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California to Vote Tuesday on Prop 29; "Beautiful and Bald" Barbie; Interview with Michelle Pfeiffer

Aired June 2, 2012 - 16:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Hello there. And thanks for joining us. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, reporting from Los Angeles.

Michelle Pfeiffer will be stopping by for a rare interview to share some of her secrets for healthy living. And get this -- she told me she changed her life and diet after watching my documentary, "The Last Heart Attack". Maybe some lessons in there for all of us.

But first, the big story in California this week. Tuesday is voting day, and on the ballot, the controversial new tax, an extra dollar a pack on cigarettes.

Now, the tax could potential raise over $700 million for cancer research. It can also reduce the number of smokers. At least that's the intent.

But some say the law itself is flawed. And big tobacco is fighting it tooth and nail.


GUPTA (voice-over): Ahead of voting day, California TV screens are full of ads, not for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama -- instead, Proposition 29.

AD NARRATOR: Yes on 29.

AD NARRATOR: No on 29.

GUPTA: And here's what's at stake: California voters will decide the fate of Proposition 29, raising the tax by $1 on every pack of cigarettes.

STANTON GLANTZ, UCSF: There's tremendous evidence from all over the world, that when you increase the tax on cigarettes, when you increase the price, people smoke less.

GUPTA: It would raise an estimated $735 million a year. And most of that money would go to cancer research.

AD NARRATOR: No on 29.

GUPTA: According to MapLight, a nonpartisan research firm, nearly $47 million has been spent to try to stop Proposition 29. More than half of that from big tobacco, $27.5 million from Philip Morris, another $11 million from R.J. Reynolds.

GLANTZ: We estimate that if Prop 29 passes, it will cost Philip Morris and Reynolds about a billion dollars a year of sales. And that's why they're in here spending $40 million or $50 million trying to stop it.

GUPTA: Meanwhile, supporters of Prop 29 have spent just $12 million. One of the biggest backers is LIVESTRONG, a nonprofit founded by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.


GUPTA: I should say I'm a board member.

DR. LA DONNA PORTER, MD: But not one penny goes to new funding.

GUPTA: Of all the ads against the cigarette tax, a few stand out to me. They feature doctors, seemingly taking the side of big tobacco.

PORTER: I thought Prop 29 was a good idea, then I read it.

GUPTA: I really wanted to talk to Dr. Porter, but she wouldn't take our calls. I did find other critics of Prop 29, and they said smoking might be bad, but that didn't justify a new tax.

DAVID SPADY, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: It's a tax increase in a state that already pays the highest taxes in the nation. It's ballot box budgeting that basically puts a group of nine elected individuals in control of billions of California tax dollars in a time when California is facing a $16 billion budget deficit. And it's another example of the nanny state legislation.

GUPTA: There's no question that California has a reputation as a leader when it comes to healthy living. But as things stand now, the cigarette taxes here are among the lowest in the country.

(voice-over): Just 87 cents a back. On Tuesday, voters will decide if they want to keep it that way.


GUPTA: And joining me now to discuss it further, Dr. Marcy Zwelling, who's a general practitioner in California and opposes the law, and Lori Bremner, who's a volunteer with the American Cancer Society.

Thanks to both of you for joining us. Obviously a big week here in California.

Lori, I know you have been very busy as a volunteer with the ACS. You've been making a lot of phone calls to voters about this. Give us a little bit of the sort of atmosphere right now in California. What's the mood like regarding this particular proposition?

LORI BREMNER, VOLUNTEER, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Well, it's really interesting, Sanjay. Ands thank you for having me on today. When we called voters, sometimes we hear them just sort of spout back the deceptions that have been put forth from the tobacco company's advertising campaign. But then other times, when they actually to us speak the truth, they do come around to understanding of voting yes on Prop 29 will save lives and protect kids and invest in important cancer research here in California.

We often get into interesting conversations with smokers themselves who most often say, I wish I didn't smoke. I don't want kids to start and cigarettes have been more expensive when I was a kid, I might not be addicted now.

GUPTA: What -- quickly, what is the biggest misconception? Can you summarize that?

BREMNER: Well, the biggest misconception is that the money will be misused. The money is going to go exactly for what it's going to go for. The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association wrote the initiative carefully. The money is going to be invested in cancer research here in California and on tobacco prevention and cessation programs to protect kids and reduce smoking here in California. That's exactly what the money is going to be spent.

