Monday, December 29, 2008

No hope for overweight smokers

From the vantage point of my tenth floor window, I have a beautiful view of the broad expanse of Lake Ontario. On a clear day, I can see the far shore in New York State. And, that’s troubling. New York’s Governor, David Paterson, has apparently come down with a mysterious malady which tends to smother common sense.

What if the virus causing this unknown illness is borne across the lake like a wisp of secondhand smoke? What if Ontario’s Premier, Dalton McGuinty, and his colleagues are infected with the same dreadful disease? They’ve already demonstrated an incredible lack of common sense in combating the smoking epidemic.

Epidemics, as you probably already know, are becoming every politician’s favourite boogeyman; raising taxes, particularly during tough economic times, can be an exceptionally volatile proposition.

But, raising the spectre of a life-threatening epidemic provides politicians with all the justification they need to support regressive, discriminatory taxes with relative impunity. There is little political cost associated with fighting an epidemic, whether it’s real or imagined.

Just look at the recent CNN article by New York Governor David Paterson: “Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a new public health epidemic: childhood obesity.” Uh-huh.

And, just how does the Governor plan to deal with the problem? Why, he’ll raise taxes of course. Isn’t that why politicians embrace the ever-growing number of epidemics in the first place? Says the Gov: “Just as the cigarette tax has helped reduce the number of smokers and smoking-related deaths, a tax on highly caloric, non-nutritional beverages can help reduce the prevalence of obesity.”

And just how does the Gov know that cigarette taxes helped reduce the number of smokers and smoking related deaths? Why, he was told by the anti-smoker fanatics at the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Uh-huh.

So, the Gov has imposed a new obesity tax on soft drinks and sugared fruit drinks which will generate over 400 million dollars in tax revenue and eliminate obesity. OK, it may not eliminate obesity, but it will have a major impact on the problem. OK, OK. Would you believe it might put a wee, tiny dent in the problem?

Besides, from a political perspective, it will pave the way to extort additional taxes from John Q Public. No one is likely to complain. After all, it’s for our own good and the good of the children.

And, although some people will be annoyed, no one will be shocked when the obesity tax is extended to other unhealthy foods because the tax on soft drinks is simply not having the desired effect.

Governor Paterson won’t have to do a lot of research to identify the next target for taxation in his fight against the obesity epidemic. There’s already a list of the 10 worst foods to consume if you’re prone to being overweight. A video on You Tube (Natalie on Nutrition) correctly identified soft drinks as the number one food item to be avoided if you don’t want to put on the pounds.

The list includes the usual suspects: hot dogs, hamburgers, French fries, potato chips, bacon, fried catfish, etc. Uh-huh; fried catfish. Like, I'm down at the Colonel's three or four times a week for the fried catfish. At any rate, an obesity tax on these items could raise billions in revenue. It’s a politician’s dream; the opportunity to raise taxes, justified in the name of the public good. The possibilities are endless.

Of course, there may be a few unintended consequences.

For example, unlike punitive cigarette taxes which target smokers exclusively, the obesity tax on soft drinks will apply to everyone, obese or not. Will “normal” people object to paying a tax designed to curb obesity? Will they blame the government for picking their pockets to combat a health problem with which they are not afflicted?

Or, will they direct their anger and frustration at those they believe to be the cause?

Says the Gov: “We must never stigmatize children who are overweight or obese. Yet, for the sake of our children's health, we have an obligation to address this crisis.”

But some are already suggesting that’s exactly what should be done: “There should be a stigma attached to obesity. Hopefully it will motivate people to get healthy.”

The health scare professionals, who have been busy creating fear and promoting the hatred of smokers, will use the same tactics against the overweight and obese, to shame them into adopting a “healthy” lifestyle. They’ll point to the billions of dollars the overweight are costing the health care system. They’ll lament the number of “premature and preventable” deaths. And they’ll conduct a campaign to de-normalize the overweight and obese.

To be sure, the de-normalization of the overweight will be much more subtle than the campaign against smokers. But, the effect will be the same; social ostracism.

As a smoker, I’ve grown very suspicious of people who want to “motivate”, “encourage” or “help” me to quit and become, once again, a normal, healthy human being. And, I understand, as most smokers do, the deliberate stigmatization of those who choose to smoke.

Maybe, as a smoker, I should take comfort in the fact that the do-gooders have found another target group for their experiments in social engineering. Unfortunately, with a BMI (body mass index) of 27.2, I find myself ensconced in yet another minority group; the overweight.

I guess I’d better get to work and shed those 15 excess pounds before Dalton and his Liberal colleagues here in Ontario decide to follow Paterson’s lead.

Just the thought of all that help and encouragement makes me cringe.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New York’s new “sin tax” on non diet soft drinks

It was neither unexpected nor unforeseen. All that was needed was an excuse and the current financial crisis provided the pretext needed by New York State Governor David Paterson to start the ball rolling. Faced with a projected $12.5 billion deficit next year, Paterson announced plans for a series of spending cuts and new taxes, including a new “obesity tax”.

A press release issued by the Governor’s office on December 16, 2008, confirms that New York will be among the first jurisdictions in the world to impose an obesity tax in the form of a tax on non-diet soft drinks. The new budget measure will add an 18 percent sales tax on non-diet soft drinks to “combat obesity and related diseases”, with revenues directed to health care. It is expected to generate revenue of over $400 million for the cash-strapped state government.

The new tax was first reported in the Sunday edition of the Times Union by James M. Odato.

But, it’s not the first time the issue has been raised over the last few years. Back in October, I reported on several initiatives to assail the obese and the overweight in the same way as they now do those who choose to smoke.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), for example, lobbied the Canadian government two years ago for a massive publicity campaign, “purchasing advertising space to promote nutrition, physical activity, and healthy body image messages on nationally televised TV and radio programs.” Also on their “things-to-do” list were taxes on unhealthful foods similar to those on tobacco.

According to CSPI, as many Canadians (25,000 to 47,000) die prematurely each year from “diet and inactivity related diseases” as die from smoking.

In Britain, a series of draconian measures have been considered, including a “fat quota” ration card for regulating individual food purchases to shipping overweight teens off to government-mandated fat camps and cigarette-style health warnings on cheese, butter and whole milk products.

And, the new obesity tax is not the first initiative launched to control obesity. New York is one of those states that have mandated “calorie counts” on restaurant menus. But, neither calorie counts on menus nor cigarette style health warnings on milk cartons are likely to reduce caloric intake to any great extent.

And, whether someone wants a soda, a bucketful of KFC or a Camel filter, they will not be deterred by a slight increase in taxes.

All the newest “sin tax” will do is allow the descent down the slippery slope to continue, with little opposition. Governments will feel free to impose penalties on lifestyle choices of which they, and the health scare fanatics, disapprove, with relative unpunity.

It will start slowly; seemingly minor and un-intrusive. Then, like the de-normalization of smokers, the penalties will gradually be incremented. How long before they’ll be taxing other “unhealthy” foods in an effort to encourage the overweight and obese to adopt a government approved lifestyle? How long before McDonald’s is printing health warnings on their food wrappers and soft drink containers?

Yeah. I know. It’ll never happen. And, smokers aren’t really being de-normalized through Draconian smoking bans and punitive levels of taxation and other efforts which turn them into second-class citizens. They’re simply being encouraged and helped to adopt a healthy lifestyle. All they have to do to stop the discrimination is kiss the collective ass of the anti-smoker brigade, do as they’re told and quit.

Maybe now those who laughed at the concept of a slippery slope, and ignored the warnings, will sit up and take notice.

But, then again, maybe they won’t.

Additional reading:
Canadians Against Government Encroachment (CAGE) commentary on CNN article by Gov. David Paterson promoting the new obesity tax.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Snow Shoveller

Christmas is a comin’. It’s time to take a brief respite from the tobacco wars. Besides, at this time of year it’s difficult to get angry, even with the hate-mongers in the anti-smoker league. Not only that, but I’m too tuckered out from shopping to think straight. OK, so maybe I’m just too damn lazy to write an article.

So, there will be no rant, at least no rant against the anti-smoker crowd, for today. But, since we just got our first snowstorm of the season here in Southern Ontario, a little rant against Mother Nature might be in order.

I picked this up from somewhere on the web, although I’m no longer sure just where. I’ll Be back after Christmas.

Snow shoveller’s diary

December 8: 6:00 PM. It started to snow. The first snow of the season and the wife and I took our cocktails and sat for hours by the window watching the huge soft flakes drift down from heaven. It looked like a Grandma Moses Print. So romantic we felt like newlyweds again. I love snow!

