Thursday, 21 April 2011 11:49

NATO Show 2011 and Tobacco Weirdness in Las Vegas

Written by Larry Waters
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NATO Show 2011 was a great tobacco trade show and one I will be attending regularly in the future. For me, there was also a decidedly surreal aspect to the whole experience which was again ignited by an email I received just as I was finishing this article. As you will read, the Tobacco War is not only alive, but we seemed to have scored a major, if bizarre victory just hours ago.

I finally met FDA Tobacco Czar Dr. Lawrence Deyton in the flesh; "Bopper" to his friends. We even engaged in a rather spirited discussion concerning Swedish snus which ensured I will probably never be asked to call him Bopper.

I met a number of old friends and ended up at a Alice in Wonderland-type dinner I couldn't have imagined. I made some new friends but most importantly, got a unique view into how FDA tobacco policy is and will affect our front line: tobacco brick and mortar stores and c-stores in the United States. When it comes to eStore consumers of Scandinavian and Swedish snus, the EU partially industry-imposed snus ban is only the tip of the iceberg. Snus eStores customers are facing potentially less store options and higher prices. Some would call it "business". Others would call it screwing the American snus consumer for corporate gain. Then again, considering today's news, who knows what's happening?

I also had to bail SnusCentral.com Snus Store Manager Moe Unz out of jail and attended some very positive private meetings which I won't be writing about under the Rule: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. This was a very interesting trip to say the least. That all EU and US snus users live in interesting times (as the Chinese say and not in a good way) continues with a twist. Dr. Deyton of FDA also mentioned another intriguing alternative during our discussion which could also change the entire snus game in a good way.

NATO Show Day One: Snus and Alice in Wonderland

The SnusCENTRAL contingent arrived later in Las Vegas later than planned. Soon after takeoff from Dallas, SnusCENTRAL One had to make anunexpected detour to Sweden to pick up Moe Unz and his cousin Kenneth. We didn't arrive in Las Vegas until Wednesday afternoon. Of course the local authorities made a press op out of our arrival complete with marching bands and strippers. After I received the Key-Card to the City and the speeches were concluded, even with a police escort we arrived at the Rio Convention Center only 5 minutes before the Exhibit Hall closed for the day. We barely had enough time to pick up our credentials.

We were momentarily at a loss as what to do next except for Moe Unz. He took off for the casino and we never saw him again until I bailed him out of the Las Vegas City Jail a couple of days later.

Looking through our credentials packets, we discovered tickets to a NATO cocktail party which was just beginning. Never ones to pass up free drinks or happy hour food, our contingent decided to visit. I was chatting with some interesting folks when I looked around and saw Rick Charles and his lovely wife Amy. Kenneth and our security team in tow, I rushed over to say hello. A hard slap on the back revealed my old friend Rob Jarzombek; now of SnusOn, was also in attendance. We travelled together during the 2009 Swedish Match sponsored trip to Gothenburg, Sweden.

The head of my security detail approached and whispered something in my ear. The Northerner/Gotlandssnus entourage was approaching. I told him to stand down but be alert. This was, after all, a social and public event.

I greeted Frank Sandaval, owner of The Northerner, Northerner Scandinavian Distribution and part-owner of Gotlandssnus AB. I last saw Frank in Gothenburg where he showed us a marvelous afternoon and evening touring Gothenburg. Frank seemed surprised to see Kenneth at the show but not to hear that Cousin Moe had disappeared into the Rio Casino. He and Kenneth then switched from English to Swedish and I moved on.

Amy Charles introduced me to Frank's equally lovely fiance Josephine. She has her own very entertaining snus blog. As she writes under a pseudonym and I neglected to ask if it was OK to name it in this article, I won't for now. Professional courtesy. She and Frank are on vacation through the end of April so I doubt I'll hear back either way until May.

I was also very happy to see Henrik Jakobsson and Daniel Sundgren of Gotlandssnus/Jakobsson's. We were finally able to talk through an article I had written a while back mentioning Gotlandssnus. This was the article which caused Jimmy Karlsson of Gotlandssnus to stop speaking to me....after calling me some choice names on another forum and in a few emails. In the end, I think they understood what the article was really about and I understood it hadn't translated quite that way into Swedish; at least to Jimmy.

Jakobsson's Classic Portion Snus (not the new Americanized Strong Classic) has been a favorite snus of mine for years. The new Strong Mint I enjoy as well but as an occasional snus. I felt good about our time together although in a photo of Daniel and I, he seemed terrified to be in the same frame as me. Henrik found that amusing and took another picture.

