Thursday, May 15, 2008

A smoke free Canada; prohibitionist pipedream

National prohibition was introduced in the US through the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Passed in 1919 and effective in 1920, prohibition made the manufacture, transportation, import, and sale of alcoholic beverages illegal in the U.S.

Criminal activity, including theft, murder, and racketeering, grew directly from the imposition of alcohol prohibition. A very lucrative, often violent, black market for illegal alcohol was created. Enforcing prohibition became a costly nightmare with the loss of tax revenues on alcohol adversely impacting government coffers.

But, there was much more involved than the loss of tax revenue on alcoholic beverages; distilleries, wineries and breweries were closed, throwing tens of thousands of people out of work. Little consideration was given to the full economic impact of the legislation.

Prohibition became increasingly unpopular and was repealed late in 1933; a thirteen year exercise in futility, with even its most fervent supporters admitting failure.

One such supporter, industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., when it became apparent that prohibition would be repealed, wrote: “When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”

Politicians and prohibitionists today are no less naïve.

"I'm asking individuals to consider that they are contributing to a dangerous pipeline of criminal activity. This is not a victimless crime or a benign activity," Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, remarked at a press conference recently. He was talking about the growing trade in contraband cigarettes which deprive governments of tax revenue with losses estimated at 1.6 billion dollars.

In addition to the loss of tax revenue, the government is spending more and more tax dollars on policing the distribution and sale of contraband smokes.

Canadian governments have chosen to ignore the socio-economic impact of their march to tobacco prohibition.

Canadian tobacco farmers have been all but wiped out. Jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector. Bars, casinos and other adult entertainment venues have felt the adverse economic impact of smoking bans. Convenience stores are losing much needed revenue from the tobacco industry, due to the banning of “power walls”.

Studies on the economic impact of the bans are accepted only from the anti-smoker brigade. Many have been conducted with funding from the pharmaceutical industry despite the fact that the drug companies have a huge financial stake in the outcome of government efforts to impose piecemeal prohibition on tobacco.

On the other hand, legitimate studies which show the bans are having an adverse impact on the Canadian economy are dismissed and discredited with claims that they are tainted by some real or perceived association with “big tobacco”.

A stakeholder is defined as a “person, group, or organization that has a direct or indirect stake in an organization because it can affect or be affected by the organization's actions, objectives, and policies”. The stakeholders represented in forming smoking policy include anti-smoker groups like the Non-Smokers Rights Organization, the pharmaceutical industry, government public health agencies like Ontario’s Ministry of Health Propaganda and a host of others.

But, smokers, the biggest stakeholders in prohibitionist policy, have never been invited to the table. Five million Canadians denied representation in policy decisions which impact their social life, their right to adopt children and their right to rental accommodation, employment and medical care.

History tells us that prohibition doesn’t work. It also tells us that “taxation without representation” has been enough to start revolutions.

To be continued . . .

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