December 9: We woke to a beautiful blanket of crystal white snow covering every inch of the landscape. What a fantastic sight! Could there be a more lovely place in the whole world? Moving here was the best idea I've ever had. Shoveled for the first time in years; felt like a boy again. I did both our driveway and the sidewalks. This afternoon the snowplow came along and covered up the sidewalks and closed in the driveway, so I got to shovel again. What a perfect life.

December 12: The sun has melted all our lovely snow. What a disappointment. My neighbour tells me not to worry; we'll definitely have a white Christmas. No snow on Christmas would be awful! Bob says we'll have so much snow by the end of winter, that I'll never want to see snow again. I don't think that's possible. Bob is such a nice man, I'm glad he's our neighbour.

December 14: Snow, lovely snow; eight inches fell last night. The temperature dropped to -20. The cold makes everything sparkle so. The wind took my breath away, but I warmed up by shoveling the driveway and sidewalks. This is the life! The snowplow came back this afternoon and buried everything again. I didn't realize I would have to do quite this much shoveling, but I'll certainly get back in shape this way. I wish I wouldn't huff and puff so.

December 15: 20 inches forecast. Sold my van and bought a 4x4 Blazer. Bought snow tires for the wife's car and two extra shovels. Stocked the freezer. The wife wants a wood stove in case the electricity goes out. I think that's silly. We aren't in Alaska, after all.

December 16: Ice storm this morning. Fell on my ass on the ice in the driveway putting down salt. Hurt like hell. The wife laughed for an hour, which I think was very cruel.

December 17: Still way below freezing. Roads are too icy to go anywhere. Electricity was off for seven hours. I had to pile the blankets on to stay warm. There’s nothing to do but stare at the wife and try not to irritate her. Guess I should've bought a wood stove, but won't admit it to her. God I hate it when she's right. I can't believe I'm freezing to death in my own living room.

December 20: Electricity's back on, but had another 14" of the damn stuff last night. More shoveling. Took all day. Bloody snowplow came by twice. Tried to find a neighbour kid to shovel, but they said they're too busy playing hockey. I think they're lying. Called the only hardware store around to see about buying a snow blower, and they're out. Might have another shipment in March. I think they're lying. Bob says I have to shovel or the city will have it done and bill me. I think he's lying.

December 22: Bob was right about a white Christmas, because 13 more inches of the white crap fell today, and it's so cold it probably won't melt 'til August. Took me 45 minutes to get all dressed up to go out to shovel, and then I had to take a piss. By the time I got undressed, did my thing and dressed again, I was too tired to shovel! Tried to hire Bob (who has a plow on his truck) for the rest of the winter, but he says he's too busy. I think the bastard’s lying.

December 23: Only two inches of snow today, and it warmed up to "0". The wife wanted me to decorate the front of the house this morning. What? Is she nuts? Why didn't she tell me to do that a month ago? She says she did, but I think she's lying.

December 24: 6". Snow packed so hard by snowplow, I broke the shovel. Thought I was having a heart attack. If I ever catch the stupid f**ker who drives that snowplow, I'll drag him through the snow and beat him to death with my broken shovel. I know he hides around the corner and waits for me to finish shoveling and then he comes down the street at 100 miles an hour and throws snow all over everywhere I've just been! Tonight the wife wanted me to sing Christmas carols with her and open our presents, but I was too busy watching for the f**king snowplow.

December 25: Merry f**cking Christmas. 20 more inches of the f**king slop tonight. Snowed in. The idea of shoveling makes my blood boil. God, I hate the snow! Then the snowplow driver came by asking for a donation and I hit him over the head with my shovel. The wife says I have a bad attitude. I think she's a f**king idiot. If I have to watch “It's a Wonderful Life” one more time, I'm going to stuff her into the microwave.

December 26: Still snowed in. Why the hell did I ever move here? It was all HER idea. She's really getting on my nerves.

December 27: Temperature dropped to -30, and the pipes froze. Plumber came after 14 hours of waiting for him. He only charged me $1,400 to replace all my pipes.

December 28: Warmed up to above -50. Still snowed in. The f**king wife is driving me crazy!!!!!

December 29: 10 more inches. Bob says I have to shovel the roof or it could cave in. That's the silliest thing I ever heard. How f**king dumb does he think I am?

December 30: Roof caved in. I beat up the snow plow driver. Now, he’s suing me for a million dollars. Not only for the beating I gave him, but also for trying to shove the broken snow shovel up his ass. The wife went home to her mother. Nine inches of snow predicted.

December 31: I set fire to what's left of the house. No more shoveling.

January 8: Feel so good. I just love those little white pills they keep giving me. But why am I tied to the f**king bed?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More anti-smoker venom from Ontario the good

The Ontario Legislature recently approved a “feel good, save-the-kids” anti-smoker law which outlaws the sale of candy-flavoured cigarillos. Apparently, Ontario’s Health Propaganda Minister, Margarett Best, told the Toronto Star, “it's clear that tobacco companies are targeting young people by selling cigarillos in 21 flavours, including peach and cherry, for just $1 each in colourful packaging designed to appeal to kids.”

Perhaps someone should explain the meaning of redundancy (ie: the attribute of being superfluous and unneeded) to Ms. Best.

The fact is, there are already federal and provincial laws on the books which make it illegal to sell tobacco products to minors. And, these laws have been in effect for some time. It’s not surprising that the Legislature missed that minor technicality, since the bill was introduced and passed by the Legislature in near record time (just over a week).

So, the new law is both superfluous and unneeded; spelled r-e-d-u-n-d-a-n-t.

The legislation was co-sponsored by Liberal backbencher Dave Levac and New Democrat France Gelinas. It’s being touted as a prime example of bipartisan co-operation by the McGuinty government. It’s nice to see that the politicians at Queen’s Park have finally found an issue on which they can all agree; kicking smokers.

I know what you’re thinking. Just more sour grapes from a suicidal smoker, secretly crying out to big brother to save him from his own self-destructive tendencies. After all, don’t 80% of smokers really want to quit?

But, no, you’re wrong on both counts. Those who really want to quit, will; just like the tens of millions around the world who have already done so.

And, it’s not really sour grapes either. Let’s think about this legislation and what it’s accomplished. Let’s be objective; to see why it’s just more redundant, self-serving bullshit and bafflegab from the anti-smoker crowd.

First, as already noted, there is legislation on the books prohibiting sales of tobacco products to children. All that was necessary was to enforce existing legislation. And, no, it doesn’t matter if the flavoured cigarillos only cost a buck. If sales to minors are illegal; they’re illegal whether items sell for one dollar or ten dollars.

Second, tobacco products are already hidden from the view of minors and adults alike. So, kids aren’t going to see them, become addicted and die, no matter how colourful and appealing the packaging. And, did I mention that sales of tobacco products to minors are illegal, making the law redundant?

Third, the legislation prohibits sales of flavoured cigarillos to adults, as well as children. In fact, that appears to be the focus of the legislation in the first place, banning flavoured cigarillos to adult smokers. While doing absolutely nothing to further protect children, it deprives adults of their right to buy, and use, a perfectly legal tobacco product.

Fourth, the hypocrisy of the anti-smoker legislation is really quite sickening.

Alcohol has been sold in fruit flavours for years; including strawberry and peach. Why are the politicians not screaming about the candy-flavoured alcoholic beverages, with their eye-catching packaging and colourful displays, being marketed to children? The answer is obvious; because there are already laws on the books which prohibit the sale of alcohol to minors. Additional legislation would be - wait for it – redundant.

And, last, but certainly not least, the legislation may have unintended consequences which could encourage kids to experiment with tobacco in even greater numbers than they do now.

Making flavoured cigarillos illegal will appeal to the often rebelliousness nature of teens. Smoking Joe’s can be had for as little as $5.00 for a pack of 20. Just how long does the anti-smoker crowd think it will be before enterprising teens recognize the opportunity to supplement their allowance? Buy them for $5.00 a pack; sell them for a buck a piece. That’s $15.00 profit on a pack of cigarillos, and a whole new black market, created by anti-smoker fanatics, to cater to kids.

Simply put, Ontario’s legislation is misguided, ill-conceived and may cause more harm than good. But, what can you expect from legislation that was introduced, passed second reading and was approved in eight days. Most politicians take that long to decide what colour socks to wear. And, it’s all so unnecessary; so . . . have you figured out today’s word yet.

The anti-smoker bigots are so intent on punishing smokers and forcing them to quit, that they totally ignore any and all adverse consequences.

Today’s rant has been brought to you by the letter “R”, as in rabid anti-smokers, “R” for regressive taxation and “R” for redundant legislation.

By the way, that’s spelled r-e-d-u-n-d-a-n-t.

Check out the Star article.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Orwell’s world – the pending reality?

Many years ago, I was removing the old-fashioned plaster and lathe in my daughter’s bedroom. Supporting the plaster were newspapers, yellowed and brittle. Most of the papers crumbled as I removed the plaster, but I did manage to salvage a few scraps.

