Thursday, April 15, 2004

Tobacco plant researched as a cure for cancer

Tobacco used to fight cancer

COULD the much-maligned tobacco plant be used to help cancer patients? A California biotech company says it can, and it has set up shop in tobacco country to prove it.

Large Scale Biology of Vacaville, California, has built a commercial "biopharmaceutical production facility" in Owensboro, Kentucky. It is one of a handful of companies harnessing plants to produce useful human proteins.

Genetic engineers already use many different ploys to manufacture human proteins, such as insulin and growth hormones. Often, they isolate a human gene that carries the code for making a protein and splice it into yeast or bacteria, which multiply in fermentation vats.

Other methods include putting genes into cancer cells, which grow endlessly in lab cultures, or into farm animals, which make the proteins in their milk.

Now, companies are doing the same thing by the acre. They hope molecular farming, as some call it, will be cheaper and more efficient.

"We borrow the plant's cellular machinery," said Barry Bratcher, Large Scale Biology's biomanufacturing director. "The plant is just a host for us."

Tobacco is a big bulky plant that produces lots of greenery, and it is one scientists have already had plenty of practice genetically manipulating in the lab.

Large Scale Biology has contracts with four local farmers to grow a combined 27 acres of tobacco for research. Tobacco is also grown in the company's five greenhouses in Owensboro.

"It is ironic that tobacco might actually be used to create health instead of reducing health," said chief executive officer Bob Erwin.

Already, the company has begun early-stage testing of a tobacco-produced vaccine intended to trigger the body's immune system to fight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Each dose would be a customised protein, made by mutant genes taken from the patient's own cancer cells.

In theory, the proteins should stimulate the body to turn against the cancer.

If the vaccine works, the company says it will produce a plant that can make 15000 individualised doses a year.

The company also is considering human testing of a treatment for Fabry's disease. The therapy is a tobacco-made copy of a normal human enzyme, needed to break down fats, that is missing in victims of the disease.

In earlier stages is a collaboration with the US Navy and the National Institutes of Health to use tobacco to make stem cells grow. The goal is to find a natural human protein that will multiply blood-forming stem cells that have been isolated from the bone marrow.

Stem cells are the source of all human tissue. Those taken from early-stage embryos can grow into any cell in the body, and they will divide forever in test tubes. However, because they are derived from embryos discarded during in vitro fertilisation, many people believe their use is unethical.

Adults also have stem cells. Even though they can be isolated from the brain and other organs, they are difficult to grow on demand.

A team of Navy and NIH researchers, led by Dr John Chute, is attempting to produce a protein that will make blood stem cells divide repeatedly in a test tube. They already have evidence that the body makes such a protein. The collaboration with Large Scale Biology is intended to find the gene responsible so it can be manufactured in quantity.

Chute said the protein could be extremely useful for conducting gene therapy to correct inherited blood diseases, such as sickle cell anaemia.

The idea: isolate a few of the exceedingly rare stem cells from the victim's marrow, then use the protein to produce many more copies of them. This will leave doctors with enough stem cells to attempt gene therapy, replacing the disease-causing genes with healthy copies. The repaired stem cells would be returned to repopulate the patient's marrow.

The work could also have wartime applications. Radiation and chemical weapons can destroy the bone marrow, leaving only a few stem cells. On their own, these cells may reproduce too slowly to prevent death. But victims might be rescued by removing some of the remaining cells, building them up in a lab dish, and then returning them to restore the marrow.

Dr Larry Goldstein, professor of cellular and molecular education at the University of California, San Diego, cautioned that such research is difficult.

"I hope they'll be successful, but I think it's unrealistic to expect rapid success," Goldstein said. "Lots of companies and labs have been working on this for years and it's a painstakingly slow process to do this sort of thing."

However, Erwin said his company hopes to manufacture the stem cell factor soon, using tobacco plants in Owensboro.

"We would like to get the gene identified in the next year and start clinical trials with the product in two years," he said. -- Sapa-AP

American Cancer Society test results for secondhand smoke prove SHS is 532 - 25,000 times safer than OSHA regulations

American Cancer Society air quality testing data archived here.