Larry Waters of SnusCentral.org and Henrik Jakobsson of Gotlandssnus ABBefore we knew it, the reception was winding down. A few agents from our security detail were still trying to track down Moe while Kenneth and I were deciding where to eat dinner supper. Josephine was hearing none of that and invited us to dine with them. And thus came the surreal part of my trip. Moments later, we found ourselves at a table for 14, joined by an e-cigarette vendor who was eventually stuck with the check.

I sat across from Henrik. He was very excited about the positive response the new Jakobsson's products were receiving from the NATO Show attendees. I learned Gotlandssnus is working on one or two new American-style Jakobsson's snus products due out later this year.

I had hoped to try them, but I think Frank gave Daniel a dirty look and the cans never materialized. I do know what the flavors are but that information is more appropriate coming from a future Gotlandssnus press release than from me. It was a delightful meal and the conversation was superb, but the whole situation didn't seem quite real. I later realized I hadn't taken a picture of the table. Unfortunate since the Swedish Press probably would have paid a lot for it.

The FDA Tobacco Czar meets the Swedish Snus Lord

I've made no secret of the fact that meeting Dr. Lawrence Deyton; Director of the FDA Tobacco Products Division, was a driving reason for my attending NATO Show 2011. My goal was not just to hear him deliver the keynote address; I wanted some face time.

Thursday morning, I made a quick stop into the NATO breakfast buffet to fuel up. I was picking up an English muffin/egg sandwich of some type and a coffee when I my ears perked up. I looked over and not 4 feet away from me was Dr. Deyton himself! The coffee in my cup suddenly turned from piping hot to ice cold.

He was speaking with a NATO official and someone else. There was a table within earshot being used by one particular vendor for their people. Undaunted, I sat down in the seat nearest to the FDA Tobacco Czar and observed. My first impression was that he looked much better in person than in his official FDA photo. He was also very charming. He has both in common with Satan.

There was a lull in the conversation, so abandoning my cold coffee and half-eaten egg-like muffin, I walked over and introduced myself to Dr. Deyton. Someone mentioned they were glad there had been no US Government shut-down and Dr. Deyton was able to attend. I jumped in and said since the 275 employees of the FDA Tobacco Product Division were paid for by the tobacco industry, they had nothing to fear. The rest of the FDA may have shut down, but FDA Tobacco never sleeps.

Without missing a beat, Dr. Deyton smiled and said while what I said was true, the people who booked his travel were not paid for by Big Tobacco. They were worried he wouldn't have anyway to get to Las Vegas for the NATO Show and were grateful the government hadn't closed for business. Very charming. I later heard him use the same line with others so I'm guessing I wasn't the only one to comment on his funding or he had prepared that response in the event it was raised.

Dr. Deyton thanked me for introducing myself and excused himself as his keynote speech as coming up shortly. I replaced my now frozen coffee with a fresh hot cup and made my way to the conference hall. Some name dropping and press credentials almost got me into the hall before the start, but one alert show organizer stopped me half-way in and I was forced to retreat. I looked for Moe and Kenneth, but they were afraid of being deported if I caused an incident. As it turned out, that may have been wise of them although I wish they could have been present to take pictures for the sake of history. Dr. Deyton and I were destined to speak again.....

NATO Show Day Two Continues: Tobacco Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Dr. Lawrence Dayton; the FDA Tobacco CzarAs I entered the hall to hear Dr. Deyton's address, I noticed that most people were seated towards the back. Instinctively, they no doubt felt the building presence of evil. Undaunted, I proceeded directly to the front row and sat directly in front of the podium Dr. Deyton would be speaking from.

Andy Kerstein, President of NATO, introduced Dr. Deyton. This is when I learned that the FDA Czar preferred to be called 'Bopper' than 'Dr. Deyton'. How can anyone be afraid of losing their livelihoods and personal freedoms to someone named 'Bopper'? I think there is a section of the Bible in Revelations where a similar ploy is used by Satan but the exact verse escapes me at the moment.

Dr. Deyton was very charming, self-deprecating, and sincere. He presentation was aided by a PowerPoint presentation which was supposed to have been published on the FDA.gov/TobaccoProducts website. I can't find it there or any mention of NATO Show for that matter.. I'm trying to get a copy elsewhere and will add it to this article if I am successful.