One article in those old newspapers (from the 1930’s), involved the town council’s proposal to have a traffic light installed at the top of the street so that motorists traveling Highway 2 would know they were entering a town and slow down.

I was reminded of that old newspaper article a few years back when the City of Toronto was discussing the installation of CCTV cameras to catch speeders or drivers running red lights at the same intersection and others.

It made a lot of sense, despite the “big brother” connotations. It was the intersection where kids from the nearby middle school were most likely to cross the very busy Lakeshore Blvd. (once known as Highway 2) The cameras could catch any vehicle ignoring traffic regulations, recording license plate numbers of offending vehicles and their “ticket” would be sent through the mail.

It’s not as if the use of CCTV was a new custom. Some stretches of major highways around Toronto had been fitted with cameras; to monitor traffic flow and the like. And, they’ve been used for years in public buildings, stores, apartment buildings, etc.

In fact, the use of CCTV to monitor people’s movement has become quite commonplace. But, it’s gotten to the point where the use of cameras is becoming a little too intrusive; a little too Orwellian.

For instance, in Britain there are an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras in use. But, it’s not just the proliferation of cameras that’s creating a problem; it’s the way in which the cameras are being utilized. A recent newspaper article from the UK, for example, claims the cameras have been used to catch people committing such mundane offenses as putting their garbage out too early.

But, there’s more disturbing news regarding the increased use of CCTV coming from England. Last year, in a Middlesbrough pilot project, cameras were outfitted with loudspeakers so that staff monitoring the cameras could communicate directly with people on the street. In the project, 12 of the 146 cameras in use around the city were rigged for communicating with the public. And, the pilot program is expected to be expanded to roughly twenty other cities in England.

Consider the pictures in the graphic which accompanies this post. A man leaves an empty soda can on a bench. The talking camera advises him to place it in the garbage bin. The man is even told where to find the bin. After complying with the request, the man is given a polite “Thank you for using the bin.”

Says Middlesbrough Mayor, Ray Mallon: “The number one priority is not terrorism. In the public domain, it’s what we call anti-social behaviour; people misbehaving.” Huh? Leaving an empty can on a bench is anti-social behaviour? Putting your garbage out early or riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is anti-social?

Such behaviour may be Inconsiderate, but anti-social? And, how did people misbehaving become such a high priority?

One person opposing the project, civil liberties advocate Simon Davis, believes the use of cameras amounts to a form of psychological warfare against the people. The cameras say to people: “We will watch you; we will monitor you; we will control you.”

And, he’s right. It’s very disconcerting to think that your every move can be monitored. And, it’s even more unnerving to think of being scolded publicly for “misbehaving”, by an anonymous voice from some remote location. And, just who decides what “anti-social” behaviour should be controlled, now or in the future?

Someone (David Cronenberg, maybe?) once said all that was necessary to make a good horror film was to take the perfectly ordinary and push it to its most extreme.
Imagine a strange, disembodied voice berating an overweight or obese individual about to enter a MacDonald’s. How about a public reprimand for a smoker who dares light up in the street? Will cameras be installed in public parks to ensure that young couples don’t get overly amorous following a picnic lunch?

That’s perhaps the most troubling aspect of all; just how close we are to the Orwellian world of 1984.

Read the news article.
Watch the video.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Smoking, SHS and false allegations

According to anti-smoker zealots, smokers are brainless addicts, slaves of the nicotine released by burning the tobacco on which they are so dependent. And, according to some, they are depraved, uncaring individuals, unconcerned about the health and safety of those around them.

Hasn't the anti-smoker cult told the public repeatedly that tobacco kills people?

Even Health Canada claims that tobacco use kills over 37,000 Canadians, each and every year. But, by extension, that means that those who choose to smoke are committing suicide. Or, at the very least, since only 50% of them are believed to die of “smoking related illness”, they’re playing a very dangerous game of Russian roulette.

But, even worse, according to the anti-smoker cult, smokers are killing innocent parties in their unrepentant march to self destruction. Health Canada claims that 831 non-smoking Canadians are killed, each and every year, by exposure to secondhand smoke.

That’s strong language, because that means smokers aren’t simply inconsiderate louts subjecting protesting non-smokers to the foul stench of tobacco smoke. That means the cost to non-smokers is far greater than the price of a few bottles of shampoo to get cigarette smoke out of their hair after being assaulted (with secondhand smoke) by a vile, aggressive smoker.

That means smokers are murderers! At the very least, they’re guilty of manslaughter. There’s no way to come to any other conclusion.

If you use a gun to kill someone, it’s not the gun that goes on trial; it’s the individual who pulled the trigger who is responsible. The same is true if you use a knife. The individual wielding the knife will face a jury of his/her peers and, if found guilty, be punished. Does it really matter what weapon is used in the commission of a crime when people are killed?

In 2002, there were 462 murders committed in Canada, 137 of which involved firearms. Most of the suspects in those crimes were caught and tried. Those convicted are now behind bars.

But of the 831 people Health Canada and other health scare professionals claim were killed by secondhand smoke, not a single perpetrator has been apprehended, much less incarcerated.

How is that possible?

Even if the deaths were accidental, there is usually an investigation by some legitimate authority to determine cause; to determine whether or not negligence was involved; to hold those responsible accountable.

Where are the police? What have they been doing? Did they investigate a single one of these 831 deaths? And if not, why not?

The reality is that, to investigate a death, the police need a body; a victim. It doesn’t really matter if the death resulted from murder, manslaughter, suicide or by accidental means; they need a body to begin an investigation.

And, no one has ever provided the police, or any other authority, with a victim.

Every one of those 462 murder victims was identified. Every one of the 9,050 fatalities resulting from accidents that same year have been identified and investigated by the appropriate authorities. Every one of the 3,650 suicide victims was identified and their deaths investigated.

Yet not a single individual, allegedly killed by secondhand smoke, has ever been identified. Not a single death has been investigated. Not a single death, intentional or otherwise, has even been reported to police.

And if there’s no body, no victim, how can Health Canada, or any other responsible government agency, legitimately claim that 831 people were killed by secondhand smoke. And why would they make such an outrageous claim?

They do it to de-normalize, demean and denigrate those who choose to smoke. They do it to defend and even encourage blatant discrimination against smokers. They do it to transfer their fear and hatred of smokers to the public.

In no other context would the allegations made by Health Canada and others in the anti-smoker brigade be acceptable. The “information” provided on their web site is intentionally designed to induce fear of secondhand smoke and foster hatred of those who choose to use a perfectly legal product. In another time and place, it would be called propaganda

The simple truth is that the alleged deaths exist only on paper; a statistical figment of the imagination. And, despite the fact that they have been unable to produce a body, despite the fact that they can provide no evidence of a crime, they continue to encourage hatred of smokers with inflammatory language, distorted, dishonest statistics and outright lies. And, they do it largely unopposed by the public, politicians or the press.

Hate speech, of the kind used by anti-smoker fanatics, against any other group in society would be denounced in the media and condemned by the public. Making false allegations is, in and of itself, a crime. Continual offenses would be prosecuted in the courts.

But, I guess smokers are different.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Stamp out smoking - stomp on a smoker

Next month, the city of Belmont will begin enforcing the most extensive anti-smoker ordinance in the US. And, if it weren’t so sad, so insane, it would be funny.

While visiting Michael Siegel’s blog recently (Tobacco Analysis), I picked up a link to a video on The Mayor of Belmont, California, was speaking on behalf of a proposition that would ban smoking practically everywhere in the city, including a person’s own car and private homes if you happened to live in a condominium or apartment.

The video provided some interesting insight into the mind of the anti-smoker zealot.

I’m thinking of the children, that’s the most important thing.” raved Mayor Coralin Feirbach. “Not necessarily the restaurants, not necessarily the condos, but the children in the community. Children. Children. Children.”

The Mayor was waving her arms about, pounding on the desk with her fist, as animated as an evangelical preacher overdosing on the Holy Ghost. Mayor Feirbach is obviously an anti-smoker and just as obviously a fanatic, but much, much worse; a fanatic in a position of power.

Councilman Dave Warden, also supporting the ban, declared at a city council meeting: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a smoke-free city, where you don’t smoke in the parks, you don’t smoke outside, you don’t smoke in front of Starbucks, you just don’t do it?”

Mr. Perfectly Flawless Warden obviously likes to dream in Technicolor.

Warden says that non-smokers have no options if they’re offended by the smell of secondhand smoke. “Their options are to move. Their options are to die.” He declares in a grand mal of empty-headed nonsense.

Listening to Warden, someone might easily be led into believing that Belmont city works was being overwhelmed, sweeping up the bodies of non-smokers felled by a whiff of tobacco smoke on a regular basis.

