Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Power to the puff, smok'em if you can find'em

According to an October 8 press release, Imperial Tobacco is upset that Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t include the issue of illegal tobacco as a priority item in the Conservative's political platform for today’s federal election.

The press release notes that Canadian governments are losing over $2 billion dollars in tax revenues, “which is especially relevant in these troubled economic times”. It’s nice to see the folks at Imperial are so concerned about the loss of tax revenue extorted from their (former) customers.

Sounding more like a member of the anti-smoker brigade than a nasty old tobacco company executive, Benjamin Kemball, President and CEO of Imperial, said: "Failure of government to prioritize the issue of illegal tobacco sales is driving a highly regulated, heavily taxed, tobacco market to an illegal, unregulated and untaxed free-for-all.”

Loosely translated, that means the sale of cheap contraband is cutting into Imperial’s market share and adversely affecting their bottom line.

Of course, Imperial would like us to believe that their concern is for Canada's youth who can now buy contraband smokes at rock bottom prices without the hassle of going through legal retail outlets. But, their real concern is that hundreds of thousands of adult smokers can, and do, take advantage of the same everyday low prices.

Echoing the sentiments of anti-smoker crusaders, their press release notes that “For the last three years, after more than 40 years of steady decline, national smoking rates have remained the same.” Uh-huh. Imperial Tobacco is concerned that there aren’t enough smokers quitting. What the hell are these people trying to sell us?

Do they think no one noticed that while their customer base has been gradually declining, tobacco company profits have been steadily increasing?

The day after their first press release, they issued a second (Oct 9, 2008) to announce the results of a “study”, commissioned by Imperial, which found that “the vast majority of Canadians think the illegal tobacco trade is a problem in Canada that the federal government and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police should address.

The vast majority of Canadians, in this case, would be the fanatics in the anti-smoker brigade, greedy governments concerned about the billions being lost in sin taxes, Canada’s non-smokers and maybe a few disgruntled smokers who can’t find anyone from whom to buy the cut rate smokes.

Most smokers don’t see a problem. They see an opportunity to avoid the usurious costs of buying and using legal product. A pack a day smoker can easily save $50 per week by buying contraband. That’s a lot of money to a pensioner or a minimum wage earner.

In lock step with anti-smoker crusaders, the Imperial study notes that: “Illegal tobacco products do not comply with Canada's tobacco regulations. Furthermore, illegal tobacco trade erodes the respect Canadians have toward public order and undermines tobacco control initiatives put in place by governments.”

Hello! Is there anyone over there at Imperial Tobacco who hasn’t undergone a frontal lobotomy?

Respect for public order is not being eroded by those supplying Canadian smokers with contraband. It has been diminished by a de-normalization campaign deliberately designed to denigrate and demean smokers.

Respect for public order has been battered by the outright discrimination of smokers in the areas of housing, employment and medical care.

Does the “vast majority” really expect Canada’s five million smokers to maintain any respect for public order when they’ve been forced into the street to consume a legal product, when their governments demand ever increasing levels of extortion in the form of sin taxes, when they’re branded as child abusers and worse, when seniors and the infirm, among the most vulnerable in society, are left to die in the cold because they smoke?

The problem didn’t start with the people supplying contraband. It started with tobacco control initiatives meant to control smokers, not tobacco. Initiatives implemented by governments under pressure from the anti-smoker cranks and fanatics and meant to force smokers to quit. Force! Not encourage, not help, not educate; but to force smokers to quit.

So, apparently, now we have Imperial Tobacco joining forces with anti-smoker crusaders to demand that the federal government put an end to the sale of contraband smokes to protect their bottom line.

But, maybe they really do want smokers to quit, or at least quit smoking.

With the price of cigarettes kept artificially high by sinful sin taxes, and no cheap contraband available, some smokers would be forced to give up the dreadful smoking habit. With a few tax breaks, Imperial could corner the market for alternative nicotine delivery systems with their new line of snus (sounds like moose). Maybe they plan on sharing a display counter with nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges.

Shit. No wonder their press releases read as if they were written by Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association.

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