The first slide set the theme and the mindset of FDA regarding tobacco. The main bullet points of this slide were as follows:

  • Tobacco Products are Legal in the United States.
  • Tobacco has been historically and still is a part of American culture.
  • Cigarettes are one of the most preventable causes of death.

As is typical of anti-all-tobacco extremists in general, the words tobacco and cigarettes are used interchangeably; often in the same paragraph or even sentence. Statements concerning smokeless tobacco and the entire OTP category will invariably include negative information which only pertains to lit tobacco products or cigarettes. Accuracy takes a back seat to painting with a very broad brush.

Alarm bells went off when Dr. Deyton casually mentioned cigars coming under FDA scrutiny in the future. During the question and answer period, Dr. Deyton was asked to explain further. As with his response to questions on the potential banning of menthol, the Tobacco Czar explained that their charter laid out a time-table in which certain items must be addressed by. The recent TPSAC report on menthol, for example, was required by the Tobacco Control Act.

As to cigars, FDA may look at them in the future if appropriate. "Appropriate" means that the cigar exclusion has been adopted as a loophole by some and FDA doesn't like loopholes when it comes to tobacco. Insiders tell me that premium cigar manufacturers themselves are encouraging FDA to go after the smaller machine-made flavored cigars which in some cases, come in packs labeled "filtered cigars" and are about the size of a cigarette pack.

Those in the pipe tobacco business are also concerned that RYO tobacco suppliers were simply re-labeling their products as pipe tobacco to get around the Tobacco Control Act. As of now, pipe tobacco does not fall under FDA; RYO tobacco does.

Another interesting question concerned FDA applauding themselves for not requiring tobacco retailers to undergo FDA training. The person raising the question pointed out that if a tobacco retailer does not "voluntarily" choose FDA tobacco retailing training, they will be fined multiple times more if one of their employees mistakenly sells a tobacco product to a minor than a retailer who did subject themselves to FDA training. Dr. Deyton adroitly handed this question off to Ann Simaneau, the lawyer who is FDA's Director of Enforcement.

Another retailer asked why FDA is not mandating fines and penalties for minors who attempt to illegally purchase tobacco products? He proudly proclaimed himself to be a big believer in personal responsibility which everyone present would have applauded had not they been afraid of being arrested.

Dr. Deyton replied that Congress did not give FDA the authority to penalize or even address that issue. It seems they only have the authority to send under-cover minors into law-abiding tobacco retail locations to attempt to deceive one of their employees into underage tobacco selling. Incredible. It occurs to me we could stop the illegal drug trade overnight if we were to legalize cocaine, heroin and crystal meth...but only if it is placed under FDA control.

Dr. Deyton made an impassioned plea to the attendees to help FDA learn and understand their businesses so that FDA could be a better partner. I took that as akin to Organized Crime asking legitimate businesses to .......... oh, you get the point. I think everyone in attendance did.

Despite raising my hand high and sitting directly in front of Dr. Deyton, I was for some reason never offered the microphone to ask a question. When the person seated next to me was given the mic, even Dr. Deyton gave me a sympathetic look. I had either been black-listed or the NATO Show people selecting the questioners were familiar with my writings. If the latter, I forgive them since they wanted the show to go without incident. I was not deterred, however.

After Dr. Deyton had concluded his remarks, it was announced that as he worked his way to the door, he would answer individual questions. My time had arrived.

The FDA Tobacco Czar was effectively surrounded by a circle of about 30 people as I forced my way through the crowd. I finally planted myself directly in front of him and loudly started my questioning. I established up front that I was using Swedish Snus as my example product; not the generic smokeless tobacco category. "In the interests of public health", I asked, "why is Swedish snus required to carry warning labels which with one exception, are flat-out untrue and misleading?" He tried to deflect my question by stating "warning labels are required by law...haven't you even read the Tobacco Control Act?"

Eyes narrowing, I replied "warning labels are required, but factually incorrect warning labels?" I then gave a very concise explanation of the history of Swedish snus and how every one of the warning labels required on cans of Swedish snus did not apply, except for the one saying the product contained nicotine.

"Isn't FDA acting against the interests of public health by effectively telling cigarette smokers that Swedish snus was as dangerous as cigarettes when in fact it is 98% less harmful to smokers?" Running out of breath and away from Dr. Deyton's approaching handlers, I spit out "What about Star Scientific? They make a smokeless tobacco product containing nicotine and apply for the still non-existent Modified Risk designation. Instead, you decide to classify Ariva BDL and Stonewall BDL as non-tobacco products under the Tobacco Control Act? What's that about?"