“The council has the right to enact ordinances for the health, welfare and safety for the population of Belmont,” proclaims Mayor Feirbach in her best imitation of an old time, fire and brimstone preacher. “That is our responsibility; to take care of everybody.” Uh-huh.

Unfortunately, in Belmont, California, everybody apparently means everybody but smokers.

Those who choose to smoke have been branded as second class citizens. (At this point in time, we are speaking figuratively, although it’s rumoured that council has put out tenders for a supply of branding irons bearing the city logo.)

The obscenely oppressive legislation approved by Belmont’s city council, in fact, declares open season on smokers. It targets them for government sanctioned discrimination.

But, perhaps the saddest part of the whole disgusting affair is that the ordinance is based on fear; a ludicrous, irrational fear of secondhand smoke. And, Feirbach and Warden spread that message of fear with a vengeance.

“Children. Children. Children.” Feirbach rages fervently. Her (over) zealous assertion that she is acting in the interests of the children is certainly not without passion. What it does lack, however, is credible evidence to support the contention that children (or adults) are at any increased risk of death from exposure to secondhand smoke.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer conducted a study for the World Health Organization which concluded that: “ETS exposure during childhood was not associated with an increased risk of lung cancer (odds ratio [OR] for ever exposure = 0.78; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.64 -0.96).” Simply put, no risk of lung cancer from secondhand smoke. Nor have scientific studies shown an increased risk for heart disease.

The worst that can be shown is that cigarette smoke might contribute to an asthma attack causing a runny nose or watery eyes. And, how many parents, aware of a child’s medical condition, would expose their child to even that discomfort.

But then, who needs evidence when you’re protecting the world from the foul stench of tobacco smoke?

But you have to wonder: did Feirbach or Warden actually do any research of their own before their venomous incitement of hatred against smokers? Or did they simply rely on the “experts” in the anti-smoker club?

A sizable contingent from the anti-smoker brigade attended at least one Belmont council meeting where the issue was discussed; the American Lung Association, California Clean Air Project, BREATHE California, San Mateo County Tobacco Coalition, etc. In fact, anti-smoker cultists outnumbered the five member city council.

Of course, one stakeholder group appears to have been glaringly absent from council discussions; smokers. But, then, they were the defendants in the proceeding. And, the concept of due process has obviously been discarded in Belmont’s politically correct version of democracy.

The Belmont anti-smoker ordinance was approved in September, 2007 and will be enforced beginning in January 2009. Another fine day for truth, justice and the American way.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Anti-smoking drug pushers

It was a brief article, not much more than 100 words, written earlier this year. Quebec’s Public Security Minister Jacques Dupuis was announcing that his government was relaxing a recently implemented smoking ban in provincial prisons.

The smoking ban had been implemented prohibiting smoking inside and outside detention facilities, despite warnings from prisoner advocates and guards who predicted it would create tension and unrest among the prison population. Within days, some prisoners at the Orsainville prison rioted, setting fires in their cells, presumably because of the ban.

According to Dupuis, the decision to allow smoking outside was made to ease prisoners into the ban.

It was also noted that: “Nicotine patches and gum are available to the inmates who pay out of pocket and must apply for reimbursement from the Quebec drug plan.”

The fact that the riots and the eventual back-tracking of the government occurred in a prison setting is immaterial. What struck me was the number of times I had read similar comments from authorities in other institutional settings.

For example, when rationalizing smoking bans in senior’s homes, hospitals, palliative care units, etc, you’ll get the same comments being made by the anti-smoker element: “Nicotine replacement therapy and smoking cessation drugs will be made available.” But, it’s empty, anti-smoker rhetoric, designed to demonstrate to the public their kind-hearted, compassionate nature.

The crusaders will tell you they don’t force the ill or elderly outside into the cold and damp, they go there, of their own free will, to smoke. If they don’t want to go outside, all they have to do is quit smoking. Once they quit, presumably, they can be treated as normal human beings.

And, the anti-smoker crowd stands ready to help. They’ll make sure there’s a ready supply of nicotine gum and nicotine flavoured gum drops available.

In fact, people in institutional settings are being coerced into using drugs that most of them don’t want. Granted, they’re not being physically restrained or force fed drugs, at least not yet. But it is force nonetheless. Those confined to an institution are being told that as long as they continue to smoke, they will continue to be punished for their abnormal behaviour. Not much of a choice, really. Keep smoking and be treated like a piece of shit, or take the drugs and be treated like a human being.

The simple truth is that anti-smoker crusaders, and the politicians they lead around by the nose, have become pushers for the pharmaceutical industry peddling nicotine replacement and smoking cessation drugs.

And it’s happening at all levels of the anti-smoker campaign. The World Health Organization, Health Canada, and government provided health services around the world, are all promoting the use of drugs to curb smoking. Pressure is being applied to governments to have smoking cessation aids made available through, and paid for by, national health care services; one gigantic sales promotion for the pharmaceutical industry.

It kind of makes you wonder if that wasn’t the intent of the “de-normalization” campaign initiated by the anti-smoker brigade in the first place. Make life so miserable for those who choose to smoke that they are obliged to turn to drugs or spend their lives as second class citizens.

More and more, it appears as if efforts to denigrate and demean smokers are really meant to turn them off smoking, and turn them on to pharmaceutical nicotine products.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

End the war on smokers

In tough economic times, companies usually recognize the need to tighten their belts in an effort to reduce costs and protect the profits of share holders. More often than not, the first divisions or departments hit are training and occupational health and safety. Most company executives tend to view these activities as expenses, rather than investments.

As the financial crisis deteriorates, governments around the world are also looking for ways and means by which to curtail discretionary spending and balance budgets. In addition, recessions usually create great angst in the population. And, governments are reluctant to antagonize voters any more than necessary in the midst of a harsh economic climate.

So, it comes as no surprise that Freedom2Choose in Britain is reporting that: "Measures to help cut smoking and drinking are expected to be shelved this week because of fears they will alienate voters during the recession.

Ministers have decided they cannot justify some of the more draconian measures to reduce cigarette and alcohol sales during the economic downturn.”

The draconian measures, introduced in Britain over the past few years, have cost the treasury billions in revenue. Politicians have been unmoved by the plight of pub owners forced to close by the thousands with job loss in the tens of thousands resulting from those closures. Profit should not come before public health, they wailed.

But, as the recession deepens, and their own jobs are placed on the line due to mismanagement of the economy, they are apparently having second thoughts. As noted in the Times article: “It is understood, however, that ministers have reluctantly conceded there is not enough evidence to support the tobacco proposals and have concluded it would ‘not be in the nation’s best interests’ to press ahead.”

How kind of them. How democratic. Screw the working man. But, when it’s their ass in a sling, there’s “not enough evidence” to support anti-smoker initiatives.

Here in Canada, a world leader in the anti-smoker crusade, the social and economic damage has been every bit as devastating as in Britain. Tobacco farming has been practically eradicated, tobacco industry jobs have been moved offshore and the hospitality industry has been ravaged by rabid anti-smoker legislation. All have had a severe economic impact on the economy. Canadian governments whine about the loss of two billion dollars annually in tobacco tax revenue alone.

But the blinders they wear obscure the fact that it is government policy on tobacco control which is responsible for much of the damage. By focusing strictly on measures designed to force smokers to quit, they have contributed significantly to the economic malaise which the country now faces.

Politicians have allowed anti-smoker crusaders to lead them around by the nose and pressure them into passing poorly conceived public policy. They have squandered taxpayer dollars on these special interest groups and the often counter-productive legislation they propose in their “war on smokers”. In so doing, they have abdicated their responsibility to their constituents.

Politicians should be reminded that punishing five million Canadian voters, because they choose to use a perfectly legal product, may not be in their best interest. It certainly hasn’t been in the best economic interests of the country.

The war on smokers didn’t cause the global recession all by itself; it is only part of a greater problem. And, therefore, it must also be part of the solution.

So, let’s put an end to it. Repeal, or at least relaxation, of some of the more draconian smoking bans could go a long way towards alleviating the effects of the recession.

Let’s cut the bullshit and bafflegab and get Canadians back to work.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Smoking bans are good for business?

Over the last couple of years, a lot of people have been rebelling against smoking bans, the punitive taxation of smokers and other nonsensical restrictions designed to penalize smokers. Some owners of bars, restaurants and smoke shops have openly defied the bans, often at great financial cost to themselves. People who believe in abstract concepts such as freedom to choose and personal autonomy.

I’ve written about a few of them on this blog.

Bob Gee, for example, is the owner of Mader’s Tobacco Store in Kentville, Nova Scotia. Bob is fighting a provincial law forcing him to cover up his cigarette and other tobacco related displays. Bob has another court date scheduled for January 16, 2009.

