Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
The Food and Drug Administration is banning menthol cigarettes. The FDA’s announcement did not come with an enforcement date, only saying it will work toward developing a regulation that bans these products “within the next year.” The FDA also proposed a ban on flavored cigars, including small ones called cigarillos that young smokers like.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey found 28% of teen smokers light up menthol cigarettes.
“Banning menthol — the last allowable flavor — in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
Stat included some important context about when the ban might begin and what difference it could make:
“It’s really impossible to predict,” said the director of the FDA’s tobacco center, Mitch Zeller, who noted that a previous regulation on menthol received more than 175,000 comments, all of which the FDA was required to consider. “There are very important considerations, starting with legal considerations, about getting this right.”
The ban comes on the heels of a similar decision by the European Union and Canada. A number of states, including Massachusetts and California, have also attempted to enact their own menthol bans.
Public health advocates, who have insisted that banning menthol will help ameliorate health disparities between white and Black Americans and blunt youth tobacco use, celebrated the FDA’s move. They argue that Black Americans smoke menthols at a higher rate than other racial groups because the tobacco industry has targeted its menthol marketing toward Black communities.
Zeller, the tobacco center director, cited a study claiming a U.S. menthol ban would prompt 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans, in the first 13 to 17 month after a ban was enacted.
“The FDA has taken a historic, life-saving step. Menthol has long been the tobacco industry’s most sacrosanct flavor, responsible for addicting millions of people to their deadly products,” former CDC Director Richard Besser said in a statement. “Banning menthol cigarettes will most assuredly save lives, eliminate great suffering, and reduce health care costs.”
USDA predicts 5.5% food inflation this year, the biggest increase in more than a decade
The Agriculture Department says beef, poultry, egg and dairy products will rise the fastest this year. Chicken prices are forecast to rise as much as 8.5% by the end of this year. The war in Ukraine is one significant factor behind the higher food prices because it has resulted in higher grain prices globally.
COVID did not kill conventions, but recovery may be gradual
For the last couple of years, convention planners have wondered if the days of big conventions and gatherings may have passed with COVID-19.
But conventions are making a comeback, and that is a relief for cities that have multi-million-dollar convention halls, hotels that depend on the business and professional organizations that draw their life from the gatherings. But business will rebound slowly, if it does rebound.
Broadcasters gathered this week in Las Vegas for the National Association of Broadcasters convention, one of the largest conventions in America. In, 2019, the NAB drew 92,000 people. This year, NAB registered 52,468 attendees.
Boston just hosted the Boston Marathon crowds and city leaders say it is the start of a convention and event comeback. And smaller cities like Springfield, Illinois, say meeting spaces are starting to book summer dates.
The Star Tribune reported on the Minneapolis convention business:
It could take three years before business returns to pre-pandemic levels at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Efforts to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus nearly shuttered global business travel and trade show industries the past two years. The impact was certainly felt in Minnesota, where planned conventions were replaced by virtual gatherings and shows like the popular Twin Cities Auto Show closed early in 2020 and moved outdoors in 2021.
The sprawling Convention Center on the edge of downtown Minneapolis saw its revenue was down at least 70% in both 2020 and 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels. Meanwhile, the local hospitality industry lost thousands of workers and millions in tax revenue.
You probably underestimate how important conventions and meetings are to cities. The Star Tribune gives us a glimpse of one city’s reliance on big meetings and events:
The city relies on that revenue to pay debt services on the convention center, Target Center and U.S. Bank Stadium with a mix of hospitality sales taxes, including a 0.5% citywide sales tax, a 3% downtown liquor tax, a 3% lodging tax and a 3% downtown restaurant tax. Funding also comes to the city through a 3% entertainment tax on live-event tickets.
Hotels expect $20 billion less from business travel this year
While conventions may be making a gradual comeback, hotels now forecast 2022 will produce 25% less income than pre-pandemic levels. The American Hotel & Lodging Association released the survey that says:
This comes after hotels lost an estimated $108 billion in business travel revenue during 2020 and 2021 combined.
While leisure travel is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, business travel—which includes corporate, group, government, and other commercial categories—is the hotel industry’s largest source of revenue and will take significantly longer to recover.