Or Power Point version available here.

Also found online here.

The American Cancer Society measured the air quality for secondhand smoke in several venues. ACS tested by measuring the "marker" chemical in secondhand smoke -nicotine.* The results are shown above ranging from 20 -940 nanograms / cu. M. A nanogram is 10 (-9) of a gram or 0.000000001 of a gram which is also 0.000001 of a mg (milligram)

Full OSHA table here:

The OSHA safe exposure level to airborne nicotine for an 8 hour per day, 40 hour per week is 0.5 mg/cu. M as per the partial OSHA table above.

So to determine what the American Cancer Society air quality testing really tells us, we compare the test results to the OSHA permissble exposure limits (pel).

OSHA safe level 0.5 mg divided by ACS result 20 nanograms, which is also 0.000020 of a mg. Thus, 0.5 /0.00002 = 25,000 times safer than OSHA regulations.

On the upper ACS reading we have OSHA safe level 0.5 mg divided by ACS result 940 nanograms, which is also 0.000940 of a mg. So, 0.5 /0.00094 = 532 times safer than OSHA regulations.

And so, what the American Cancer Society has proven in conducting air quality testing of secondhand smoke is that secondhand smoke absolutely does not constitute a health hazard justifying a government mandated smoking ban.

Especially when you realize that all the groups pushing for smoking bans are funded by pharmaceutical nicotine interests who profit in selling smoking cessation products after a smoking ban is passed.

* (As per air quality researchers nationwide) Nicotine is the only unique or "trace" chemical in secondhand smoke. If you measured for formaldehyde, the carpet and other interior sources of formaldehyde would corrupt the test result, formaldehyde is formed naturally in our atmosphere due to photochemical oxidation. Benzene is given off from burning foods in the kitchen or diesel exhaust outdoors so again a false reading would be obtained. Therefore, nicotine is the ideal chemical to measure to determine secondhand smoke concentrations in the air. And then our comparison to OSHA guidelines is the logical manner in which to determine if secondhand smoke levels pose a health hazard, as you can see, according to OSHA, the authority on workplace safety, they do not.

Communications director Bob Moffit of the American Lung Association of Minnesota heralded this air quality testing as confirming -"what we've been saying for years......" The pro-smoking ban activists praised this type of air quality testing......until they found out that in comparison to the OSHA air quality guidelines, secondhand smoke levels are up to 25,000 times SAFER than required. Read more here.

If you wanted you could measure every airborne chemical in secondhand smoke and then compare them to OSHA guidelines for each specific chemical, the results would be the same, if not more dramatic. To wit, the tobacco companies provide more nicotine content in their products than any other of the alleged chemicals such as benzene, fomaldehyde, arsenic, etc.......isn't that what the tobacco trials confirmed?

Update: Oak Ridge National Laboratory testing confirms that air quality testing of secondhand smoke in bars and restaurants "...concluded that exposures to respirable suspended particulate matter (RSP), for example, were considerably below limits (safer than) established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for the workplace....." Though it needs to be pointed out that RSP testing is NOT the proper way to determine secondhand smoke air quality we've demonstrated here.

And OSHA itself has stated regarding secondhand smoke:

"Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)...It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded."

-Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Ass't Sec'y, OSHA, To Leroy J Pletten, PHD, July 8, 1997

UPDATE:'s Hit & Run coverage and comments regarding this story.

Also see:

By the way, regarding the activist claims that tobacco smoke contains 4,000+ chemicals; you can find the facts debunking that scam here:

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Sunset in Watertown

Friday, April 02, 2004

An anti-smoking activist provides some insight into a questionable industry

Some have stated early on in this debate that the anti movement (or tobacco control, as we in the industry like to call it) has limitless resources. Others have claimed that the anti movement is grassroots, popularly supported and honorable. I'll dispel both of these myths.