Mike Kennedy of Smith Falls, Ontario was convicted of violations of the Smoke Free Ontario Act. These violations included having ashtrays on the tables, allowing people to smoke and refusing to allow the smoke police into his place of business.

Mike argued that his establishment, as a private member’s club and not a public place, was exempt and the general public were neither invited nor permitted into the club. He lost, but there’s an appeal scheduled for next year.

Hamish Howitt runs Delboy’s Sports Bar in Blackpool, England; or at least he did. He lost his licence when London’s High Court ruled he was breaking the law. Howitt, a non-smoker, has run up thousands of pounds in fines for refusing to stop patrons from smoking on his premises.

The High Court ruled he was obliged by health and licensing laws to treat smoking in his bar as a crime and prevent it. He will close Delboy's to comply with the ruling, but will seek to take his case to the House of Lords, the highest court in the country.

Literally thousands of British pubs have closed their doors since the introduction of smoking bans in Scotland, Ireland and England. Many smokers have simply chosen to stay home rather than tolerate the blatant discrimination they face for a night out with friends. And the loss of business, due to the smoking bans, has contributed significantly to the closures.

There are also rumblings of discontent from elsewhere in Europe.

In the Netherlands, defiant bar and restaurant owners have demonstrated in the streets and many have openly begun to place ashtrays back on the tables, allowing their patrons to smoke. Germany was recently forced to repeal nationwide smoking bans after a series of court challenges. All are concerned about the loss of business occasioned by smoking bans.

And, in the US, anti-smoker crusaders attempting to implement smoking bans are meeting with more and more resistance. And, even in those jurisdictions with smoking bans in place (New York for example) there’s evidence that enforcement is growing a lax because businesses are losing money and many are closing their doors. A smoking ban in Atlantic City was recently delayed because of the adverse economic effects on casinos.

Smokers worldwide are resisting ever increasing sin taxes by buying less expensive contraband tobacco. Current estimates in Canada suggest senior levels of government are losing two billion dollars a year in taxation due to sales of contraband tobacco. Other governments around the world are facing similar problems.

The response of the anti-smokers (and the government) to any effort to circumvent the new anti-smoker laws is always the same; calls for even more draconian legislation and stricter enforcement. They seem to suffer from a peculiar form of tunnel vision which allows them to focus only on one particular aspect of the problem; eradicating smokers from society.

The anti-smoker crusaders refuse to acknowledge the socio-economic hardship being placed on the hospitality industry, the gaming industry, shop-keepers, etc. After all, they ask: what’s more important, people or profit? People must be forced to quit smoking . . . for their own good. No one; bartenders or wait staff, bar or restaurant owners, and especially smokers, must be allowed any choice in the matter.

Some of them might choose to work in a smoking environment rather than survive on unemployment. Some of them might choose to allow smoking in their business establishment, rather than walk away from a life-time of work. And, some people might choose to smoke.

And all the while, the anti-smoker brigade persist in their bottom-feeding habits; demanding more and more funding; living off the very segment of society they wish to destroy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

SHS, alcohol and other public health hazards

“The global burden of disease for alcohol is approaching that of tobacco, a framework convention on alcohol would help strengthen the hand of countries in setting policies that protect human health.”
Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP
Executive Director
APHA (The American Public Health Alliance)

Alcohol and tobacco prohibitionists have been with us for well over a hundred years; going by names such as the Anti-Tobacco League, the Temperance Union, etc. They had some mild success in 1920 with the introduction of prohibition in the US. However, the unintended consequences of prohibition proved so disastrous it was repealed only 13 years later in 1933.

The reason for the lack of any real success by these crusaders was that they sought to control the personal conduct of individuals whose behaviour did not meet with their approval. Their interventions were justifiably seen as an intrusion on personal liberty.

The new prohibitionists decided to try a new strategy. Starting with tobacco, they would argue that smoking was not a private matter, but a public health hazard which had to be controlled like any other. And, with gross distortions of science and deceptive health claims, they managed to convince the public, politicians and the press that smokers were killing or otherwise harming everyone around them. And, even worse, they were costing the public treasury billions of dollars.

And, with the apparent success of the anti-smoker crusade, the heath scare professionals are now turning their attention to other “unhealthy” behaviour. The most recent targets are the obese/overweight and drinkers. And, the new prohibitionists are hoping the same tactics used by anti-smoker crusaders will be just as effective in the coming wars on obesity and booze.

The obese and overweight have already come under attack. CSPI claims that: “Concrete action is necessary to help reduce the $6 billion to $10 billion economic toll and 25,000 to 47,000 premature deaths attributable to diet and inactivity-related disease annually in Canada.”

And now, it’s time to go after drinkers and alcohol.

An article on the APHA web site, dated 27 November, 2007 calls for the World Health Organization (WHO) to adopt and implement a binding international treaty modeled after the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

But, the new prohibitionists in Britain have not been idle while waiting for WHO to provide them with the weapons and ammunition they need to combat “Britain’s booze culture”.

From a November 26 Sunday Times article, we learn that the British Department of Health claims 10 ten million adults in England regularly drink more than government recommended levels and cost the National Health Service (NHS) more than £2.7 billion a year due to alcohol abuse. In addition, alcohol misuse costs £25 billion a year in policing and time lost from work. And, according to the Department of Health, there are 811,000 alcohol-related admissions to hospital annually.

In an earlier Times article, Vernon Coaker, a Home Office minister, said: “It is almost regarded as acceptable to drink to get drunk. We want to change that attitude. The consequences of binge drinking are disorder on our streets. It is not acceptable for people to use alcohol and urinate in the street, vomit and carry on in some of the ways people are carrying on.”

So, in the public good, the government is ready to impose restrictions on the beer and liquor industry, the pub trade and individuals, to curb the undesirable behaviour of some drinkers.

Britain’s new “national alcohol strategy” will borrow heavily from the tactics used by anti-smoker crusaders around the world, modified only slightly to apply to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

For example, cigarette-style health warnings will be placed on cans, bottles of beer and wine. And, raising prices through increased sin taxes will also be on the table, as will increasing the legal age to buy alcohol. Happy hours, drinking games and free drinks for women are to be banned in pubs and clubs.

Another “epidemic”; another health hazard which must be controlled. Little thought will be given to the potential adverse social or economic consequences. Pubs in Britain have closed by the thousands, due in no small measure to smoking bans implemented across the country. Adding restrictions on alcohol will make the situation even more severe.

Like smoking, they will start with “reasonable” controls, then steadily tighten the screws until the objectionable conduct is choked off.

The new prohibitionists have launched their anti-alcohol campaign in Britain. A new framework convention on alcohol control will soon see similar constraints initiated worldwide. But, like tobacco, it will not be the product that winds up being controlled; it will be the people who choose to use it.

Alcohol; tobacco; gluttony; the attacks on personal autonomy will continue. The war on smokers was simply the beginning of the journey down a slippery slope.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Movie smoking kills kids?

There are outfits in the States, proud members of the anti-smoker brigade, who want to “save the kids” by forcing movie makers to remove scenes of people smoking from movies.

According to one such group, smokefreemovies, “smoking harms children from the earliest years and U.S. films with smoking are a vector for addiction, disease and death worldwide.” Wow!

Imagine that! Just the image of someone lighting up will turn your child into a tobacco addicted, smoke belching fiend. Smoking, of course, will lead to an abnormal existence; spousal and child abuse; bludgeoning family and friends with secondhand smoke. They may well become criminals, refusing to pay extortion demanded by their government and buying tax-free, contraband tobacco.

And, naturally, they’ll all die of some smoking related disease or another - eventually. The fact that many more non-smokers die of smoking related diseases than smokers is immaterial. There’s no need to obscure the issue by pointing out that we are all destined to die - eventually.

And, is there any doubt that eliminating smoking in the movies will protect children? Not according to SmokeFreeMovies who tell us that “R-rating future smoking would avert 60,000 tobacco deaths a year in the U.S.” Uh-huh.

That’s a pretty impressive number. Imagine, 60,000 deaths “averted” just by eliminating pictures of people smoking. Can you believe it? Seriously?

Of course they have studies to prove it.

In 2003 a research group at Dartmouth Medical School recruited 2,603 adolescents (age 10-14) who had never tried smoking. After collecting detailed information about attitudes and other factors that predict smoking, they were tracked for 13-26 months to see who started smoking. They found that 10% of the kids started to smoke. And, “the more on screen smoking the kids saw, the more likely they were to have started to smoke.

But remember, there’s also a “scientific” study which shows that a parent smoking outside will still expose his children to harm because the secondhand smoke will follow him into the house, clinging tenaciously to his clothing and his breath. And, one which shows that kids exposed to even a whiff of secondhand smoke can suffer the same withdrawal symptoms as smokers?