The charts produced for this survey are stark and do not take into account a new fall/winter 2022 COVID-19 resurgence.
A day after Fauci said we are past the pandemic …
This is the national map showing cases are increasing coast to coast. It’s notable even if you believe, as many health experts do, the case number is not a reliable measure of the outbreak as hospitalizations and deaths.
In the U.S., the average number of deaths per day from COVID-19 dropped to 362 in the last two weeks, which is down 23% from 470 deaths per day a couple of weeks ago.
World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world “is increasingly blind to COVID.”
“(Rolling back of COVID-19 surveillance) makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution. But this virus won’t go away just because countries stop looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still killing,” Ghebreyesus said.
A medication that fights obesity ‘shows promise’
Eli Lily is pretty far down the road testing a new drug called tirzepatide that it says helped some patients shed 23% of their body weight. The study involves 2,539 participants across the U.S., Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Taiwan and follows their progress for 72 weeks.
The study did turn up some not-so-great side effects. FierceBiotech, which covers the drug industry, reports:
The top-line safety and tolerability results shared by Lilly are free from red flags. The most commonly reported adverse event at the high dose was nausea—31% at the high dose—followed by diarrhea and vomiting at 23% and 12%, respectively. Lilly is yet to share a detailed look at the data but said events were generally of mild to moderate severity and happened during the dose-escalation period. The rates of discontinuation because of adverse events were 4% to 7% on tirzepatide versus 3% for placebo.
Rising construction costs stop affordable housing projects
Pew’s Stateline explored what is holding up the construction of affordable housing units. The answer is that builders cannot depend on the price of materials. The increased cost of lumber alone accounts for about $67 more in monthly rent per apartment unit built today.
The puffed up environmental claims from the bottled water industry
The Intercept has the story of a lawsuit against a big manufacturer of bottled water in which the water company’s defense against false advertising is that its claims about being environmentally sensitive were puffed up and vague, so no harm. Here are a couple of paragraphs that will make your blood boil a bit:
The claims were a bridge too far for the environmental group Earth Island Institute, which sued BlueTriton in August, arguing that its misleading sustainability claims violate a local Washington, D.C., law known as the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, which is designed to prevent “deceptive trade practices.” In response, the company defended its green self-promotion by explaining that everyone should realize that the claims are meaningless nonsense.
“Many of the statements at issue here constitute non-actionable puffery,” BlueTriton’s attorneys wrote in a motion to dismiss the case submitted to a D.C. court in March. “BlueTriton’s representation of itself as ‘a guardian of sustainable resources’ and ‘a company who, at its core, cares about water’ is vague and hyperbolic,” the attorneys continued. “Because these statements are ‘couched in aspirational terms,’ they cannot serve as the basis for Plaintiff’s CPPA claim.”
You will see in the story that this company is not alone in falling way short of its public goals for recycling. And I will toss in two more paragraphs for you to swallow:
As the complaint notes, plastic pollution is now so widespread that the average person is drinking more than 1,700 tiny bits of plastic in a week’s worth of drinking water — the equivalent of an entire credit card. Microplastics are found in 94.4 percent of tap water samples in the U.S. and may be an even bigger problem in bottled water, despite bottled water companies marketing their product as pollution-free. One BlueTriton brand, Pure Life, had twice the level of plastic fibers as tap water.
Meanwhile, as BlueTriton touts itself as a solution to America’s water problems, it has been caught extracting water from the national forest without authorization. The practice of tapping into natural water supplies has been shown to drain aquifers and rivers, taking water from plants and animals as well as public drinking water reserves.
A few weeks ago, the International Bottled Water Association said it supports pending federal legislation that would “improve recycling efforts nationwide.” The association provides some interesting data:
According to figures derived from EPA data, PET plastic bottled water containers account for less than 1/4 of 1% of the U.S. waste stream. Bottled water production accounts for less than 0.02% of the total groundwater withdrawn each year. Measured in tons of landfill space, PET plastic bottled water containers make up just 3.3% of all beverage containers that end up in landfills. Waste percentage numbers are much higher for the glass (66.7%), aluminum (7.9%), and plastic soft drink bottles (13.3%) that end up in landfills.
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