Sunday, March 29, 2009

No smoking, no e-cigs. It's Nicorettes or nothing

OK. That didn’t take long.

A US Senator from New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg, wants the US Food and Drug Administration to ban electronic “cigarettes”. The Senator claims he is concerned about the safety of the e-cig. His concern, of course, is not likely to be coloured by the fact his 2008 election campaign received $128,000 in donations from the pharmaceutical industry.

However, it is understandable that some people might think he is merely trying to protect his benefactors from the competition. After all, they make hundreds of millions of dollars annually from the sale of alternate nicotine delivery systems like Nicorettes, Nicoderm, etc.

I wrote an article about the e-cig and its growing popularity among smokers a couple of weeks back.(March 14) Frankly, I find it hilarious that the anti-smoker cult is in such a lather over the advent of the e-cig. The cultists must be getting desperate in their continuing quest to persecute smokers if they’re upset by the sight of someone simply going through the motions of smoking.

And, essentially, that’s all the e-cig does. It’s an alternate nicotine delivery device that allows smokers to go through the motions. It provides the nicotine hit demanded by the average smoker while a propylene glycol solution simulates smoke in the form of a harmless vapour. And, it’s free of the chemical additives in cigarette tobacco thought to cause chronic disease.

One of the stumbling blocks, perhaps unfortunately, is that it looks like a cigarette, and at first glance, it appears as if the user may be smoking. And, that’s contrary to the religious tenets of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker. So, they’re moving to ban the blasphemous abomination.

Says Pat McKone of the American Lung Association (Minnesota): “It very much looks like smoking. It’s confusing for patrons and owners who want to follow the law.”

I think Ms. McKone may be a little confused. Smoking bans ban smoking, not activities which look like smoking. That’s confusing?

Ms. McKone continues: “It delivers nicotine, which is a drug.”

Huh? Hello, is anyone home? Doesn’t the American Lung Association, along with the Non-Smokers Rights Association, The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and the rest of the anti-smoker cult actively promote the use of smoking cessation products? And, don’t those products contain nicotine?

Whoops. Sorry. I forgot. Nicorettes, Nicotrol and the like use only Class “A”, pharmaceutical grade, FDA approved nicotine . . . which is still a drug. It appears the cultist’s objection is only to alternate nicotine delivery systems over which the drug companies have no control.

And, undoubtedly, their objection is completely unbiased by the hundreds of millions of dollars received from their sponsors at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to persecute smokers and advocate smoking bans. The fact they receive such massive funding from a source so close to the drug industry is probably just a coincidence.

But, I wonder . . . don’t smoking bans encourage the use of the Johnson & Johnson smoking cessation product line which includes Nicoderm, Nicotrol, Nicorettes, etc. Why, it’s almost as if they wanted a monopoly.

And, if Johnson and Johnson lose market share to the e-cig, the anti-smoker cult may lose a significant amount of funding for their anti-smoker efforts.

And, it’s not just the drug companies and the anti-smoker cult which stand to lose money if the e-cig should become a commercial success, as many retailers are suggesting it is.

The tobacco industry faces the prospect of decreased cigarette sales as smokers switch to the e-cig in situations where smoking is banned. Some smokers are reporting decreased cigarette consumption of 50% or more. That can’t be good news to the tobacco companies. Imperial Tobacco recently went on record demanding that government “do something” about the growing trend towards the use of contraband tobacco products which are cutting into their sales.

And, if the e-cig cuts into legal cigarette sales, governments will see further erosion in the billions of dollars in tax revenue which they generate. The Government of Ontario is already whining about the loss of revenue due to the sales of contraband (currently estimated at 500 million dollars) annually.

The decline in tax revenue stems from a situation created by the government through the imposition of punitive levels of tobacco taxation. The law of unintended consequences was simply not taken into account. Of course, there will be no “mea culpa” from either the government or the anti-smoker cult who instigated the legalized extortion of smokers.

No wonder the anti-smoker cult is in a panic over the introduction of the e-cig. There are literally billions of dollars at stake.

The pharmaceutical industry tends to lose. And, they are unlikely to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding if the anti-smoker cult can’t deliver the market for alternative nicotine delivery systems.

The government tends to lose hundreds of millions in tax revenue which will have to be transferred onto the shoulders of the general public.

And, the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker tends to lose since they depend on the other two for their funding.

Ah. It’s time to kick back and relax with two fingers of Gordon Highlanders and a good smoke. The universe, undoubtedly, is unfolding as it should.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Let's just ban smokers - ASH

My last post (Tuesday, March 23), described a sign on a Lancashire (England) Hospital waiting room which in effect suggested a policy which banned smokers rather than simply banning smoking.

That same day, Dr. Michael Siegel, an anti-smoking activist at Boston University School of Public Health, wrote an article on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, on the same topic. The literary vehicle chosen by Dr. Siegel to denounce the thought (and the reasoning) behind the ban on smokers was sarcasm.

For, example, he made several suggestions including the following. “Perhaps the Oldham City Council should consider banning smokers from going within 20 feet of any infant. Of course, that would mean that smokers must not be allowed to enter the day care profession.

