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Washington (AFP) – The former Playboy centerfold strikes a sultry pose in a bar, the sleek black cigarette in her hand and a handsome dude at her side.

“I love being single. But here’s what I don’t love: a kiss that tastes like an ashtray. Blecch,” she says.

“Now that I’ve switched to blu, I feel better about myself. And I feel free to have one almost anywhere.”

Sex and freedom: the slick advertisement for Lorillard’s blu eCigs, starring TV personality Jenny McCarthy, shows how Big Tobacco is pushing into electronic cigarettes.

They are seeking to take command of a market they fear could one day supplant traditional tobacco.

In just the past few months British American Tobacco, Lorillard, Reynolds American, Altria and others have launched e-cigarettes, with a message that they can be smoked or “vaped” anywhere that regular cigarettes are banned or disdained.

“We see huge potential for this market, both domestically and globally,” said Richard Smith, spokesman for Reynolds American, parent of tobacco powerhouse RJ Reynolds and producer of the VUSE e-cigarette, which it recently introduced in Colorado to test the market.

“Adult tobacco consumers are making it known that they want convenient tobacco products they can use in a variety of settings, giving them the freedom to enjoy tobacco on their own terms,” he said.

Lorillard’s blu — a brand it bought for $135 million (100 million euros) in April — has stolen a march in the U.S. market on competitors.

Altria, parent of Philip Morris, has test-launched its MarkTen in Indiana, and BAT kicked off the Vype across Britain in July.

Meanwhile NJOY, an independent with Silicon Valley and Hollywood startup capital, has also carved out significant market space.

Bonnie Herzog, an industry specialist at Wells Fargo Securities, forecasts $2 billion in e-cigarette sales in the United States by the end of this year — two percent of the tobacco market — and $10 billion by 2017.

“Consumption of e-cigs could surpass consumption of traditional cigs within the next decade,” she said.

Companies say the recognition level of e-cigarettes is already widespread in the United States and Europe. Some 37 percent of smokers in Europe have sampled them.

But the takeup rate is still low, and the big tobacco firms say their challenge is to figure out why.

“The experience is quite different than a cigarette,” said Des Naughton, managing director of Nicoventures, the BAT subsidiary behind Vype.

“The product and how it performs is quite different from a cigarette. Obviously there are people who try it and find it’s not for them.”

The products available are diverse: disposable and rechargeable, some designed to look like old-fashioned cigarettes and some striving to be different.

Some stick to traditional tobacco flavors while others, like blu, explore tastes like those in an ice cream parlor: “Cherry Crush”, “Java Jolt” or “Pina Colada.”

“The opportunity remains for companies like ourselves… to understand the potential, the technology involved, and improve what’s on offer,” said Naughton.

‘You can smoke at a basketball game’

Marketing too is still in infancy.

NJOY, in a pioneering television ad during the hugely watched Super Bowl championship in February, emphasized “the look, feel and flavor of the real thing.”

Naughton says the focus for BAT is still in enlightening consumers, persuading them to “give it a go.”

Blu however has gone the lifestyle route, long a sure winner for cigarettes, emphasizing freedom and fun with McCarthy and actor Stephen Dorff.

“With blu, you can smoke at a basketball game when you want to,” Dorff says in a TV spot. “We’re all adults here. It’s time we take our freedom back.”

The big companies are expected to squeeze aside scores of small e-cigarette pioneers as they push into the market.

“There are great advantages to scale in this industry,” said blu’s president Jim Raporte.

“Innovation will be a key factor in the success of the players within this space.”

The big challenge is regulation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to propose to regulate e-cigarettes like tobacco in the coming weeks.

European regulators are trying to determine whether to control them like pharmaceuticals, regular cigarettes, or other products.

Regulation could limit distribution, sales and advertising. For instance, tobacco ads have been banned from U.S. television since 1971, but so far e-cigarettes can advertise.

Naughton backs regulating them like over-the-counter drugs. But he warned that if e-cigarettes face tight controls on testing and review, it could stifle quick product innovation and development.

Reynolds’ Smith said they believe the FDA will regulate e-cigarettes “based on sound science.”

Since Reynolds’ other products compete under strict regulation, he added: “We have no reason to believe that (VUSE) cannot do the same.”

Photo Credit: AFP/Jim Watson

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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