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.