And why stop with infants. Children are also very susceptible to the effects of tobacco smoke. So, Oldham should also prohibit smokers from being teachers, guidance counselors, or librarians, or from working in or entering a school.”

Dr. Siegel even suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, setting up an apartheid system of health care, saying: “You can ban smokers from entering the hospital, but what if they are sick or injured and in need of medical attention.

Not a problem, I say. Simply set up a two-tiered system of medical care. You would have separate hospitals for smokers and nonsmokers. That way, the two would never cross paths.”

It was an excellent article which prompted me to post a comment on his blog stating: "I understand your article was intended as sarcasm, but there’s also a frightening aspect to it. I have no doubt whatever there’s an anti-smoker nut out there, reading some of your suggestions and exclaiming: “Geez, why didn’t we think of that?”"

Well, can you imagine? Sure you can!

Dr. Siegel’s latest article concerns a press release from the anti-smoker group ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) supporting the Royal Oldham policy, and by extension, many of the same proposals made facetiously in his previous column. The press release, posted only 24 hours after Dr. Siegel’s article, was signed by the head honcho over at ASH, Professor John Banzhaf III (or as we say on the East Coast, John Banzhaf da turd).

In his press release, Mr. Banzhaf touts the “hazards” of that newly invented threat to humanity, third hand smoke. If you want to read anti-smoker sentiment at its’ scare-mongering best, you’ll find the text here.

Of course, some very knowledgable people don’t share Banzhaf’s concerns about third hand smoke.

Dr. Siegel notes in his column: “The scientific evidence does not support a conclusion that even secondhand smoke is a cancer risk to children. There is absolutely no evidence that thirdhand smoke is a cancer risk for exposed children.”

But, the following quote from the Banzhaf should give you an idea what the fanatical anti-smoker group and their fearless leader are all about.

"Smokers pollute the air the public and their children are forced to breathe with toxic carcinogenic fumes, inflate taxes and the costs of health insurance, start the blazes which are the major cause of residential fire deaths, kill thousands of their own children every year, and are a major contributor to litter on beaches, streets, and elsewhere. Isn't it time we stopped tolerating if not encouraging this outrageous behavior and harm to the public."

Uh-huh. They’re about hate . . . and right now their hatred is being directed against smokers. (although obesity and drinking are already on their hit list).

I’ve already posted a few articles on the “scientific study” on third hand smoke (January 7 and January 11). John Banzhaf, obviously, was not laughing as hard as I was when I read the story (and the “study”).

Dr. Siegel concluded his article with this statement: “This would be a really funny story, if not for the fact that it may well result in a system of "smoker apartheid," by which smokers need to be banned from public places because of the unrestrained fanaticism and zeal of an increasingly extremist anti-smoking movement that has completely lost its base in science and in reason.”

It sounds like Dr. Siegel, despite being an anti-smoking advocate, is slowly beginning to recognize the frightening level of fanaticism in the anti-smoker cult. Although his interpretation of the studies on SHS may differ from my own, he is (finally) able to see through much of the dishonesty, deceit and gross exaggerations circulated by the cultists.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

No smokers allowed at Royal Oldham Hospital

Anti-smoker extremists are no longer content just to ban smoking in public places; now they want to ban smokers even if they don’t light up. Freedom2Choose reports that the Royal Oldham Hospital in Lancashire, England, has posted the following sign in the waiting room of the maternity ward in that institution: “In the interest of others, smokers are not allowed in this room.”

The sentiment expressed goes far beyond the typical “No Smoking” sign. And, it shows just how far the anti-smoker cult is willing to take its outrageous, discriminatory crusade against smokers.

How will they enforce such a rule? Will they demand that all visitors pee in a bottle so their urine can be analyzed for cotinine? Will they have smoke-sniffing dogs at the door, ready to be loosed on any smoker who might try to evade their “No Smoker” ban?

What began many years ago as a legitimate public health issue, to reduce smoking prevalence and protect people from the potential adverse health risks of smoking, has turned into something vile and loathsome.

With the invention of second-hand smoke, the fanatics discarded science in favour of a public relations campaign designed to “de-normalize” those who choose to smoke. It is a deliberate and disgraceful attempt to vilify a large minority within the population. And it was built on a foundation of deception and deceit.

The deception and deceit continue unabated, as does the vilification of smokers.

The Royal Oldham is apparently using a “study” by Dr. Jonathan Winickoff to justify this latest outrage. Winickoff’s study, widely circulated by the media, claimed that third hand smoke is hazardous to the health of both adults and children, but mostly children.

But, on closer examination, the study wasn’t really a study; it was a telephone survey which asked people if someone smoking in a room yesterday could hurt them today. And, third hand smoke, as it turns out, isn’t really smoke at all, it’s residue left over when the smoke dissipates. Winickoff coined the term “third hand smoke” to foster a public perception of an imminent threat to health.

He managed to convince the press, and I suspect a small segment of the public, that the health hazards were real. And, he obviously convinced the folks at Royal Oldham.