At any rate, to protect the children, smokefreemovies (and the whole world, apparently) is demanding an “R” (Restricted) rating for any Hollywood film which shows someone smoking. Of course, the extremists are prepared to make exceptions; portrayals of actual historical figures who smoked, for example.

And, they won’t insist that smoking content be edited from movie classics like “Casablanca”, at least for now. They’ll get around to that once their campaign against smoking on TV is launched.

Of course, an “R” rating would likely cut the target audience of some films by as much as 50%. And, given the production costs of your average movie these days, could turn those films into money losing propositions. But then, there’s probably a study showing that banning smoking in the movies will have no financial impact on box office receipts. And, let’s not forget it would avert 60,000 deaths annually.

Dr. Simon Chapman, a professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, wrote a commentary recently criticizing the proposal. He pointed out the inconsistency of an “R” for smoking, while allowing a movie like “What Happens in Vegas” (with Cameron Diaz) with scenes of “binge drinking, failure to wear seat belts, intoxication leading to possibly unprotected sex, gambling and a parody of spousal abuse."

He, in turn, was criticized by the anti-smoker establishment of which he is a part. So, Dr. Chapman responded to the criticism of his criticism. Follow me?

Says Dr. Chapman: “The reductio ad absurdum of arguments to prevent children seeing any smoking in movies would be to stop children seeing any smoking anywhere. By what magic process could the sight of smoking in film be influential while being benign in reality? Doubtless the time is not far away when someone wielding research will call for public smoking to be classified alongside indecent exposure as a felony.

I would not wish to be associated with such nonsense and believe many others share my concerns that momentum to selectively prune unacceptable health related behaviours from film, holds open the door for a conga line of other supplicants using the same reasoning. This should be resisted by all who value freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, despite his obvious credentials, Dr. Chapman’s reasoned arguments will fall on deaf ears. The anti-smoker crowd will continue to press to have smoking eradicated from movies, television and magazines. They’ll continue their efforts to hide tobacco products from the prying eyes of adolescents and adults alike, as they do in Canada.

They’ll continue to lobby politicians to impose smoking bans in parks, on sidewalks and on beaches so children will never see a real live smoker. In time, they may even push to have any reference to smoking removed from books, including the dictionary.

And, once smoking has been removed from the minds of the masses, smokers eradicated and death from smoking related diseases has become a thing of the past . . .

Reductio ad absurdum. What a wonderful expression. Disproof of a proposition by showing that it leads to absurd or untenable conclusions

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Obama is a smoker . . .

For decades now, the public has been inundated with “scientific evidence”, allegedly proving that tobacco is the most toxic substance in existence. To the anti-smoker fanatics, smoking is the only impediment to man’s immortality. The perceived threat is so great they’ve made it their life’s work to eradicate the scum responsible for the continuation of the lethal habit; smokers.

Smokers have been branded as murderous maniacs, bent not only on their own self-destruction, but in spreading death and disease to family, friends, co-workers and even complete strangers.

Smoking around children has been defined by many as “child abuse”. Smokers in many jurisdictions have been denied the privilege of adopting or fostering children. In others, they can be thrown out of their homes. In a growing number of cases, employers are free to discharge workers who smoke – on or off the job. They can be required to submit to gross intrusions of privacy, such as providing urine or blood samples.

And, then . . .

Just as the vilification of smokers reaches its zenith, a smoker is elected to the Presidency of the United States. Uh-huh. It’s being reported around the world; US President Elect Obama is a smoker.

And, even if he has quit as some claim, his smoking status can’t really be denied. He has admittedly smoked over one hundred cigarettes in his lifetime, and he’s reported to have been smoking a lot of OPs (Other Peoples) over the last couple of months. No. There can be little doubt he qualifies as a current smoker.

The question is: does it matter?

Likely, it will offend anti-smoker crusaders who might tend to view him as the enemy in their ever-escalating war on smokers. After all, they can’t have kids running around telling their parents or teachers they want to grow up to be president and smoke. No. Smoking makes him a bad role model. He’ll have to follow Michelle’s advice and quit.

The anti-smoker crowd will really get their drawers in a knot if he should become the poster boy for another minority.

But, will the fanatics take their terror tactics to the very steps of the White House? Will they demand he do his smoking outside, in weather fair and foul, as they now do to the old and infirm in hospitals and rest homes? Will they demand, after he’s sworn in as the new President, that he subject himself to the indignity of pissing in a bottle every morning to prove he is not endangering White House staff with his secondhand smoke?

No. It’s pretty clear the anti-smoker brigade will not attack Obama with the same ferocity they attack the more vulnerable members of society who choose to smoke. After all, the President Elect has seen the light and become a quitter. Or at least, he’s trying to be; struggling perhaps, but still trying.

They’ll most likely try to coerce him into quitting, for both the public good and his own. There are drugs available to help him kick the habit. And, that’s a whole lot more scary than a smoking President. Think about it.

What if the zealots convince Obama to try Zyban or Chantix to help him quit? Both these smoking cessation drugs have been associated with mental disorders and suicidal ideation, among other side affects.

It’s one thing to risk the mental health of common smokers or have them blow their brains out. Any anti-smoker will tell you we’re expendable and not among the most healthy segment of society. It’s worth losing a few of us if some of us quit.

But, Obama is about to become, arguably, the most powerful man in the world.

Does anyone really want to run the risk that he might become the first president in history to leave office in a straight-jacket; or worse, the first president ever to commit self-assassination? It boggles the mind.

Let the man smoke. For all our sakes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Smokers - hounded 'til death

Before anti-smoker crusaders launched their war against smokers, personal behaviour, whether or not it might be deemed unhealthful, was considered an individual’s private business. Among the personal behavior frowned on was drinking, overeating and smoking.

Through the years, these activities have been considered by many to be not only unhealthy, but immoral. But, since they were essentially private indulgences, they were generally accepted by the public as little more than a nuisance; sinful perhaps, but harmful to no one but those who chose to indulge.

To be sure, the sale of some legal products has always been controlled to some degree, largely to protect children deemed too young and inexperienced to make responsible decisions on their own. Regulations on the sale of cigarettes and alcohol to minors are prime examples.

Few have opposed these legitimate restrictions. The vast majority of adults understand instinctively the need to shelter children from questionable habits, at least until they can fully appreciate the possible adverse consequences of their actions.

Unfortunately, the fanatics have also convinced the public that it’s not only children who need protection, but workers and the general public as well. They’ve managed to escalate a mere nuisance like secondhand smoke to the status of public health hazard.

But, the agenda of the anti-smoker fanatics has little to do with protecting anyone; it’s really about punishing smokers for insisting they have a right to consume a legal product and engage in a legal activity. It’s about control. And, the agenda of the fanatics leaves no room for compassion.

How else can you interpret efforts by Britain’s NHS (National Health Service) to close smoking rooms for terminally ill patients in Birmingham, England?

The Sheldon Unit, a palliative care home for terminally ill patients is one of only two health care facilities in the region with smoking rooms provided on sympathetic grounds.

Board members in charge of the unit, on learning of plans to upgrade the smoking room with a new ventilation system, intervened. Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, South Birmingham public health director, ranted against the renovation, determined to deny smokers one of their few remaining pleasures, even at death’s door.

It doesn’t matter if patients might be terminally ill,” said Spencer-Jones, “that is not relevant because there are other units where such patients cannot smoke. The practice at the Sheldon Unit is unacceptable.”

The question is why? Why is it unacceptable to allow smokers, at Sheldon Unit or any palliative care facility, to retain a little dignity as they face death? Why is it necessary to denigrate and demean these people to the bitter end; aren’t they suffering enough as it is? What in God’s name have they done to deserve such despicable treatment?

Nor can Canadians claim any superiority to the arrogant, outlandish treatment of the elderly and infirm in Great Britain.

Jack Lakey, in a Dec 6, 2006 article in the Toronto Star, told the story of Suzanne Penny, diagnosed with cancer, destined to die and forced outside and into the cold to enjoy a smoke. Cigarettes may have been the cause of the cancer that ravaged her body, but they also provided some solace as she awaited death.

Dennis Brown, CEO of Grace Hospital, is quoted by Lakey as saying: "When that bill was being enacted, we actually did consult with the ministry (Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion) specifically about our palliative care unit. We were told very clearly that there would be no exemptions for palliative care units."

Lakey’s article also points out the hypocrisy of the situation, noting that: “both the University of Toronto and York University recently created rooms for professors who smoke marijuana for medical reasons, but didn't want to sneak around outside to do it.”

Yet, the elderly, the infirm and the terminally ill are herded into parking lots like cattle; deprived of dignity; subjected to callous and inhumane treatment simply because they choose to smoke.