So, the biggest misconception is it will be somehow wasted or used otherwise.

GUPTA: And let me bring in the Dr. Zwelling.

And I know you have been thinking and talking about this quite a bit. Again, thanks for joining us.

We are talking about something I think is important to all of us as doctors, cancer research, reducing smoking. Just the optics of it, I think a lot of people are surprised to hear a doctor at least apparently taking the side of big tobacco. Why are you against Proposition 29?

DR. MARCY ZWELLING, OPPOSES PROP 29: First of all, thank you very much for having me. And I'm speaking today as a physician but also as a responsible citizen here in the state of California. When I initially read the law, I wasn't reading it as a doctor. I was actually asked to read it for one of the groups I belong to. I belong to a legislative counsel and they asked me to take a look at it.

And I was shocked to see where the money is going as it's written in the bill. You know, 40 percent of this money does not go, even start to go to cancer research. The money actually goes to back bill, pass taxes that have not been able to meet their needs. What we're seeing in the state of California is a lot of frustration on the part of our citizenry that it's just another tax, and of course, the state of California hasn't been spending its money wisely. In this case, this tax goes to build bigger bureaucracy, build business, build buildings, not necessarily to go to cancer research.

GUPTA: Well, Dr. Zwelling, let me -- you said a lot. So, let me try to ask you a couple of specific questions.


GUPTA: Do you think the taxes would cut down on smoking, yes or no?

ZWELLING: Well, that's a very interesting question that we don't have to answer to. California in the country has the second smallest rate of smoking. The federal goal is 12 percent. We are at 13 percent. And it's not because of a tax, because our tax is relatively low. There's no place to smoke here in California. You can't smoke in public.

We have actually been very successful here in the state of California without a tax. Without taxing the poor, which is where this tax will go, it's a regressive tax, and without putting more money into the public coffers, we have been very successful at having people quit smoking and decreasing the number of children start to smoking.

GUPTA: There's data on this, though, Dr. Zwelling. I know, I'm sure you looked at some of it, that taxes do have an impact on smoking cessation.

Hang on, I don't want to -- I don't want to get mired in too much here. Let me just ask you doctor to doctor, I mean, look, you -- just globally speaking, you know the Hippocratic Oath which is I will prevent disease wherever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I mean, don't you worry about the optics of this, you as a doctor. I understand your position on taxes. But simply weighing in on this, you may be sending a message to people who don't hear your entire message that you are in some way condoning smoking. Do you worry about that?

ZWELLING: Anybody who knows me and has listened to the first part of my statement, I hate smoking. I don't condone smoking. I have nothing to do with tobacco companies.

The point is this, as a doctor on principle, I read this bill. As a physician, you know that we don't do surgery, any surgery just because a surgery is necessary, we don't put our hands in a plastic bag and just pick out the surgery we think is necessary. We're very specific and focused.

We follow the laws and the rules of the markets. We believe in principled specific focus answers, legitimate answers. As a physician, you would agree with that. We don't just do things because they're politically correct. And in this case --

GUPTA: Let me tell you, Dr. Zwelling, what I also agree with is that you -- no bill is perfect, and I'm reluctant, I think as a lot of people are, to throw to baby out with the bath water. I think there's a concern here. We're talking about tobacco -- arguably the most addictive substance on the planet, which has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, in any way, shape or form to condone this or to vote against something that might promote smoking or at least not deter it, I have a problem with that as a physician. Thanks for sharing your story.

ZWELLING: Thank you.

BREMNER: Thank you.

GUPTA: You know, we're going to continue this discussion right after the break. We're also going to hear some of the nitty-gritty, tell you about who should be screened for lung cancer. The head of American Cancer Society is going to weigh in on this.

And later, Michelle Pfeiffer will also stop by.


GUPTA: Now, before the break, we were talking about Proposition 29. It got a little fiery. It's on the ballot here in California and it's going to be this Tuesday. It would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1. It would raise more than $700 million a year, and about three quarters of that would go to cancer research.

Joining me to talk about this a little bit more, from Atlanta, Dr. John Seffrin. He's the red of the American Cancer Society.

Thanks, John, for joining us. You and I had a chance to talk about these issues quite a bit. This money would go to all kinds of cancer research. Not just lung cancer, is my understanding from reading the bill, but, of course, lung cancer is a big one.

We know in a perfect world, people would never smoke or they would quit before they ever get cancer. But, quickly, if you indulge me, I want to give you the benefits that are almost immediate when someone quits smoking.