But, Dr. Michael Siegel, of Boston University School of Public Health said: “The tobacco control movement's warnings to the public about the dangers of thirdhand smoke highlight once again that science is no longer driving the movement.” He added later in an article on his blog: “There is no evidence that such very low levels of exposure to tobacco smoke residue constituents is harmful”.

You’ll find an excellent analysis of the study on Christopher Snowdon’s page, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist.

Hell, even Stanton Glantz, arguably the most fanatical anti-smoker on the planet, said in an interview with Scientific American that he is not aware of any studies directly linking third-hand smoke to disease.

And yet we have supposed medical professionals at the Royal Oldham Hospital, brain-washed by the bullshit and bafflegab of the anti-smoker cult, putting up a blatantly discriminatory sign telling smokers they’re not allowed in their damned waiting room. And if they can disallow smokers in the waiting room, why not the whole damned hospital?

What’s next; forcing expectant mothers who smoke to undergo decontamination before letting them into the delivery room? Will they rope off a special area in the parking lot, next to the garbage dumpsters, for mothers-to-be who might smoke?

I suspect this shameful exhibition of malice is less about protecting public health than it is about the promotion of hatred against smokers?

Will the lunacy ever stop?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Smoking kills . . . everybody says so

I’ve never met the guy personally, but over the years I’ve taken a very strong dislike to the man. He, or perhaps I should say she, because the actual gender of the individual has never really been made clear to me, keeps cropping up in conversation.

Whether you’re talking about the weather or huddled next to the dumpster in the back alley of the local booze can, debating the merits of the latest smoking ban while puffing on a Putters Light, you can bet that his (or her) name will enter into the conversation.

“Smoking kills . . . everybody knows that.”

I suspect this “everybody” character must be a kissing cousin to “they”. You know, as in, “Secondhand smoke kills . . . they have a study to prove it.”

Recently, I responded to an accusation that, because I didn’t believe that smoking killed anybody, I must be in a state of denial over my tobacco addiction because everybody knows smoking kills.

Being in a rather mischievous, or perhaps argumentative, mood, I suggested that somebody should do a little research because, according to Statistics Canada, nobody had ever died of smoking and that everybody was a know-it-all asshole who knew absolutely nothing about anything.

The response was a quizzical: “Huh?”

But, maybe I should set the record straight. I really don’t believe that smoking kills. I do believe that smoking may contribute to the death of some individuals through a synergistic or cumulative effect if, or when, combined with other causative factors. But, those smokers will not die from smoking or even smoking related illness. They will die from lung cancer, myocardial infarction, stroke, etc.

My conclusions are not merely a matter of semantics, but the result of a lifetime of personal observation, a little research and the application of simple logic.

Think about it; don’t listen to the fictitious “everybody”. He or she is under the control of the anti-smoker cult. They have surrendered their thought processes to the propaganda of the behavioural control freaks.

According to the latest data from Health Canada, 40,607 Canadians died from IHD in 2002. Only 5,243 were attributed to smoking. That’s only 13% of the total number of deaths from IHD, despite the fact that smokers comprised over 20% of the population. And, notwithstanding the fact that 35,364 of those deaths occurred among non-smokers (a ratio of almost 7 to 1), IHD is referred to as “a smoking related illness” by Health Canada and other members of the cult.

The figure of 40,607 deaths due to IHD is a reliable figure. It comes from StatCan, culled meticulously from death certificates from across the country. And, if StatCan says they’re dead, trust me, they’re dead.

The Health Canada figure of 5,243 deaths attributed to smoking, on the other hand, is a computer generated estimate which may, or may not, bear any resemblance to reality. But, to give you an example of the fragility of that number, consider this.

For years, Health Canada and other members of the anti-smoker cult were touting the number of smoking related deaths at 47,000. Everybody was proclaiming that number to anybody who would listen; the public, the politicians and the press.

But, last year, that number was reduced to 37,000 by Health Canada. There were no adjustments made by StatCan; they were still reporting the same number of real deaths. Indeed, nobody miraculously rose from the dead, waving their arms about and scaring the pants off their near and dear.

All that changed was the computer generated estimate from Health Canada which reduced smoking related deaths, with the stroke of a pen, from 47,000 to 37,000. In reducing the alleged death toll, Health Canada acknowledged that their data, imported from US sources, did not accurately reflect the Canadian demographic.

Now, 10,000 lives saved should have been reason to celebrate, even if they were only statistical deaths. But not everybody, of course, is aware of the good news, because somebody simply changed the figures, quietly and discretely, rather than have anybody make any kind of public announcement or correction.

So, because nobody knows the figures were changed, everybody, Physicians for a Smokefree Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, etc. is still reporting the old figures and somebody is going to get confused and not know what-in-hell to believe from anybody.

As a matter of fact, I think I might be getting a little confused.

But, there are some things I’m not confused about. Anybody who tries to tell me that everybody knows anything about smoking doesn’t know a damn thing about nothing . . .er, anything. And, nobody should listen to anybody in the anti-smoker brigade because they simply can’t be trusted to tell the truth, even if everybody is buying their bullshit and bafflegab.

Screw it. Time to clear this addled old brain with a smoke and two fingers of Gordon Highlanders. But then, maybe I should skip the Gordon Highlanders; that may be what started this ramble in the first place.