And the anti-smoker bigots sit in their cushy offices and pat themselves on the back for their efforts to “save mankind” from a hazard which has never been proven to exist.

There’s a name for people like them. As a matter of fact there are several. You can take your pick.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tobacco, punitive taxation equal tragedy

Massena overlooks the mighty St Lawrence River in the most northerly part of New York State. On Friday, November 14, two residents of Massena were killed instantly when their car was struck by a suspected cigarette smuggler fleeing police.

Edward and Eileen Kassian, both 77, were returning home following a visit to Montreal. The second vehicle involved in the collision was a minivan driven by 21-year-old Dany Gionet, of St. Jean sur Richelieu, Que. All three were pronounced dead at the scene.

Residents of the Akwasesne Reserve are justifiably upset over the incident calling it senseless and uncalled for. "The Mohawk police did not disengage and set up a barrier or spike the roadway. The suspect vehicle was trapped," said Akwesasne resident Kateri Benedict. "The driver would have abandoned that vehicle, instead the Akwesasne Mohawk Police continued with a high-speed pursuit and ramming of the vehicle until the fatal crash."

Full details of the pursuit have not been released as yet pending an investigation by the Ontario Provincial Police.

Some Canadians will blame the suspect in the case for allegedly engaging in illegal activity. Some will blame the police for what is alleged to be an unnecessary pursuit.

But, there are others deserving of blame in this tragic incident.

Anti-smoker bigots have been leading spineless politicians down the road to tobacco prohibition for decades. Yet neither has the courage to admit it; neither has the courage to call for outright prohibition. Both understand the consequences of such a prohibition.

Wealthy industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in relation to the ending of alcohol prohibition in the early thirties, wrote: “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.”

Tobacco prohibition would be no different. So, governments, under constant pressure from anti-smoker groups, use a piecemeal approach to prohibition. A public campaign to “de-normalize” those who choose to smoke has been initiated by the anti-smoker bigots, with the full consent of the government. Draconian smoking bans and blatant discrimination directed at smokers is the order of the day.

And, then there’s taxation.

Cigarette smuggling has become a very lucrative proposition in recent years, as senior levels of government continue to increase already punitive levels of taxation on smokers in efforts to force them to quit. Tobacco taxes have increased to historical highs and there is still constant pressure from anti-smoker activists to increase them even further.

According to the latest figures from Physicians for a Smokefree Canada, combined federal-provincial tax revenue for the 2006 – 2007 fiscal year was almost 7 Billion dollars, excluding federal and provincial sales taxes. Earlier this year, the federal Minister of Public Safety was lamenting the fact government was losing over 2 billion a year in taxes to the sale of contraband (black market) tobacco.

Tobacco is still a legal product in Canada. Smoking is still a legal activity. But, punishing levels of taxation have made it unaffordable for a growing number of Canadians. They will look for lower priced product. And, given the billions of dollars at stake, they will find someone to provide it.

The anti-smoker brigade will whine about contraband inhibiting their crusade to force smokers to quit. The government will whine about the loss of billions in taxes. They will scream in unison for tougher enforcement measures against contraband and ignore the lessons learned from the prohibition of alcohol.

Neither will accept any culpability for the recent tragedy in Akwasesne.

But, in the eyes of one old rambler, both are as guilty as hell.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Million dollar gift exploits children?

Harland David Sanders made buckets of money selling Kentucky Fried Chicken by the bucketful. And both before and after his death (through the Colonel Sanders Charitable Organization) he has been very generous with the fortune he accumulated.

One of the foundation’s most recent gifts was to McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton, Ont. In appreciation for the one million dollar donation, McMaster renamed a ward “The Colonel Harland Sanders Inpatient Unit” and, horror of horrors, hung a plaque of the Colonel in the hallway. Uh-huh.

Some people have taken great exception to this simple display of gratitude for what is, by any standard, a very generous gift.

Andre Picard, for example, says in a November 13 article in the Globe and Mail: “Childhood obesity is a serious, pressing health problem, so what message are we sending by renaming part of a pediatric hospital after a fast-food icon?”

The message is, and should be; ‘Thank you for your kind support. It will provide much needed funding to treat childhood obesity and other pressing health problems.’

But, according to Picard, it is unacceptable for McMaster Children’s Hospital and other public institutions to “prostitute themselves in this manner?” Says Picard: “They should be setting an example for healthy living, not shilling for fast food, however indirectly.”

Wow. McMaster a shill for the fast food industry? Because they accept private funding to provide much needed health care? And then have the audacity to say ‘Thank You’. My God, the degenerates.

He admits in his article that government does not provide adequate funding, yet, at the same time chastises a venerable health-care facility for accepting funding from private charitable foundations. But, Picard offers no alternative sources of financial support for the health care services which that million dollar gift will provide. Is he perhaps willing to write a personal cheque?

And, Picard is not alone in his condemnation of McMaster. The Globe and Mail published a letter to the editor the day after Picard’s article. The letter was written by Peter Nieman, a pediatrician. Says Dr. Nieman: “It's a huge disconnect when pediatricians accept fast-food and junk-food generated money. Until we see obesity in the same way we see smoking, we haven't even started to scratch the surface. Imagine a pediatric cardiology clinic sponsored by a tobacco company.

The only disconnect I can see is that of Picard and Nieman; disconnect from reality. Are these two really suggesting that Hospitals and other health care facilities should turn down required funding because it was generated by the fast food industry?

Says Picard: “At some point, accepting donations - charitable or otherwise - from organizations associated with fast food needs to become as unacceptable as accepting dirty dollars from the tobacco industry.” Uh-huh.

Picard should get his nose out of his computer, take a deep breath and smell the roses.

Is the fast food industry the new menace of mankind? Will the obese and the overweight soon be subjected to the same kind of demeaning de-normalization campaign as smokers? Actually, that campaign has already begun. But, that’s another topic

Picard reserves both special praise and venom for MacDonalds. “Ronald McDonald House Charities of Canada has done a tremendous service to sick children and their parents by building a dozen Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country, offering low-cost accommodation along with numerous family rooms in pediatric hospitals (including McMaster Children's Hospital).

Again, intentions are good but, honestly, should kids with life-threatening illnesses (and their families) have to depend on burger-generated generosity for proper care? Is the fast-food giant in such desperate need of good publicity that it has to get it off the backs of gravely ill youngsters?”

The fact is that many families are dependent on the generosity which these foundations provide. Why disparage the industry providing that generosity and support. I suspect you’ll find most families and individuals utilizing these facilities are grateful.

And, if McDonalds or KFC get a little free publicity for their largesse, good luck to them.

Picard, however, thinks McMaster and other public health institutions should have nothing to do with it. “It's obvious why fast-food companies would want to be visible to children and their parents. But why would our public health system have any part of these chicken wings and clown rooms? Should we allow children, in particular, to be exploited in this manner? Sell our souls so we can spiff up a few rooms in our pediatric hospitals?

How can any rational human being suggest that providing a playroom to keep a sick kid’s mind off his/her problems is exploitive? How can a reasonable individual suggest that providing inexpensive accommodation to a parent, allowing that parent to be close to their sick child, is anything but beneficial?

How can they ignore the benefits that will accrue from the million dollar donation by the Colonel Sanders Charitable Organization?

McMaster Children’s Hospital, by accepting the gracious gift, didn’t sell their soul. They emphasized their commitment to providing high quality health care to those who need it.

Should we allow children, in particular, to be exploited in this manner?”

If it helps put a smile on a sick kid’s face? Hell, Yeah.

Note: The little girl in the graphic which accompanies this post is the youngest of my seven grandchildren. The pretty pink cast came compliments of the doctors and staff at McMaster. The smile (and the attitude) are all her own.

Monday, November 17, 2008

SHS, smoking bans and suspect studies

Another “study” showing a decline in heart attacks due to smoking bans. Another headline, this time from the Boston Globe: “Smoking ban tied to a gain in lives.” Uh-huh. Smoking bans no longer just save lives, they “gain” lives. Of course, since these people were alive before they didn’t die, it can’t honestly be said that their not dying was a gain in lives.

The Globe article refers to a study conducted by the state Department of Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. It claims there have been 577 fewer deaths from heart attacks every year since a statewide smoking ban was implemented in mid-2004.

Massachusetts banned smoking in most restaurants, bars, and other workplaces four years ago. Anti-smoker crusaders are determined to show that smoking bans save lives to justify the adverse social and economic consequences which usually follow.

Dr. George Philippides, a cardiologist from Boston Medical Center, had this to say: “Secondhand smoke is an insidious killer. As a cardiologist, I’ve witnessed secondhand smoke’s harmful effects on my patients. This study shows how a public policy to eliminate secondhand smoke exposure can save lives on a large scale.”

