Friday, December 31, 2010

All the best; see you in the new year

Some of you have noted that I've been taking a bit of a respite from my blog recently. I wish I could tell you that I spent the holidays someplace warm and cozy, maybe somewhere in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Without going into a lot of detail, I wound up spending Christmas in hospital. Not a pleasant experience. But, they finally chucked me out, with a nifty new gadget for monitoring my blood glucose levels and an even niftier new gadget for injecting insulin. Sometimes you just can't win for losing.

So, I guess the first order of business should be to offer a belated Christmas greeting to readers old and new, and extend my best wishes for the coming year.

But, since I didn't get to spend a lot of time with the kids and grand-kids over Christmas, I'll be spending the first few days of the New Year out of town enjoying their company. That means I'll be away from my computer for several more days.

But, I'll be back to blogging sometime in the first week of the new year. Don't forget to drop by.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A single cigarette could kill you . . . Honestly?

The (December 9, 2010) press release from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the latest report from the US Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin. But, anyone living in the real world, as opposed to the Alice in Wonderland creation of the anti-smoker fanatics, will see the press release for what it is; blatant fear-mongering.

The press release issued by HHS and the “fact sheet ” issued by the OSG (Office of the Surgeon General) appear designed to support the most fanatical claims of the anti-smoker cult. They are, by and large, propaganda documents meant to encourage anti-smoker hysteria rather than legitimate attempts to inform the public about the potential health hazards of smoking.

For example, the press release notes: “Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack.” Uh-huh. Welcome to Fantasy Land, ladies and gentlemen; please check your hat, coat and common sense at the door.

Smokers only develop heart disease after many years of active smoking. As noted by anti-smoking activist, Dr. Michael Siegel: “Even active smoking does not generally lead to heart disease unless you smoke for many years. Thus, it is simply untrue to assert that brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease.”

Dr. Siegel claims, in the same article, that the press release “may be correct in suggesting that a brief exposure to tobacco smoke could cause a heart attack (although only in someone with preexisting heart disease).”

Of course, this is conjecture, not scientific fact. But, the preexisting condition would have to be severe. Theoretically, brief exposure to secondhand smoke might trigger a hearth attack in such an individual. But, so might any number of other factors; eating a heavy meal, emotional upset, excitement, smoke from a bar-b-que, taking a vigorous shower, etc.

Simply walking to the corner store in excessively hot or cold weather, or during a smog alert, could conceivably trigger a heart attack in someone whose health has already been compromised by heart disease.

So, the odds of someone actually dying from a heart attack after only a brief exposure to secondhand smoke are likely comparable to the chance of being struck by lightning. And, given the scare tactics and hyperbole in this latest propaganda effort from the US Surgeon General, we can't discount the fact that some poor schmuck with a serious heart condition might die of fright just from seeing someone light a fag.

The fact sheet from the Surgeon General claims that: “There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure to tobacco smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand smoke – is harmful,” before going on to note that: “You don’t have to be a heavy smoker or a long-time smoker to get a smoking-related disease or have a heart attack or asthma attack that is triggered by tobacco smoke.”

Ah . . . finally. A grain of truth.

For the facts are that you don't have to be a smoker to get a smoking related disease or have a heart attack. The last SAM (Smoking Attributable Mortality) report prepared for Health Canada shows there were 40,627 deaths from IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease) in 2002, but only 5,343 were “attributed” to smoking.

The Surgeon General's report lends credence to the empty-headed rhetoric of the anti-smoker cult by disparaging tobacco products which could reduce the harm associated with smoking. “The overall health of the public could be harmed if the introduction of novel tobacco products encourages tobacco use among people who would otherwise be unlikely to use a tobacco product or delays cessation among persons who would otherwise quit using tobacco altogether.”

Novel tobacco products? Like Snus? The electronic cigarette? The SG, it seems, would rather fight than let smokers switch.

And, the fact sheet contains the compulsory plug for NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) and smoking cessation drugs provided by anti-smoker allies in the pharmaceutical industry. “Smokers often make several attempts before they are able to quit, but new strategies for cessation, including nicotine replacement and non-nicotine medications, can make it easier.”