Naw. As well to die for a sheep as a lamb. Everybody knows that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lose weight, quit smoking & take little green pills

I’m not sure exactly which commercial got me to thinking about it. Maybe it was one of those drugs designed to deal with “erectile dysfunction”. Or maybe it was the one for the drug which “extends” that most intimate part of the male anatomy, prompting a smile from an attractive young woman who proclaims: “Yeah. That could be fun.”

Then again, it might have been the one where a woman hikes her dress shocking a poor old man into a state of apoplexy while she steals his Nicorette gum to satisfy her “craving”..

But, the exact commercial isn’t really important. The point is that there are an ever-increasing number of these television ads promoting drugs as the solution to every ailment known to man, and a few, I’m sure, which haven’t been invented yet. Just take the little green pill folks, it’ll cure all your worries and have you grinning like a Cheshire cat. Don’t forget to ask your Doctor.

And, there’s probably a scientific study to support the claims of every single one of them. The question is: How reliable are the studies? And, apparently, in a growing number of cases, the answer is “not very”.

Sandy Szwarc wrote an article on Junkfood Science last week detailing what she calls “One of the biggest cases of academic fraud in medical history”.

Her article follows revelations in a medical journal, Anesthesiology News, which indicate that a leading medical researcher, Scott S. Reuben, M.D., of Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts, had fabricated much, if not all, of the data in his research. Dr. Reuben, apparently made up and falsified data in at least 21, and possibly more, studies published since 1996.

Much of Dr. Reuben’s research efforts centred on pain medication; evaluating drugs and conducting clinical trials for the pharmaceutical industry, most notably Pfizer, although it should be noted that Pfizer has not been accused of any wrondoing in relation to Dr. Reuben’s suspect research.

The allegations arose following a year long investigation by the Baystate Medial Centre. Dr. Hal Jenson, M.D, of Baystate, told media that in many cases “there was no clinical trial because there were no patients,” before noting, “the conclusions (of the investigation) are not in dispute.”

Now, many laymen will respond to this news with a shrug of the shoulders, and wonder why this is such a big deal. A researcher cheated, got caught and will likely suffer the consequences.

But, Dr. Reuben worked for a respected institution and he (and his work) is well-known among his colleagues who have trusted the results of his fabricated studies. His colleagues’ reliance on these studies may have, unwittingly, put their patients at risk.

But, perhaps the most troubling aspect of all is that for years his falsified studies went unquestioned. They passed the peer review process and were published in respectable journals as a matter of course.

As Szwarec says in her article: “[I]t is hard to imagine that not one of his medical colleagues ever noticed anything amiss in nearly two decades. Or, more troublingly, did they notice or suspect and decide to look the other way, not one professional willing to speak out?”

She’s makes a valid point; one that should be heeded by laymen and doctors alike. The public relies heavily on the advice of doctors as to what treatment is best for any medical condition which might present. If that advice is based on faulty studies or influenced by a financial association with drug companies, patients may not get the best treatment or advice. In addition, prescribing drugs manufactured by those companies with which they have an association could add an unnecessary financial burden to the health care system.

But, Dr. Reuben is not the only case in point.

US Senator Charles Grassley is also investigating what he perceives as a growing incidence of conflict of interest between the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry, and the failure of some researchers and doctors to disclose those conflicts. An article by Alexandra Andrews in ProPublica suggests such conflict may be widespread.

And, Marcia Angell, a former editor for the New England Journal of Medicine, was also highly critical in an article published in The New York Times Book Review. The article, entitled “Drug Companies & Doctors: A Story of Corruption”, reviews several books on the subject, concluding: “It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine.”

That’s a pretty damning indictment of the medical profession, researchers, and the pharmaceutical industry which offers the financial incentives that encourage this type of behaviour.

Szwarc concluded her piece saying: “Patients may have been needlessly put at risk and healthcare resources may have been wasted on unsound or potentially dangerous treatments. But the public has sadly lost even more. Whether or not it's warranted, this misconduct is another chip in their trust of the entire medical profession and in medical professionals to practice ethical and science-based medicine.”

And, once again, she’s right. Although the number of researchers submitting falsified or biased studies may be small, the entire medical and scientific establishment is likely to be tarred with the same brush and ridden out of town on the same rail. And, they can’t afford to ignore any impropriety on the part of their colleagues.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t understand why I question the research studies conducted by, or on behalf of, the anti-smoker brigade and their partners in the pharmaceutical industry?

PS: Dr. Michael Siegel wrote an article on his blog yesterday about the smoking cessation drug Chantix. He claims a number of tobacco control researchers and authorities on an expert panel made recommendations for the treatment of nicotine dependence, “despite having significant financial conflicts of interest by virtue of their financial relationships with Big Pharma”. (Tobacco Analysis)


Saturday, March 14, 2009

No fire, no smoke, no SHS & still a smoking hazard?

Smoking bans around the world have been promoted as essential to protect the public from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke.