Over the past few years, many studies have attempted to link smoking bans with declines in heart attacks. Helena (Montana), Pueblo (Colorado), Bowling Green (Kentucky), Scotland, England, France, etc. All previous studies were shown to be unreliable and were panned by critics and smoking ban supporters alike.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a Boston University School of Public Health expert in tobacco control has been highly critical of these studies. But, Siegel is quoted in the Globe article as saying: "This is the strongest study yet done of the effect of smoking bans on heart attacks. You can no longer argue that these declines would have occurred simply due to medical treatment."

Is Siegel right? Is this study legitimate?

The anti-smoker crowd is claiming the people who never died were people who never smoked, protected from secondhand smoke because of the smoking ban. Ergo, smoking bans save the lives of non-smokers by reducing their exposure to secondhand smoke.

But, anti-smoking activist Siegel says: “Moreover, the observed decline in heart attack mortality is likely due to the sharp reduction in the number of smokers. It likely has little to do with reduced secondhand smoke exposure.” Ergo, smoking bans save the lives of smokers by forcing them to quit.

But how many of those 577 were non-smokers saved from the indignity of exposure to SHS? How many were smokers who saved themselves by quitting? Is there any way to tell?

Actually, there may be a way to estimate the number of deaths among smokers and non-smokers. We can use the same technique used by the anti-smoker brigade, a Smoking Attributable Fraction (SAF).

For example, StatCan notes there were 40,607 deaths due to Ischemic Heart Disease, which includes Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI or heart attacks), in 2002. Health Canada applies an SAF to the total number of deaths to estimate the number of IHD deaths attributable to secondhand smoke exposure annually.

Although the data from Canada is unlikely to be directly applicable to the US, it should serve to provide a rough estimate as to the number of deaths which could be expected due to heart attacks as a result of exposure to SHS.

Health Canada uses an SAF of 1.6% for males (1.2% for females) multiplied by the total number of deaths from IHD to estimate the number of deaths related to SHS exposure. If the same SAF (we’ll use the higher fraction of 1.6%) were applied to the heart attacks that never happened, you get roughly 10 deaths out of 577 that could be expected due to SHS exposure.

The authors of this study are suggesting that at least a majority of these 577 heart attacks that didn’t happen were non-smokers who might have been exposed to SHS had it not been for the smoking ban? But, the numbers just aren’t there. At least, not without a little fiddling.

But, what about Dr. Siegel’s contention that the precipitous drop in heart attack deaths was the result of “a sharp decline in the number of smokers”? While Siegel’s assertion is the more plausible of the two, it raises a few questions of its own.

The SAF used by Health Canada, if applied to the total number of deaths (577) which never happened, can estimate (supposedly) the percentage of smokers who would otherwise be expected to die of heart attacks. Since details are unavailable as to age or sex, we’ll use the SAF for the group with the largest number of smoking related IHD deaths.

In Canada, this occurs in the population aged between 45 and 59 years of age. The SAF for males is 42.2%; for females, it’s 37.3%. We’ll use the highest percentage across the board since gender has not been established. So, again using Canadian SAFs, we can estimate the number of smokers expected to die at 42.2% of 577 or 244 deaths among smokers.

And, the SAF declines dramatically for those 60 to 69, and again between 70 and 79 until it bottoms out at 8.9% for males and 5.1% for females in those 80 years of age and older. In Canada, over 52% of the deaths due to IHD occur in the population over the age of 80 (mean age 87). This means the estimated deaths attributed to smoking will likely be overstated for this exercise.

Without the ban in place, the 577 deaths that might have occurred would have broken down like this: smokers = 244; nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke = 10; and non-smokers never exposed to SHS = 323.

As stated previously, the Canadian SAFs likely cannot be directly applied to the US study. But they do provide a rough estimate as to how many deaths might be apportioned in each category: smoker, non-smoker exposed to SHS and never exposed non-smoker.

But, even these rough estimates raise serious concerns about the conclusion of the study authors that the smoking bans protect the public from death due to SHS exposure. These rough estimates suggest the majority of lives “saved” following the smoking ban would have been never-smokers never exposed to secondhand smoke.

Siegel’s contention, that the reduction was due to smokers who had been coerced into quitting by the smoking ban, is more credible. But, the portion of the 577 who didn’t die from smoking would have been roughly 244, who may, or may not, have escaped death by quitting.

The fact that heart attack deaths (along with smoking prevalence) had been declining steadily for many years prior to the ban, suggests that something other than the ban has contributed significantly to the decline in heart attack mortality.

I suspect this study will prove as inconclusive as the rest in demonstrating a direct correlation been smoking bans and a reduction in heart attacks or heart attack deaths. But, of course, there'll be another day, another study and another opportunity for the anti-smoker crusade to prove smokers are murderous scum.

Count on it.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stop smoking - warnings

The man in the picture appears to be dying. He’s lying in a hospital bed, breathing through an oxygen mask and you just know he’s ready to kick the bucket any time now . . . because he’s a smoker. But, is he really sick, or is it just a little movie magic intended to frighten the kiddies into shunning the despicable and deadly demon weed. No - No. The other demon weed; tobacco.

You’ve all seen them; those ugly health warnings plastered over the front and back of cigarette packages. Twenty-three countries now have laws, or are about to implement laws, forcing tobacco companies to display graphic warnings on their cigarette packages.

The picture in question (the man about to expire from some unnamed smoking related illness) appears on a pack of Egyptian smokes, and it’s sparked a lawsuit in that country. The man, Hamdy Balala, is apparently not sick. So, Khaled Shaaban, a lawyer, is suing the Egyptian Minister of Health for trickery, claiming the posed picture has duped and frightened the public.

I guess Mr. Shaaban doesn’t quite grasp the concept of the warnings. Obviously, he didn’t get the memo explaining the intention of the picture was to disgust and strike fear in your typical smoker. Egypt has one of the highest smoking prevalence rates (60% among males) in the world. They obviously have to be subjected to a lot of fear and disgust to keep the anti-smoker brigade happy.

Balala, who posed for the picture, is actually a very healthy, heavy smoker. His picture appeared on Facebook recently, puffing passionately on a fag while holding up a cigarette pack with the picture of him on his death bed. It was the Facebook picture which prompted Shaaban to launch the lawsuit and demand the resignation of the Health Minister.

Says Shaaban: “If he deceived the public then he will never be credible, and he will never gain the public’s trust in any of his actions.” The man does not get out enough. Anti-smoker fanatics have never had all that much credibility in some quarters.

Regardless, the latest research shows that smokers seldom pay any attention to the warnings. In fact, after the novelty wears off and the kids have collected the full set, they become something of a joke.

Indeed, some research has found that the warnings have an opposite affect than that which was intended. They prompt a desire to smoke. Danish marketing authority, Martin Lindstrøm, surveyed several thousand smokers and found that they associated the warnings with pleasure. Every time a smoker pulls out a pack, the warning is associated with something pleasant that is about to happen. Smoking.

Just for laughs, I asked a few smoking friends what they thought of the health warnings.

“Marie, do you know what the warning on your cigarette pack says?” I asked one.

“What?” she stammered, unaware I was taking a poll. “How in bloody hell am I supposed to know?” She asked, reaching into her purse. “Something about smoking being bad for me.”

“Every year the equivalent of a small city dies from tobacco use.” She recited. Then, putting on her glasses so as to better read the fine print: “Is that 45,000 Canadians who’ll die from smoking? I think there might be three or four different warnings.”

Another friend responded: “I don’t know, I never look at them. How many? I don’t know. I think I might have seen at least half a dozen.”

Actually, there are 16 different graphic warnings randomly placed on each and every pack of cigarettes sold in Canada. Some of them even give honest, verifiable facts. I’ve got all 16 in my collection and I can’t wait to add the new ones Health Canada will be introducing next year.

But, the fact that the graphic warnings are no longer having any impact on smokers has not escaped the attention of anti-smoker crusaders.

In Canada, the government is being pressured to make the graphics bigger, better and even more pornographic than those already being used. The zealots are demanding warnings similar to those in use in Australia, which cover three-quarters of the front and half the back of the pack with the most disgusting imagery they can find.

Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada claim that size matters. “Effectiveness of warning labels has been shown to increase with the size of the warnings. The bigger they are, the more likely they are to be noticed and read by the smoker.” Uh-huh.

Hey, wait a minute. Why didn’t I think of this before? There may be a decent marketing opportunity here. What if we take those health warnings from around the world and turn them into a series of collector cards. Maybe Topps would be interested.

People wouldn’t have to go rooting around in the garbage for empty cigarette packages to fill out their collection. They could have a nice clean picture card with a nice fresh bubble gum smell. And, while the money's rolling in, we’d be doing a public service; scaring the bejeezers out of the kids.

I wonder who owns the copyright to those things.