The press release from HHS notes: “Fortunately, there are now more effective ways to help people quit than ever before. Nicotine replacement is available over the counter and doctors can prescribe medications that improve the chances of successful quit attempts.”

Nothing like providing a little free publicity for the drug czars.

Now, to be clear, I haven't read the entire report. But, judging from the press release and the fact sheet provided by the OSG, I expect little more than a rehash of the same, venomous anti-smoker rhetoric we've heard from the fanatics over the past decade or so. In fact, both the press release and the fact sheet could have been written by any number of anti-smoker fanatics, and probably was.

But there are other things about the latest SG's report which I find troublesome.

For example, this is number 30 in a long string of reports (beginning in 1964) on the smoking issue. Given First Lady, Michele Obama's commitment to fighting obesity, might that not have been a more current theme for Dr. Benjamin's first major report?

OK. OK. That was a snide remark. I simply couldn't resist. And, Dr. Benjamin does seem to have all the qualifications to fill her position. A medical degree, a masters in business administration, honours and awards galore. And, as noted in her biography, “some of her numerous board memberships include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the . . .”

Oh, shit.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Anti-smokers . . . immoral and irresponsible

Last year, two distributors of e-cigs sued the FDA over their efforts to regulate the product as a drug delivery device. The two companies were granted an injunction barring the FDA from having US Customs seize shipments of e-cigarettes manufactured outside the country, most notably China.

The FDA, under heavy pressure from anti-smoker zealots, appealed the ruling. A number of anti-smoker organizations filed a brief of Amicus Curiae supporting the FDA appeal. Amicus Curiae, literally “friend of the court”, is someone, not a party to a case, who volunteers to offer information to assist a court in deciding a matter before it.

Anti-smoker groups supporting the FDA included the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Washington Legal Foundation, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Legacy Foundation, the American Lunch Association, the American Medical Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Earlier this week, a US Appeals Court ruled that the FDA must regulate electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product, rather than a drug delivery device. Essentially, the ruling means the FDA can oversee the marketing of e-cigs, but not ban their sale as the zealots were demanding.

The anti-smoker crowd, of course, is up in arms over the ruling. And, several are clamoring for the FDA to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court.

What is apparent, is that neither the media nor the politicians seem interested in why the fanatics seem so determined to deprive smokers of an alternative to conventional cigarettes; one which could offer significant protection against the death and disease they attribute to smoking. After all, if smoking is a public health issue, shouldn't the anti-smokers crowd be embracing alternatives with the potential to greatly reduce the morbidity and mortality allegedly due to smoking?

One reason the anti-smoker forces are so vehemently opposed to the electronic cigarette is the belief that smokers will turn to e-cigs to cut back on smoking or quit rather than using NRT products (the patch, nicotine gum and lozenges, etc) sold by their partners in the pharmaceutical industry. They don't want the massive amounts of funding, invested by the drug companies for the war on smokers, jeopardized.

A second reason is that many of the fanatics are driven by their pure, unadulterated hatred of smoking and, by extension, smokers. They believe that the electronic cigarette will undermine their attempts to denormalize smokers. If smokers can use the e-cig to thwart their draconian smoking bans and punitive taxation, they may not be “encouraged” to quit.

The anti-smoker crowd believe e-cigarettes will addict new “nicotine” users (including children); former smokers may resume nicotine use through e-cigarettes, or; current smokers may attempt to use e-cigarettes for smoking cessation instead of FDA-approved products provided by the drug companies.

Also of concern to the zealots is the fact that “vaping”, as those inclined to use the e-cig refer to it, so closely resembles smoking. If smokers should switch to e-cigs in great numbers, public sightings of the imitation fags might make it more difficult for the zealots to convince the public that smoking is an abnormal behaviour.

In short, they view the e-cig as a threat to their utopian dream of a “smoker free” society.

But . . . despite punitive tobacco taxes, smoking bans, and open discrimination against smokers, there is a significant number of the population in the US, Canada and around the world who continue to smoke. And, it is unrealistic to assume that they can be forced into quitting any time in the near future.