In Ontario, for example, smoking has been banned in public buildings, bars, restaurants, casinos, in cars with minors under the age of sixteen, etc. Anti-smoker radicals are promoting bans in multi-unit apartment buildings, encouraging employers not to hire people who choose to smoke on or off the job and even advocating bans outside in public parks.

Most anti-smoker groups have been encouraging the use of “alternate nicotine delivery systems”, like Nicoderm and Nicorettes, to help smokers “kick the habit.” This has been a big boost to the pharmaceutical industry as far as marketing their nicotine replacement products. They’ve got The Canadian Cancer Society, Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, etc promoting pharmaceutical nicotine, so they’re saving millions on advertising and marketing.

That’s why the big drug companies are the biggest supporters, financially and otherwise, of smoke free policies such as smoking bans and punitive levels of tobacco taxation. Coercing smokers into quitting creates a demand for their smoking cessation line of products and the anti-smoker radicals provide them with free advertising.

So, the drug companies and anti-smoker fanatics must really be chagrined at the apparently growing popularity of the new kid on the block. The electronic cigarette, or "e-cig", allows the user to "go through the motions" of smoking without the potential risks associated with smoking tobacco.

And, according to the advertising, the e-cig can provide the smoker with the sensation of smoking, without offending the non-smokers in the crowd with the smell so many of them have come to dislike so intensely. It can provide the nicotine hit demanded by the average smoker, without the need to inhale the chemical additives in cigarette tobacco thought to cause chronic disease in smokers.

However, for many smokers the e-cig may not be a satisfactory alternative to the real thing. Some have complained about a definite and definitive lack of tobacco taste. But it appears that many are ready to give the e-cig a try.

I should note that I haven’t actually tried the e-cig yet. The $100.00 to $150.00 for the Starter Kit is a sizable cash expenditure for an old age pensioner; especially for an experiment which may or may not prove satisfactory. But, maybe I’ll get a chance to try it before it’s banned.

Yes, banned. Some anti-smoker cultists, it seems, have already made up their minds about the perils of the cigarette substitute. The World Health Organization (WHO), for example, has come out against the e-cig.

WHO is warning there’s no evidence to back up contentions that e-cigarettes are a safe substitute for smoking or a way to help smokers quit. They’re also concerned that "the product may undermine smoking prevention efforts because they look like the real thing and may lure nonsmokers, including children."

However, I suspect the real problem is that they don’t want anything cutting into the sales volume of their sponsors in the pharmaceutical industry.

Some have questioned the advisability of exposing people to the addictive qualities of nicotine. But, I’ve made the same argument myself regarding the patch, gum and nicotine inhalers. Assuming of course that nicotine is addictive, they may help you quit smoking, but the nicotine addiction would remain, leaving you dependent on the patch or gum. That’s greater cost and less satisfaction, and that’s a bad bargain.

And, some anti-smoker fanatics, naturally enough, have gone completely over the top in attacking the e-cig (and smokers who might choose to use them). For example, Serena Chen, a regional tobacco policy director of the American Lung Association is quoted in an article on The Ashtray Blog as saying: "I understand why people use the nicotine replacement aids. But I don't understand why people want to pretend that they're smoking."

Nicorettes good; e-cig bad. Because it looks like you’re smoking tobacco? To what does Ms. Chen object? There’s no smell to whine about, no SHS to feed her irrational fear and she doesn’t even have to concern herself with saving the smoker from himself (or herself).

I wonder if it would do any good to explain to Ms. Chen that most smokers don’t want to pretend they’re smoking, they want to smoke. And, yes most of us do understand the potential consequences of our actions.

Says Ms. Chen: "If you had a serial killer who liked to stab people, would you give him a rubber knife?"

Huh? Really, Ms. Chen, if a serial killer comes after me, I hope all he’s armed with is a rubber knife. It will certainly reduce my risk of bodily injury; the concept of reduced risk being one with which you should make yourself familiar.

Maybe when I have a few bucks to spare, I’ll give the e-cig a try and write a proper review. Until then I’ll take a fair amount of comfort in knowing some anti-smoker cultists have their knickers in a knot over the rising popularity of the electronic cigarette.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

“Anti-social” behaviour; is it really a threat?

I entered the outer lobby, inserted my entry key into the electronic door lock and watched the door swing open automatically. I glanced up at the camera which monitored my entry to the lobby. The electronic key would record my arrival in a computerized log indicating the exact time I entered the building. The surveillance camera would keep the video recording of my entrance for three days.

As I made my way through the inner lobby to the elevators, another security camera tracked my movement through the building.

In all, there are 16 such cameras in the co-op apartment building in which I live, and people were clamoring for more. Everyone, it seems, wants to be protected from some threat or another, whether real or imagined. Few want to acknowledge the substantial threat to personal freedom posed by the growing use of CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) to scrutinize public behaviour.

In December, I wrote an article on the growing trend in Britain to monitor public behaviour via the camera lens of CCTV. Britain, it has been claimed, has over four million cameras across the nation. That number may, or may not, be accurate. But, more important than the numbers is the way in which CCTV is being used, or, some might say, abused.

Their deployment to protect stores, schools, apartment buildings and public buildings has been accepted for many years. Security cameras have become common in the workplace, and they’re even being used at intersections to monitor and record traffic violations.

