Michael Mechanic

Michael Mechanic

Senior Editor

Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, two kids, four chickens, striped cat, and way too many musical instruments to master.

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Michael has been a senior editor at MoJo for seven years, after spending nearly as long as an award-winning features editor at the alt-weekly East Bay Express. He edits (and occasionally writes) features, as well as being in charge of the magazine's Mixed Media section. His writing has appeared in a range of alt-weeklies, newspapers, and magazines including Wired, The Industry Standard, and the Los Angeles Times. He set out to be a scientist, and as an undergrad spent a year in an organic chemistry lab at UC-Berkeley, where he was a biochemistry major, trying to synthesize tropical frog poisons. He later earned a masters degree in cellular and developmental biology from Harvard University and a masters in journalism from Cal. In 2009, he was a finalist for a National Magazine Award for public service as one of five writers in MoJo's "Torture Hits Home" package. (His contribution, "Voluntary Confinement," involved a reality TV show that held contestants in isolation.) He also won a 2014 Society for Professional Journalists award for "It Was Something Like Slavery," a photoessay he wrote with photographer Nina Berman. The father of two preteens and caretaker of a surly cat named Phelps, Michael lives in Oakland, California, where, after years of classical piano and raucous punk-rock drumming (and releasing more than a dozen CDs on his former DIY label, Bad Monkey Records), he has retired to old-time fiddling. But you never know.

No Wonder Teens Are Huffing Nicotine

| Sat Apr. 18, 2015 6:00 AM EDT
The online version of Lorrillard's Sports Illustrated ad featured "zoom-in" magnification.

You thought Big Tobacco was on the wane in the United States?

(Insert cartoon villain voice:) "Mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaaaa!"

Not. Friggin'. Likely. In fact, the domestic tobacco industry is on the rebound thanks to its heavy investment in smoking "alternatives"—a.k.a. e-cigarettes, a.k.a. nicotine-delivery devices marketed in a variety of kid-friendly flavors. (Marketing flavored tobacco cigarettes has been banned since 2009.)

Kevin had a post on Thursday about the soaring numbers of kids who've tried e-cigs. On Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially announced the results of a new CDC study in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Control.

Any moron knows e-cigs are just drug-delivery devices, but the phrasing of the Tobacco Control Act means the FDA can't regulate them as such.

From 2011 to 2013, the researchers reported, the number of middle- and high-school students using e-cigs tripled. In 2013, more than 250,000 kids who had never smoked tobacco reported using e-cigarettes, and 44 percent of those kids said they had "intentions" of trying regular cigarettes in the next year. (About 1 in 5 American adults currently smoke.) Not surprisingly, kids who had more exposure to tobacco advertising were more likely to say they intended to try smoking.

You'll often hear vaping proponents argue that e-cigs help smokers kick the tobacco habit, thereby saving lives. And that may be true: Inhaling tobacco smoke, which still kills more than 480,000 Americans every year, is almost certainly more deadly than huffing nicotine vapors.

The one group you won't hear the smoking cessation argument from is e-cig manufacturers. That, ironically, is because products intended to help people quit tobacco products are regulated far more strictly than the tobacco products themselves. The same goes for drug-delivery devices, which is why manufacturers fought very hard to make certain the FDA didn't put e-cigarettes in that category.

Not that the agency didn't try. The FDA initially sought to regulate e-cigs as drug-delivery devices, for what else could they be? But the manufacturers promptly sued, and were handed a huge win. Judges bought the industry's argument that, under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, any product that contains nicotine derived from tobacco and makes no therapeutic claims can be be regulated as a tobacco product—which makes it, presto, not a drug delivery device.

Just think about how crazy this is: Nicotine is highly addictive. At low doses it's a stimulant, at higher doses a serious poison. (The tobacco plant and other nightshades actually produce it as an insecticide, and it's sold for that use, too, with a stringent warning label.) If nicotine were marketed as medicine, you couldn't just buy it at the corner store in a dozen alluring flavors. Yet because the manufacturers make no medical claims, they can do what they want. Never mind that the 2009 law was written before e-cigarettes were widely marketed* in the United States.

Ah, screw it. Just give me the Piña Colada.

*Corrections: E-cigs had been invented, but were not then sold by tobacco companies or marketed widely in the United States. Some readers took exception with my use of "tobacco-friendly" to describe the judges who decided the case. Indeed, that wasn't fair—the tobacco act's wording gave the vape companies a loophole. Finally, nicotine does have legit medical uses. The article has been revised accordingly.

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Let the 2016 Presidential Poster Wars Commence!

| Wed Apr. 8, 2015 9:20 AM EDT
Michael Mechanic

Is this the first salvo in the 2016 presidential campaign poster wars? This past week, somebody plastered this poster—guerilla style—at well-trod locations around San Francisco.

What was the artist thinking? Was this a subtle jab at Cruz's hubris or a bona fide attempt to promote the guy—or just a cool design? I could see it psyching up the GOP base in Kevin's Orange County stomping grounds. But in San Francisco? Only 13 percent of this city voted for Romney. A Ted Cruz fan hoping to boost the Texas senator's presidential hopes would be wasting his time posting these around here—even if they are pretty cool looking.

Maybe the message was meant to reach rich tech libertarians who have moved north from Silicon Valley and might be game to donate. You know, the crew who admire Ron and Rand Paul and seem to have forgotten that the tech industry was built on massive government funding. Then again, given Cruz's head-scratching position against net neutrality—he's called it "the biggest regulatory threat to the internet"—he's not likely to get much love from the tech world. Even the Obama-haters on Cruz's Facebook page had to ridicule his position.

My favorite Cruz poster to date went up last March around Beverly Hills, where Cruz was slated to appear at the annual dinner of the conservative Claremont Institute. (The artists, being artists, got the hotel wrong.) But Cruz was indeed, as the poster joked, "loving it." Here's what he tweeted:

I just hope Bernie Sanders, the left's favorite bomb thrower, decides to run. I'm dying to see what street artists will make of him. 

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