Twenty minutes, for example, after smoking a cigarette, your blood pressure drops back down. Literally, within hours, your risk of having a fatal heart attack goes down. Within a year, your risk of heart disease is half way back down to that of a nonsmoker. These are incentives to try and, you know, obviously get someone to think about this.

Let me ask you something specific. Can an ex-smoker get their cancer risk down to where it is for a never smoker?

JOHN SEFFRIN, CEO, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Very close. It doesn't go down as fast as for heart disease, but it's like a stair step and goes down, and about 15 years out to get back to the baseline of lung cancer rate among people who had never smoked.

GUPTA: We talk about lung cancer. It's a frightening prospect if you're diagnosed. Where do we stand on screening? I mean, is there any sort of effective screening test for lung?

SEFFRIN: We think there now is for the first time. And this is over five decades of research. But we know that spiral CT scanning can catch early lesions. And in a study, a very well done study with the American Cancer Society, helped recruit 50,000 patients. People who were 55 and older and had a 30-pack year history who were screened regularly by x-ray and by CT scanning, and there was a 20 percent reduction in lung cancer mortality in those screen by CT screening.

So, it's not a perfect test, but it's the first time we've ever had anything that truly reliably picked up early lung cancer.

GUPTA: It's arguably one of the most addictive substances on the planet, cigarettes. So, let me ask you something specific about Prop 29, which I know you've been following closely. How much of the money from Prop 29 would go to programs to help people quit smoking?

SEFFRIN: Well, it would be several millions of dollars, but the thing I heard the earlier part of the conversation. I want to make the point. The thing about Prop 29, it's very enlightening -- good public health policy and economic health policy for the state of California.

It hits on all cylinders. It would create new jobs, better paying jobs, by the way. It would create about a $1.2 billion increase in economic activity. More importantly, it will save 100,000 lives and protect 222,000 kids from ever getting addicted. And, oh, by the way, it will spawn life saving research.

Sanjay, a point I want to point out here that's so important. It would make California the second largest funder of cancer research after the NCI in the entire country. The pay line for cancer research at NCI a decade ago was 1 in 3 meritorious grant proposals will get funding. Today, it's 1 in 10.

So, we know grants that would yield a benefit aren't getting funded. Now, they could get funded. So, it's a tremendous opportunity for California to do the right thing -- not only for California but for the whole world.

GUPTA: I think a lot of people should pay attention even if you don't live in California, as to what's happening there because I think it could be an inflection point in what's been happening for a long time with big tobacco and smoking cessation.

So, Dr. John Seffrin, I don't get to see you in person, but thanks for joining us. Appreciate it as always.

SEFFRIN: Thanks for having me.

GUPTA: Up next, beautiful and bold. We get the story behind these children's dolls that have no hair. Stay with us.


GUPTA: You know, in just a few days, there's going to be new and different looking dolls on the shelves of your local toy stores. They are thanks in part to the efforts of one New Jersey mom.

I want to introduce you now to a cancer patient who successfully lobbied major companies like Mattel to create dolls that looked just like her. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA (voice-over): Jane Bingham had bounced between doctors for more than a year before finally being diagnosed with an incurable type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

JANE BINGHAM, FOUNDER, BEAUTIFUL AND BALD MOVEMENT: They say that this cancer is always there because it's your lymph system. It's in your immune system.

GUPTA: For five years, doctors were able to keep the cancer in check with immunotherapy, then that stopped working and doctors told Bingham she would have to start chemotherapy.

Only then did her daughter realize that her mom was sick.

BINGHAM: She was 4 when I was diagnosed and she had just turned 9 when I had chemotherapy and lost my hair.

GUPTA: Bingham's hair loss became a defining moment for both her and her young daughter.

BINGHAM: She always knew me with long blond hair and said numerous times she missed my hair. She wished I didn't have to lose my hair. That was her big focus, was the hair.

GUPTA: Her daughter's experience prompted Bingham to petition toy companies to consider manufacturing a bald doll.

Companies are listening. MGA Entertainment has created "Bald Moxie" and Bratz dolls as part of a new collection that's going to go on sale this June.

Mattel has promised to manufacture 10,000 "Beautiful and Bald" friends of Barbie.

BINGHAM: I think it's important to focus your energies outward instead of just focusing inward on yourself.


