Wednesday, August 27, 2008

No decline in smoker prevalence

Michael Platt of the Calgary Sun has an interesting take on the recent survey from Health Canada which indicates that cigarette use across Canada has not shown any decline over the past three years, but rather, has remained stagnant.

One-in-five Canadians smoked in 2005 and one-in-five Canadians smoke now”, says Platt, before continuing, “All indications suggest there will be one-in-five Canadians smoking three years from now, too -- the survey shows the number of teens who smoke regularly isn't dropping, either”.

According to Platt, smoking was supposed to go the way of eight-track tapes and rotary phones. Uh-huh.

His article notes that “federal and provincial governments have spent millions of tax dollars on a campaign to gradually grind cigarettes into the history books”. The health hazards of cigarettes were to become a thing of the past; a rapidly receding memory of another era. Smoking was to be extinguished as easily as a lit cigarette; all for our own good, of course, and the good of society.

I think Platt has grossly under-estimated the costs of the war on smokers. The true costs are likely in the hundreds of millions. The Canada wide mass media campaign, funded by the federal government until recently, cost in excess of $400 million over five years.

And, let’s not forget the social and economic costs occasioned by smoking bans and the relentless persecution of smokers. Losses in tax revenue due to rapidly growing sales of contraband, job losses in the tobacco and hospitality industries, etc., all costs of the war.

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian Cancer Society, blames the usual suspects for the lack of progress in the war on smokers and is proposing the same tired solutions. "The Alberta government should move swiftly to increase tobacco taxes," said Cunningham.

The anti-smoker zealots are also demanding more campaigns to warn smokers of the dangers of smoking, because “higher prices, tougher laws and more education are the key to reducing the number of tobacco users”. And, of course, they have to eliminate the ready availability of cheap contraband.

Naturally, these campaigns will cost taxpayers financially . . . and put additional funding in the anti-smoker war chest. But, government can always extort the required cash from smokers by further increasing the price of smokes.

Platt doesn’t think contraband cigarettes or price is the issue. He says: “The problem is addiction. Adults who are addicted are going to keep smoking despite price, health concerns and hassle from bylaws and the anti-smoking majority”. Uh-huh.

He goes on: “Any grown-up capable of quitting has already done so -- and the money spent trying to convince the rest is a total waste, better invested elsewhere”.

Amen, brother. Although, I’m not yet convinced smoking is an addiction by most definitions, there is a dependency which keeps people puffing. And, then, some of us are just plain stubborn.

By all means, educate our young people about the potential harm of smoking. Make it difficult for them to take up the habit. But, let’s do it with facts, not propaganda. There’s a difference between education and indoctrination. The former is meant to impart knowledge; the latter is meant to control.

When anti-smoker groups present “scientific studies” which prove that a smoker breathing on a child will cause irreparable harm, people, including young people, will question the integrity of the science. When anti-smoker fanatics claim that 340 kids a day are dying in the US from exposure to secondhand smoke, science loses a little more credibility.

And, when they claim a society which can put a man on the moon is incapable of designing an air filtration and ventilation system to clear secondhand smoke from a bar, people will, eventually and justifiably, start to question the science.

Platt asks in his article, “Aren’t smokers already social pariahs, pushed to the gutters by anti-smoking laws”. Amen again, brother. Take it from one who knows.

The process of “de-normalization” implemented by anti-smoker activists was created to coerce smokers into quitting. It was intentionally designed to denigrate and disenfranchise smokers. To accomplish their goal, the anti-smoker brigade distorted science and resorted to a propaganda campaign the likes of which has not been seen in three-quarters of a century.

Canadians could have been protected from the real dangers of secondhand smoke with a little compromise (and at far less cost). Legitimate public policies to dissuade smoking could have succeeded to a significant degree. The anti-smoker crowd chose instead to make life miserable for people simply because they engage in an unpopular, but still legal, habit.

The war on smoking has been turned into an all out war on smokers. We’re vastly outnumbered. We can’t rely on financial support from government as the anti-smokers do to spread their message of fear and hatred. We can no longer depend on our governments to protect us from discrimination in housing, employment or medical care. But, we will survive.

And, if the control freaks in the anti-smoker movement were looking for an easy victory, they are due for disappointment.

Rob Cunningham whines: "We should be seeing a decline (in smoking) and we're not”.

Sorry, Rob. You and your colleagues should have stuck to a campaign against smoking. Your relentless attacks on smokers moved the battle into a different arena. You decided that a human being’s value to society could be determined by whether or not he chose to smoke. It can’t. No more than a man’s worth can be determined by the colour of his skin or the God he chooses to worship.

You made it personal. There will be no surrender.

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