But, in Britain, they’re now being used on public streets to guard against “anti-social” behaviour. Of course, anti-social behaviour has yet to be defined. And, eventually, it could come to mean anything which the state wants it to mean; littering, smoking in the streets, or failing to wash the dishes. Uh-huh.

Apparently, some British “bobbies” don’t accept that old adage that “cleanliness is next to Godliness”. A CCTV camera is being installed in a Brighton police station kitchen to catch officers who don’t wash up. Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, in defending the move, said the camera would deter the "small minority" of his officers committing anti-social behaviour. The decision was a last resort after emails and posters prompting officers to clean up were ignored.

Well, I guess there are some who might define failing to wash the dishes as “anti-social”.

And, in Wales, the parents of a Welsh teenager protested her school's decision to install CCTV cameras in the toilets by pulling her out of school. A spokesperson for the school claimed the cameras would target pupils involved in "horseplay" who misused paper towels and liquid soap. Huh. Not to monitor bullying or violence, but to target the anti-social behaviour of kids misusing paper towels.

In Britain, the use of CCTV is intruding on the average person’s right to privacy to an extent never before seen. For example, Nick Gibson, a new pub owner in Islington, London, had to apply for a liquor license, which required the approval of a number of organizations, including the police.

In a letter to the Guardian (newspaper) Gibson wrote: "I was stunned to find that the police were prepared to approve – ie not fight – our license on condition that we installed CCTV capturing the head and shoulders of everyone coming into the pub, to be made available to them on request."

When contacted by journalist Henry Porter, the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) responded: “The MPS overall does not have a policy of insisting CCTV is installed within licensed premises before supporting licence applications. However, individual boroughs may impose blanket rules in support of their objectives to prevent crime and disorder and to assist the investigation of offences when they do occur.”

CCTV can play an important role in uncovering serious crime, act as a deterrent in many situations and thereby help reduce criminal activity. However, use of CCTV must be reasonable and in proportion to any alleged threat.

Do we really want CCTV used to monitor, and control, “anti-social” behaviour like littering, horseplay in school bathrooms or failing to do the bloody dishes? Fewer and fewer spaces are unobserved, in Britain, or right here at home.

Still, the profusion of CCTV tends to go unnoticed by many, if not most, Canadians.

And, it’s hard to watch the growing proliferation of cameras without visualizing the totalitarian world of mass surveillance envisioned by George Orwell in his novel, 1984.

Think about it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A smokin’ Dalton McGuinty will sue ‘big tobacco’

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is considering another “about face” on a smoking related issue. After ruling out the idea only two years ago, McGuinty's government is now clearing the way to sue tobacco companies for money allegedly spent on health-care costs for smokers.

Attorney General Chris Bentley is proposing legislation that would give the province legal standing to sue tobacco companies directly, to recover expenses ostensibly incurred when people are treated for smoking-related illnesses. It would allocate liability among the companies by market share.

Bentley alleges the annual cost to the health care system in Ontario is 1.6 billion dollars. He told a news conference. "The issue is, should those who have illegally caused the harm be held accountable?"

Frankly, if they did anything illegal, I think they should be held accountable. But, I also think they’ll have a hard time proving allegations that tobacco companies acted illegally in a court of law.

For decades, after the first concerns about the adverse long term effects of tobacco use were formulated, tobacco was, and still is, a legal substance. It has been legal to grow and process tobacco. It has been legal to manufacture cigarettes and other tobacco products. It is legal to sell or otherwise distribute them to the public. And it has been legal for the Canadian public, including minors, to use tobacco products.

So, just what did the tobacco companies do that was illegal?

Allegations that tobacco companies mislead people about the dangers of smoking don’t really hold water. Is there anyone out there who isn’t aware that smoking may be bad for their health? The government certainly knew. The first surgeon-general's report in the US linking smoking with lung cancer was released in 1964.

Yet, aside from passing draconian bans and extorting money from smokers, they took little action. And, if the tobacco companies profited from the death and disease supposedly caused by smoking alone, then the government is equally complicit in the deception and must also be held accountable.

It has to be noted that, in the last fiscal year (2007-2008), the provincial government collected 1.2 billion dollars in tobacco taxes from Ontario’s smokers. Over the past ten years, the province has raked in over 9.9 billion dollars in tobacco taxes while the feds have extorted a whopping 26.4 billion dollars from those same smokers. And, that’s not counting provincial or federal sales taxes

According to the Imperial Tobacco web site, all levels of government in Canada collected approximately $8.7 billion in taxes from the sale of tobacco products in 2004. It also notes that: “On average in Canada close to 70% of the price of a carton of cigarettes goes to taxes.”

Senior levels of government actually receive, in taxes, several times the profit of the tobacco companies annually. They are already the biggest beneficiaries of public spending on tobacco products. And yet they clamour for more.

The latest McGuinty cash grab attempts to emulate the MSA (Master Settlement Agreement) state governments in the U.S. reached in 1998. State governments agreed to a $245 billion (U.S.) settlement with tobacco companies, to be paid from future earnings over an extended period of time.