GUPTA: I tell you, doctors say Jane will never be cancer-free, but for now, her symptoms are gone and her quality of life has returned. We certainly wish her all the best. Look for those dolls.

You know, at 54 years old, Michelle Pfeiffer can still take hold of the big screen.


JOHNNY DEPP, ACTOR: I mean to be a part of this family again.


DEPP: Yes?

PFEIFFER: Promise me that this will remain our secret.


GUPTA: A little goth there, but glamorous as always, alongside Johnny Depp in dark shadows.

Well, next, Michelle Pfeiffer is stopping by to reveal some dramatic changes she's made to her own life and her diet as well.



GUPTA: You're not talking about just reducing your chance of heart disease. You're talking about essentially reducing it.


GUPTA: The late wisdom is once you develop these plaques, they're there. You are stuck with them. Try not to let them get worse. Is that faulty thinking?

ESSELSTYN: I think it's absolutely faulty thinking.

GUPTA (voice-over): Here is a picture he likes to show of a heart patient with a blocked coronary artery. Here is the same patient after going on a plant based diet. See the way the blockage has almost disappeared.


GUPTA: That was part of my documentary called "The Last Heart Attack". It's how a plant-based diet can actually reverse heart disease. You know, we learned it struck a chord with a lot of people. Among those people, actress Michelle Pfeiffer.

She agreed to talk about the challenge of staying at the top of her game, as an A-list movie star at the age of 54. She said she's in the best shape of her life. You can see the very full, very candid interview as well Monday night, 9:00 Eastern. But I want to give you some of the conversation on her new life now as a vegan.


GUPTA: It's not easy. I mean, when we had lunch, we had a vegan lunch, which was fantastic. But I think most people think vegan and think there's no way. How is it for you?

PFEIFFER: Well, I actually really love the vegan diet because I love carbs.

GUPTA: Is that right?

PFEIFFER: And I don't really -- I have never really -- I've never really loved animal protein, I mean, in terms of animal meat. I ate it because I thought it was good for me, you know? And I thought I needed to eat the protein and vegetables to stay lean. Really, it was all about vanity.

And the older I have gotten, of course, it's still about vanity, but it's really become more and more primarily switched a little bit, you know? Vanity is right under there, but I have to say it's a close second with wanting to, you know, live long and --

GUPTA: Has it made a difference? Do you know that you're healthier now as a result of being a vegan? Do you get your blood work checks?

PFEIFFER: I actually, God, I'm like such an old fart now. I did get my blood work checked.

GUPTA: I'm a doctor, I can ask these questions.

PFEIFFER: Yes, doctor. I had unusually high cholesterol.

GUPTA: Is that right?

PFEIFFER: For somebody who ate well and exercised well and did all of the right things. But it wasn't enough to sort of -- I mean, maybe some doctors would put me on medication, but I had a thing about medication so I didn't.

So I go on this diet and I'm curious now because of these claims. Two months later, I check my cholesterol, it has gone down 83 points.

GUPTA: Is that right? Wow.

PFEIFFER: Eighty-three points.

GUPTA: I'm delighted to hear that.


GUPTA: You're going to live forever.

PFEIFFER: Stunning, right? I was pretty excited.


GUPTA: And Monday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, I'm filling in as guest host for Piers Morgan. You can tune in then to hear a lot more about Michelle's diet, also her marriage of 19 years to award-winning producer David E. Kelly and also how she ages so gracefully in Hollywood.

By the way, I should point out that I'm working on a new project with David Kelly. It's called "Monday Mornings" based on my novel that came out earlier this year.

You know, you just heard Michelle Pfeiffer talking about being a vegan. Now, as you may know, a vegan diet means no meat, no eggs, no dairy. They say eat nothing with a mother or a face. It can be very healthy. But, you know, if health is your goal, you don't necessarily need an all-or-nothing approach. If the only change is eliminating red meat, you do greatly cut your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Red meat in particular is harmful because it's higher in saturated fat, may have more iron than your body necessarily needs, and some meats also have these harmful nitrates, which they use as a preservative.

So, I want to give you one idea that we use in our home. You know, my family and I eat meat occasionally, but we don't keep it in the house. For us, it's a simple way to cut down and it gets us out of the habit of thinking every meal should revolve around meat.

Unfortunately, that's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. We want you to stay connected all week long at Also, there's a conversation we want to keep going on Twitter @SanjayGuptaCNN.

Time now, though, to get you a check of your top stories in the "CNN NEWSROOM."