The “perfect solution fallacy” assumes that a perfect solution to a problem, in this case the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking, exists, and that any solution which does not resolve the problem in its entirety should be rejected because some part of the problem would still exist.

The zealots have taken a legitimate public health concern, smoking, and insist that the perfect solution is to have smokers quit. Unfortunately, to the fanatics, it has become the only acceptable solution, and they are prepared to use whatever means, fair or foul, to force smokers to give up their habit . . . for their own good, of course.

The anti-smoker position is completely devoid of logic or reason.

If the objective is to reduce the the morbidity and mortality associated with smoking, how can they object to a product which has been shown to reduce the use of conventional cigarettes, and helped many quit smoking entirely? How can they, in good conscience, ignore the significant health benefits which might accrue from substituting a product which has been stripped of the thousands of potentially toxic chemicals allegedly found in conventional cigarettes.

And, it has to be pointed out that this is not the first tobacco product with the potential to reduce the death and disease associated with smoking which has become a target of the zealots.

There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that snus, and other smokeless tobacco products, may be much safer alternatives to smoking. Yet, the anti-smoker crowd has committed to opposing these products simply because they won't eliminate the professed problem in it's entirety.

The “quit or die” philosophy adopted by the fanatics runs counter to the stated objective of reducing the harm allegedly caused by smoking. Harm reduction, apparently, is not a concept with which the anti-smoker fanatics are familiar.

It's insane. The anti-smoker position is unethical, immoral and irresponsible; driven by an irrational hatred of smokers. Depriving smokers of acceptable alternatives to smoking is counter-productive and may be causing more death and disease than would otherwise occur.

So, why do politicians and policy makers continue to support their unholy crusade?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Are electronic cigarettes safe? A health risk?

The press release declares: ”Electronic Cigarettes Are Unsafe and Pose Health Risks, UC Riverside Study Finds”.

The headline suggests the findings of a scientific study, conducted at UC (University of California) Riverside’s Stem Cell Center, are both definitive and unequivocal. “Electronic cigarettes are unsafe and pose health risks.” That's an explicit statement which leaves little room for doubt. The sub-heading, however, goes on to note that: “Safety evaluation of e-cigarettes is urgently needed, researchers say.” Huh?

Safety evaluation is urgently needed? That's not quite as clear cut or conclusive as the assertion that e-cigs are unsafe. So which claim is true? Do e-cigs pose health risks or not? And, the answer is . . . maybe yes, maybe no.

The press release quotes Kamlesh Asotra, a research administrator at UC TRDRP (Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program) which funded the study: "Justifiably, more information about the potential toxic and health effects of e-cigarette vapors is necessary before the public can have a definitive answer about the touted safety of e-cigarettes. Hopefully, in the near future, scientists can provide firm evidence for or against the claimed 'safety' of e-cigarettes as a nicotine-delivery tool."

But, if more research is needed, how did the scientists who conducted the study reach the conclusion that “Electronic cigarettes are unsafe and pose health risks.” Well, actually, they didn't.

The press release quotes Prue Talbot, whose lab conducted the research. "However, there are virtually no scientific studies on e-cigarettes and their safety. Our study – one of the first studies to evaluate e-cigarettes – shows that this product has many flaws, which could cause serious public health problems in the future if the flaws go uncorrected."

So, in summary, the study concluded only that flaws had been identified in the product which could cause unidentified public health problems at some future date if the flaws went uncorrected. And what “flaws” were identified by this scientific study.

The study concluded that “batteries, atomizers, cartridges, cartridge wrappers, packs and instruction manuals lack important information regarding e-cigarette content, use and essential warnings; E-cigarette cartridges leak, which could expose nicotine, an addictive and dangerous chemical, to children, adults, pets and the environment; Currently, there are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges, which could result in nicotine contamination from discarded cartridges entering water sources and soil, and adversely impacting the environment; and the manufacture, quality control, sales, and advertisement of e-cigarettes are unregulated.”

However, on closer inspection, the actual “hazards” identified appear to be rather trivial and easily remedied. In fact, some appear to be somewhat fatuous.