The anti movement, is funded in large part by the tobacco industry. As fewer people continue to smoke, or use other forms of tobacco, less money will be distributed to the states from the MSA or other separate agreements with the states. Given the federal government's budget, the Iraq War, the Drug War, Katrina rebuilding, higher gas prices, inflation, unfavorable balance of trade and recent sleight of tax cuts, the states are losing revenue from the feds for the states' coffers. States are looking to trim spending wherever possible.

Since smoking prevalence rates are falling consistently throughout the nation, most states are looking to cut what funding they provide to tobacco control advocates. The money states use to fight tobacco is dwindling. Look at the examples in Minnesota and Florida, along with Massachussets. These states have decided not to fund tobacco control at high levels as they have done in the past. For that very reason, tobacco control on the state level does not have significant funding in order to be limitless in its approach.

Some have stated that the antis are grassroots, popular and honorable. That is not entirely true. I don't consider a network to be "grassroots" when the members of the network are paid representatives of the parent organizers.

In my state, as in many states' tobacco control networks, we receive state funding (which is on the chopping block, btw) and we spread that funding to our friends such as American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, and various other health advocacy groups. We also employ people throughout the state to serve on the counties' boards of health. These people we employ have large budgets to recruit others in their respective communities to fight big tobacco on the local level by enacting clean indoor air laws and conducting prevention efforts in the schools and community centers. While many of the "recruits" are not paid, there are incentives and stipends.

My network has a meticulous monitoring system in place and increasingly over the past eight years or so, more and more "recruits" as well as our local board of health representatives have been squandering our grant monies. In one instance, one recruit spent his $2,000 annual stipend monies intended for print shop expenses, materials and supplies on his personal home improvement project. Another recruit, who served on a local city council, spent his annual $1,100 stipend payments on his reelection campaign.

One of our board of health reps was in collusion with his recruits to steal grant funds intended for tobacco control advocacy.

Some of these ne’er-do-wells were let go (the local politician was not because he's partisan. I think he's still stealing from us). Regardless, these are just a few instances of the behavior of our "grassroots" participants.

Also, at the time of year when we offer new grants (to be used for local level tobacco control purposes) the phone lines and mailed requests for grants is overwhelming. The audacity of some of the applicants is astounding, such as the many restaurant association directors applying annually for our grants (restaurant association members are diametrically opposed to tobacco control advocacy). Everyone from farmers to race car drivers line up for tobacco control grants. Since our funding is now in jeopardy and we aren't issuing grants, people are now complaining where their money has gone. Some are about to give up their advocacy advocates in retaliation for ceased grants. So much for grassroots.

So, the point is that only when there is money available are tobacco control efforts effective on the local level. There must be a quid pro quo and our local boards of health representatives are paid in excess of $50,000 annually for their services. Yeah, it's popular, but only because of the pay.

So with this explanation, I'll now discredit so many on this response box who claim tobacco control advocates are all fanatics.

There aren't many fanatics in tobacco control. We are where we are because it pays us. It's just a job. There may be a few "true believers" in my organization, but there are just that...a few! These people are generally less educated than are the many others who work with me at this statewide tobacco control organization. These are the fanatics that you speak of and if they weren't in tobacco control, then they'd be involved in some other form of fanaticism.

But for the majority of the 250 or so employees we have, we do what we do because we are paid well to do it. No other reason. Consider that we're all very well educated and have very little opportunity in our state. Tobacco control work allows us to make a good living and gives us time to spend with our families or with our little side projects (I think everyone in my organization is writing a book on tobacco control).

My statewide network is very political, very partisan and quite consequential, not honorable. It's run by a politician and the state health agency is headed by a political appointment by a former attorney general turned governor, so everything we do is tainted with partisan politics. We really serve the incumbents more so than the general public. For that reason, cynicism is rife at my organization.

Also, the Legislature has targeted us for drastic cuts, a la the Florida variety. The Legislature can override any veto the governor throws back at them. Our days are numbered. We all know it and the futility of what we do is so evident each day at work. We're all looking for jobs. Most are looking to go back into teaching or back into law/legal research, nursing/medicine, etc. Most are looking into going back into private, non-governmental business.