But, here’s the kicker. The MSA cost the tobacco companies nothing. Zip. Pas rein. Nada.

Part of the agreement allowed the tobacco companies to raise prices to cover the costs of the settlement. It was, in fact, a hidden tax on smokers, collected by the tobacco companies and then funneled through the MSA to state governments.

Nor did the payments from the MSA go to cover the health care costs of smokers. The money was used to build bridges, roads, golf courses and a host of other non-health related projects. In addition, many states have borrowed heavily, in the form of bond issues, against future earnings from the MSA.

The agreement reached in the US, in fact, creates a paradox where state governments are dependent on future sales of tobacco products while at the same time they are committed to reducing tobacco consumption. If cigarette consumption drops, so does revenue from the agreement.

Said Michael Perley of OCAT (Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco), in reference to the anticipated lawsuit: "We could be looking at a $50 to $60 billion amount."

Mr. Perly is dreaming in Technicolor. It will be much more difficult to prove their allegations in a court of law than it has been in the court of public opinion. The government will have to use real evidence, not anti-smoker slogans and suspect science. And, they won’t be able to control the court like they control the media.

And, it will be interesting to hear the government explain, to the court and the public, their money-grubbing complicity in the whole affair.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Smoking is OK, but SHS in cars is a no-no

Bad public policy, plus the law of unintended consequences, can often lead to inadvertent scenes of jocularity.

For example, a cop stands at the side of the road writing up a ticket. A 20 year old driver has just been “busted” for smoking in a car with a minor under the age of 16 present. The law under which the driver is being charged was supposed to protect minors from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke. But, while the cop writes up the ticket, the passenger, a 15 year old girl, gets out of the car and legally lights up a cigarette.

It was a bizarre situation. One MPP (Member of the Provincial Parliament) claimed it was simply a “glitch” in the law that should be corrected. Uh-huh.

The amendment to the Smoke Free Ontario Act, known as Bill 69, was originally scheduled for the fall session of the Legislature in October, 2008. But pressure from anti-smoker groups forced the Liberals to deal with the issue earlier by creating a sense of urgency; the same anti-smoker groups which comprised the OTN and OCAT, whose campaign was being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion.

"Every day that goes by, there are people smoking in cars with kids," said George Habib, president of the Ontario Lung Association. Janice Willett, head of the Ontario Medical Association, said Ontario can't afford to drag its heels on the issue;
“protecting children's health should be a top priority.”

The point is that, although these organizations should be free to petition the government for redress of any grievance they may have, their activities should not be funded with taxpayer dollars. And, the government should not rely solely on these organizations to formulate public policy.

But, that appears to be exactly what happened.

During debate in the Legislature, Dave Orazietti, who sponsored the amendment, rose to thank the various organizations for their help and support. Orazietti acknowledged that he had been “working with these stakeholders” for over a year. He did so without mentioning OTN or the fact that they were funded by the Ministry of Health Promotion.

Said Orazietti:
“Clearly, public opinion on this and research that has been provided by many of the organizations I previously mentioned have been key in bringing to light the very severe and negative effects that individuals and young people experience in an automobile while tobacco products are being used.”

So, OTN was formed in 2000 by several of these organizations. They were funded by the Ministry for seven years. They conducted the research, lobbied individual members of the Legislature and shaped public opinion. The public was provided with only one side of the debate, which, for all intents and purposes, was over before it started.

The campaign of the OTN, conducted on taxpayer dime, became public policy.

The debate on the issue in the Legislature was farcical. One after another, with few exceptions, MPP’s from all parties rose in the Legislature to support Bill 69. And, it’s pretty clear from reading Hansard (written account of proceedings in the legislature) that protecting the children was not the only thing on the minds of the legislators.

France Gélinas (NDP) wanted an amendment to the legislation that would make the cut-off age 19, raising the spectre of an 18 year old driver being ticketed for smoking in a vehicle in which he was the sole occupant. Another amendment proposed by Ms. Gélinas was that the law be turned into “a health promotion vehicle”. Drivers would be given the option of paying the fine or taking smoking cessation classes.

And, perhaps Ms. Gélinas was anticipating the invention of third hand smoke when she said: “Also, second-hand smoke is absorbed into car furnishings and later let off as gases. We know that stale smoke is even more toxic than fresh cigarette smoke.” OK, maybe the ranting of the “stakeholders” in the OTN and OCAT influenced her judgment.

And just what other "very severe and negative effects" were brought to light by the OTN and individual member organizations.

Well, during the debate, Dave Orazietti provided some evidence that he had perhaps spent too much time listening to OTN propaganda. Said Orazietti;
“Exposure to second-hand smoke in a car for an hour for a child is the equivalent of a child smoking between 17 and 35 cigarettes.”

He emphasized, “[t]'s the equivalent of a child smoking, in an hour, 17 to 35 cigarettes”, noting “the average child in Ontario spends 50 minutes a day in an automobile.” Bullshit and bafflegab.

The few MPPs who dared question the need for Bill 69 were heckled and jeered; dissent was not to be tolerated. The intrusion on personal liberty and parental autonomy was never considered. No one was prepared to oppose a measure designed to “protect the kids.”

