really dreadful. How are they different from a drug cartel? When we talk taxes, I hope there’s consideration given to taxing these guys. Any capital gains/dividends from selling tobacco stock ought to be taxed at 100%.Tobacco company executives ought to be prohibited from making more than $50,000/yr (if that)–and no perks. No stock options, private jets or company paid meetings in Honolulu.

As with other drugs, most people have sympathy with the users; it’s the pushers they want to get rid of.

Every smoker I’ve cared for has said that they rue the day they ever picked up their first cigarette. I’ve heard of people who’ve lost their fingertips due to Reynaud’s disease (smoking related) holding their cigarettes with the stubs of fingers that remained. I’ve heard of people smoking through their tracheostomy tubes, after their larynges have been destroyed by smoking-caused cancer. This is a wretched way to live and, especially, to die.

We really need to do something.

(And a topic for another day entirely is alcohol abuse and the destruction THAT drug wreaks…. don’t even get me started!)

Still and all, along with the other nurses at our hospital, I feel the rule is: “Love the smoker, hate the cigarettes and their pushers.” And I know you feel the same way, Pepe!


Thank you, Kesmarn, for a very sensitive comment! I also am a registered nurse (retired) and have seen the same thing. I guess it’s the stigma that I resent so much, having experienced the sneers and glares of pompous ex-smokers. There doesn’t seem to be that same stigma associated with alcohol…and I’m like you! Don’t get me started!


Yes, Emerald! One person said to me (regarding the “glares of pompous ex-smokers”): “There’s nothing worse than a reformed sinner!” There’s truth in that.

I actually believe that everyone is addicted to something. It may be diet soda, salt, cleaning one’s house, shopping, controlling other people, video games, television, you name it. It’s just that some addictions are more fashionable or socially acceptable than others.

I may have to try to find a PlanetPOV support group……


Pepe, I smoke like a chimney, don’t inhale, my chest ex-ray this year was clear, how strange. I’ve been smoking since I was 15.


That’s another thing that I loved about Europe.
No politically correct and smoking!!!


Oh Pepe! I’m sorry for your losses. I have smoked for years…and I only wish I had HALF the money back that I’ve spent trying to quit. Pills, patches, gum, filters, 21-day programs, groups, hypnosis, all to no avail. I am considering asking my doctor for the new drug, Chantix, to give it another go. But there is a down-side to the drug, severe depression! I certainly don’t need that.

While I can appreciate your point here, I can tell you that it is hell to be so addicted and to be prohibited from smoking. It’s absolute misery…the addiction controls your life.

I do agree with you about the advertising though. That would help to prevent teens from starting! I rue the day I picked up the first one but I thought it was “cool”!


I am so relieved that you posted about being a smoker.
It takes a lot of courage nowadays to admit to being a smoker, since smokers are treated like the teabaggers, or drug addicts, or the scum of the earth.
I know, because I’m a smoker, too.
Here’s what I do though to cut down –
I never smoke anywhere except in my home or when we go camping.
I do not smoke in our vehicles or in public, ever.
Well, I take that back – when we go to my sister-in-laws’ homes or friends’ homes that smoke, I pack my ciggies and smoke.
The fun thing at Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s, was the minute we sat down, her husband said to me, “Welcome, Happy Thanksgiving, have some wine, and smoke ’em if you got ’em!”
I have always respected nonsmokers, and was actually a nonsmoker for roughly a year a few years back when I did manage to kick the habit.
But when I did quit smoking for that year, I never treated smokers like scum.
I allowed smokers to smoke in my home.
Funny about that now though, now that I’ve lapsed and smoke again, is that when people come over that smoke, we all go outside, because even I cannot tolerate heavy smoke.
And no matter what anyone says, and Pepe will disagree with me, but there is no scientific proof that second hand smoke has ever caused lung cancer in a non-smoker.
Sure, it can cause other problems, such as asthma, which can lead to bronchitis, but second hand smoke does not cause lung cancer.
Oh, and when I did quit smoking, I went cold turkey without any help from pharmaceuticals, because pharmaceutical companies prey on people and offer meds for every single thing, but that’s another article for another time.
I enjoy smoking in my home, and my husband is a former smoker, and he smokes occasionally – cigars and even a cigarette – and yeah, yeah, I know I should quit, but it’s one of my pleasures in life.
And my smoking in my home or when we camp or go to other smokers’ homes does not affect anyone but me.
And cheeses, stop with the taxes already on cigarettes!!!!


Thanks for posting that, javaz. At least, I have a little company here. I’m not quite as disciplined as you are but the one thing I try to do is to be considerate of other people who do not smoke. I will not smoke in someone else’s car or home unless invited to do so.

I have to agree with you on the tax part too. This is just an additional burden for poorer people. The rich can afford the taxes and don’t care. They will smoke anyway.


Gosh Emerald, no smoking at a dinner table, always ask, if one person says no, I go outside.


Absolutely! I would never do that unless my host was a smoker and lit up first.


I’m incredibly self-conscious and considerate about that. It’s a private thing; my quiet time to reflect and be alone, anyway.


Great Pepe. Thank you – this is near and dear to my heart as well. I grew up in a 4 pack/day HH. Dad died of adenocarcinoma at age 65 after working in the shipyards and being exposed to asbestos. Mom died at age 67 of oat cell carcinoma, solely from smoking.

Me? I have blebs on one lung, which has collapsed four times (but not for decades now). I can NEVER scuba dive; my greatest love in the world is snorkeling in the Caribbean. I’ll never be able to go further than the surface.

I spent 20 years as a litigation paralegal – much of it on asbestos work. I read the “secret” memos – how they knew decades back of the dangers, and the combined synergistic effect w/ cigarettes.

My mom watched my dad die over a 6 month period, sitting in her kitchen, puffing away and playing solataire. I learend she tried to quit – back then, it was Nicorette only as an option. She didn’t make it.

I feel cigarettes robbed me of both my parents, God love ’em. And it has robbed me of a dream I had as well.

The companies – although sales were “down” stateside – made more money than ever a few decades ago by selling their coffin nails overseas, in China, Phillipines, etc. So their “poor us” routine was a sham.

I’ll do this now, because I am leaving to take the boys to Austin for a fun night of mirth and music. (KQuark: thinking of you!)

Thanks again.


I was at the airport in Los Cabos, Baja in September. It was amazing to see all the people carrying around see through bags with multiple cartons of cigarretes with a very big “Smoking Kills” warning on the sides of the smokes. I wrestled with this problem for years and I know it is an addiction. Like any addiction, you have to be fully committed to stopping the cycle or you will never overcome it. Funny, how quickly the “side effects” go away when you quit, though. At least for me that was the case.


Excellent letter, Pepe. Your personal story is so compelling, it will certainly leave a strong impression on anyone who reads it. People like you who are willing to share personal struggles do so much for the rest of us.

And thank you for this heads up. I will make every effort to add a comment before tomorrow’s deadline. You’ve give a lot of useful information here that I can include.

Thanks so much.