We are not fanatics. Some antis are, but most are just getting a paycheck.

Response to questions asked of this whistleblower:

A few things here in attempt to answer some of the questions and comments posed toward me:

I'm a coward, or else I'd post my real name on this blog-response. I don't, therefore I am a coward. If I were to use my real name here, I'd be in the soup lines tomorrow (but maybe not...I know too much to get fired, but in any event, my bosses could make life tough for me if they knew I was trolling on blog sites and other forums and posting sensitive, internal stuff for all to see).

If I didn't have mouths to feed, I wouldn't work another day there. But to all: as soon as I get another job, I'll post with my real name and even start my own blog about my experience with the antis.

I'm not too far away from getting picked up by another organization -- probably insurance which is not a step up when it comes to ethics.

Yes, anyone can do the job. Really, all people do at work is waste time and money. We have all of these programs going on all of the time, but in my office, we really serve as public relations, research and program monitoring experts. The latter part is pretty complicated. Basically we have an elaborate system in place to make sure our grantees do their jobs, but oftentimes grantees are in breach of their contracts, yet there are no consequences for that.

Even in my economically depressed state with higher than average unemployment, not many people are knocking down the doors to work for an anti-smoking organization. About one year ago was the last time we hired people. We kept ads on the internet and in the state papers for weeks and we only netted about 16 resumes. Of those, only about six were from college graduates and of those only two were actually hired.

But those two that were hired are thankful to have had a higher than average salary for the past year or so that they've worked for us.

As for forcing smokers out of work, the organization that I work for does not do that. We flirted with the idea of giving commendations to companies that upped insurance premiums for smoking employees or canned smoking employees, but that idea got nixed since we spend more on advertising that we do on cessation services. We figured it would look bad.

Oh yeah, tobacco control as a "company" or government agency has really one main goal and that is to exist with full funding. So we spend more time on that end of the job than we do anything else, hence the over $10 million a year for advertising (and there are two ad agencies here getting rich off of us).

As for hiring smokers, well we have a few grantees that are smokers, closet smokers, of course. We have one board member who was in the papers at a politico's roast and the board member had an unlit cigar in his mouth, so I guess he smokes. Actually, in my state, it is illegal to fire people or make hiring decisions based on whether one smokes or not. when I was hired, they never asked me the question of whether I smoke or not. They did ask me if I believed in their cause. As any applicant for a high paying job would do, I lied.

On our public health boards across the state, these are facilitated by the state health agency, which my organization is a department therein. We employ people to organize local coalitions in their communities and these "grantees" are also required by contract to be a part of their local, county board of health. They are also given the task of coming up with their own "micro" boards or "coalitions" as we call them. They recruit people to serve (unpaid, but with stipends/incentives) with them and spearhead tobacco control efforts in their areas. Some of our reps are more gung-ho than are others. Most, however, don't do whatever we require in their contracts.

I'm telling you, after the MSA payments started rolling in and the Legislature and the former attorney general (now the governor) started this anti organization, people lined up down the street for a piece of the money. Hospitals, government agencies, police, fire departments, tobacco wholesalers, sick smokers, politicians and every advocacy group from tobacco control and health advocacy to death penalty reformers. We even had race car drivers ask us to sponsor their cars. That's freaking crazy!

Hope that clears some things up and I'll have you all know that I don't for one minute think that I am honorable at all. Actually, I detest people like me...I'm a sell-out and I don't have the balls to tell my bosses where they're going wrong. But hey, we're on our way out anyway.

Oh yeah, about the limitless resources....we don't have that either. Cessation services, which is what our focus should be but is not, is the most under funded aspect to our state organization. We spend more money on telling teenagers not to smoke than we do to help people quit. That's just plain wrong, but the CDC has this "best practices" guide that's viewed as the antis' bible and doing things contrary to its mandates means losing money from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Legacy.

It's all about the money, which is soon running out.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

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