Dr. Deyton's reply both took me aback and sparked an unfamiliar feeling of hope. "It gets down to the science. If a company has the science concerning a tobacco product which indicates it deserves special consideration, then there is an expedited review process the company can take advantage of."

Stunned, I replied "but Swedish snus does have over 40 documented years under the Swedish food safety law as well as Phase 3 Clinical Trials and too many other studies to name! Does that mean.......". At that point, a man dressed in a white suit interjected himself between us, grabbed Dr. Deyton's arm, and led him away saying that the Doctor had a plane to catch.

Could it really be that easy? Have Swedish Snus classified as a separate category from smokeless tobacco, file for an Expedited Review with the plethora of real hard science already available, and have Swedish Snus declared either Modified Risk or....dare I say it, products not covered under the Tobacco Control Act? Has Star Scientific set a precedent where smokeless tobacco is not smokeless tobacco if FDA says it isn't? Again, could it really be that easy?

The pragmatist in me says it can't be. On the other hand, I was as shocked by the ruling on the BDL products as Star Scientific was. Add to that today's stunning yet ominous announcement by FDA of their decision not to appeal Judge Richard Leon's ruling in NJOY v FDA to the US Supreme Court. This effectively means that e-cigarettes, e-liquid, nicotine gums, lozenges, patches, skin creams and nasal sprays are now unregulated tobacco products according to US Federal law. (thanks to my friend Bill Godshall for breaking this. His complete article on the subject will be published on SnusCentral.org shortly).

There may be a window of opportunity for Swedish snus and I challenge Swedish Match AB to charge forward and have Swedish snus declared, if not a stand-alone modified risk tobacco segment, at least an unregulated tobacco product like e-cigarettes and Camel Orbs apparently have now become.

Swedish Match certainly has the best chance of pulling this off: a proprietary manufacturing process (GothiaTek) just as Star has a proprietary manufacturing process. Swedish Match has the Smoking Reduction/Cessation through Snus clinical studies in Serbia and the United States. Swedish Match under their Scientific Affairs Division has amassed more hard, scientifically valid information that at least Swedish snus made to GothiaTek standards does not cause mouth cancer, lung cancer, throat, cancer, tooth loss, gum disease, or present any second-hand dangers to the general public.

As the FDA announcement foreshadows, we have not won the anti-all-tobacco war; just an amazing tactical victory. It now seems nothing is out of the question when it comes to tobacco regulation. I again urge Swedish Match AB in the strongest way to seize the day. We have nothing to lose except the false warning labels, restrictions, and lies about our Swedish snus.

So Surreal Personal Journeys Aside, How was NATO Show 2011?

The Exhibitor space and hotel rooms for NATO Show 2011 were sold out. They probably would have had even more exhibitors but the Rio's exhibit hall just wouldn't hold any more. That's probably one of the reasons the 2012 NATO Show will be at the Paris Hotel. The breakout sessions were outstanding; both in quality of information and by the people delivering that information. Special kudos to John Lauterbach, PhD for translating what Dr. Deyton really said in his keynote address and to Lou Maiellano for his choice of discussion panelists and recommended tobacco information websites.

This was NATO's first true NATO Show so attendance was less than that of TPE 2011 as would be expected. When speaking with Exhibitors who had displayed at both NATO Show and TPE, what I did not expect to hear was that despite the attendance difference, the number of orders they wrote was about the same for both shows. One Exhibitor theorized NATO Show seemed more focused. They were able to spend more time with real prospects and customers then they could at TPE.

By mid-afternoon on Thursday, activity in the Exhibit Hall was winding down. We attended two more clandestine meetings and then headed for the pool. We still had no idea where Moe had taken off to. I found out the next day as we prepared to check out of the Rio. We did have to stop at the Las Vegas City Jail on our way to the airport to pick Moe up (and get him hosed off). I'd love to tell you why but this is definately one of those Vegas stories that stays in Vegas. I'll just say Moe is now a hero of Charlie Sheen's and leave it at that.

Kudos also to Greg Martin of NATO Show. Despite all appearances to the contrary during the show, he was not at any time one second away from having a stress-induced heart attack. Everything went off extremely well especially for a first show. I look forward with anticipation to NATO Show 2012.

With thanks to the late Hunter S. Thompson,

LARRY WATERS
On the Road for SnusCENTRAL.org

 

"No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride...and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well...maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten."
— Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas)

"When the going gets weird the weird turn professional."
— Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail '72)

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