Admittedly, I haven’t read the entire debate on this issue. But, from what I have read, the anti-smoker cult is leading our politicians around by the nose. The public record is full of the same gross exaggerations and distortions of science being touted by the “stakeholders”; the anti-smoker extremists.

Smokers are being openly discriminated against in areas such as employment, housing and medical care.

The government provides funding to lobby groups to conduct their de-normalization campaigns. The lobby groups demand the government impose draconian bans to further ostracize smokers. And, the smokers themselves are expected to foot the bill, in the form of confiscatory tobacco taxes.

To hell with them and the horse they rode in on. This is one smoking taxpayer who won’t pay their extortion while being relegated to the status of second class citizen. It’s the least I can do to preserve freedom and democracy.

Read part of the March 12, 2008 “Debate” in Hansard.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Anti-smoker fanatics in bed with government

In 2006, Dalton McGuinty and his Liberals passed the Smoke Free Ontario Act. The Act banned smoking in all public places including bars, casinos and restaurants.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Premier McGuinty said making it illegal for parents to smoke in a car with their kids was a slippery slope that could infringe on people's rights.

An article in the Canadian Press noted that McGuinty wasn’t interested in banning smoking in cars carrying children under the age of 16. “If the province bans smoking in cars with kids”, McGuinty said, “banning smoking in houses and apartment buildings could be next”.

A year later, on Feb. 27, 2008, in an article in the Toronto Star, McGuinty had a change of heart and changed his mind, saying: "I've committed to them to take a second look at it."

McGuinty was referring to a private member’s bill introduced in the Ontario Legislature in October, 2007 by Liberal backbencher Dave Orazietti to ban smoking in cars carrying minors under the age of 16. The bill was strongly supported by Ontario’s Minister of Health Promotion, Margaret Best. McGuinty claimed he was being lobbied heavily by Best and Orazietti to support the bill.

"We have heard from Ontarians on this issue and we are taking decisive action," said Best. "The proposed ban is the next logical step in our efforts to protect Ontarians from the dangers of tobacco use." A slip of the tongue perhaps; the bill was publicly touted as a means to protect children from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke, not to protect smokers from themselves.

The ban was approved on June 16, 2008, and became effective January 21, 2009 (Weedless Wednesday).

None of the three, McGuinty, Orazietti or Best, mentioned that the impetus for the ban legislation came from the Ontario Tobacco-free Network (OTN) which was funded by . . . the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion.

OTN was created in 2000 as a provincial interagency network consisting of the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division (CCS), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario (HSFO) and The Lung Association (TLA). Their website claims the Ministry provided the funding while the three member organizations plus the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco (OCAT) provided “support in kind”.

The three “charity” organizations are the same organizations forming the principal membership of OCAT.

OCAT was formed in 1992 by five leading anti-smoker organizations; The Canadian Cancer Society Ontario Division, The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, The Non-Smokers' Rights Association, The Ontario Lung Association and The Ontario Medical Association. Its purpose was to secure passage of Ontario's Tobacco Control Act (TCA) which evolved into the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

The OTN mandate was to lobby for the introduction of bans on tobacco displays (power walls), smoking in cars transporting minors under the age of 16 and smoking in multi-units apartments buildings. The OTN website says: “While the founding partners remain committed to their ongoing tobacco control work, the OTN has achieved its mandate and with a sense of accomplishment closed its operations on July 31, 2008.”

So, McGuinty publicly anguishes over the possible infringement of people’s rights. But, quietly, behind the scenes, his Ministry of Health Promotion was funding a specially created lobby group to pressure both him and his government into passing the very legislation which was ostensibly causing him so much concern.

The OTN was, in fact, the equivalent of a posse of hired guns, bought and paid for by the provincial government to lobby itself (the provincial government) and put the screws to a sizeable minority (20%) of its citizens. And worse, the bulk of the evidence on which the politicians relied to support the various bans was also provided by these same organizations.

Public policy was, and is, being formed, not by elected government officials, but by activist groups and lobbyists with access to those government officials. These non-governmental organizations bring considerable influence to bear on government to legislate conditions they deem necessary to advance their cause; de-normalizatising, degrading and demeaning smokers.

And, they’re doing it with tax-payer dollars; tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. And, at the very least, 20% of those taxpayer dollars are provided by the targets of the anti-smoker de-normalization campaign; smokers. (In all likelihood, smokers provided all the funding for OTN activities through the usurious levels of taxation placed on tobacco products by senior levels of government.)

And, what should also be troubling to all Ontario taxpayers, smokers in particular, is the contention of the OTN that it had “achieved its mandate”. Two of their objectives have met with success; the ban on cigarette displays and the ban on smoking in cars transporting minors in cars.

One initiative, however, remains unresolved, at least to the satisfaction of the anti-smoker cult. The OTN also had a ban on smoking in multi-unit dwellings on their wish list. Or maybe they have inside information which has not yet been made known to the public.

Is this the year McGuinty changes his mind about smoking in the privacy of your own home?

The OTN website will remain active until at least March 31, 2009.