For, example, the contention that e-cig cartridges leak and could expose children to “nicotine, an addictive and dangerous chemical.” I've had only limited experience with the e-cig; Health Canada confiscated the additional cartridges I ordered, so I said to hell with it and went back to buying the real thing from the local First nations reserve. Much to the chagrin of my cardiologist, I might add.

But, in my brief experience, I've never had a cartridge leak. I suspect that some could leak, especially those designed to be refilled manually by the user. But the study seems to suggest that all cartridges leak which I firmly believe may be a misrepresentation of the facts.

At any rate, even the most innocuous of drugs, such as common aspirin, can be hazardous to children. And, responsible parents should not leave any hazardous material within reach of inquisitive youngsters. And that includes prescription and over the counter medications, household cleaning supplies, e-cigs and accessories and, yes, tobacco products, including matches and lighters.

The claim that “there are no methods for proper disposal of e-cigarettes products and accessories, including cartridges”, seems equally silly. How do you dispose of any other battery? How do people dispose of prescription medications when they're of no more use? What about pharmaceutical nicotine products, like gum or the patch? Do e-cigs really represent a unique challenge when it comes to putting them in the garbage?

Should quality control and safety standards be developed? Yes, by all means. Should further studies be done to consider the long term health effects? Yes, unequivocally. But, regulation should be based on science, not the fear-mongering propaganda which this “scientific study” represents.

The simple fact is that the anti-smoker brigade, led by the WHO (World Health Organization), has entered a partnership with the pharmaceutical industry. The drug companies provide financial support for anti-smoker initiatives and the fanatics protect the profits of the drug companies by ensuring they're the only available resource for smokers who want to cut back or quit.

“The strength of the Partnership Project lies in the fact that it has brought together three major pharmaceutical companies, Glaxo Wellcome, Novartis Consumer Health and Pharmacia & Upjohn, all manufacturers of treatment products for tobacco dependence, to support a common goal that will have a significant impact on public health.”

Clearly, it's in the best financial interests of the anti-smoker lobby (and big pharma) to ensure the drug companies maintain their monopoly on the NRT (Nicotine Replacement Therapy) market. And, one way to do that is to discredit, and demand prohibition of, products which offer competition to their partners in the pharmaceutical industry.

Some prominent physicians and researchers, including many who are vehemently opposed to smoking, believe e-cigs have the potential to save lives, by helping smokers cut back, or perhaps quit entirely. Anti-smoking activists, like Dr. Michael Siegel, consider e-cigs safer and more healthy than conventional cigarettes.

As Siegel noted in a recent article: “I truly believe that the WHO is blinded by an ideology that views the very act of doing something that looks like smoking as evil, regardless of its actual safety. Electronic cigarettes could potentially save millions of lives throughout the world, since they appear to be much safer than cigarettes and to be an effective tool for smoking cessation .”

Yet anti-smoker zealots, including the WHO, are doing everything in their power to dissuade use of a product which might be of great benefit to smokers looking to give up the habit.

Of course, it's not about the money

For more information on electronic cigarettes visit the Tobacco Harm Reduction website operated by Carl V. Phillips and his research group.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Anti-smokers boost tobacco sales promotions

Just what in hell gives NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) the right to intrude on the affairs of legal business concerns? Who gave them the right to dictate what choices will be available to adult consumers? And, why should their lobbying activities be funded with taxpayer dollars?

Earlier this week, a CBC news report suggested that Imperial Tobacco, Canada's largest tobacco company, had initiated a “price war” for cigarettes in the Maritimes.

Apparently, Imperial Tobacco has introduced a discount program, called the expansion preferred pricing program, to some retailers in Nova Scotia. As a result, some Imperial cigarette brands are being sold for as much as 50 cents less per package in some stores across the Maritimes.

But, what has some people riled is that the Imperial program is not open to all retailers across the region. Sid Chedrawe, a convenience store owner in Dartmouth, N.S., told CBC news: "You are only given the opportunity to join this program by invitation and there's just something that seems at odds with fair competition rules that we have here in Canada."

JTI-Macdonald Corp., one of Imperial's competitors, advised its retailers that the program may contravene Canada's Competition Act, warning: "You will lose those adult consumers seeking the lowest-priced cigarettes unless you drastically reduce your own profit margin in what is the fastest-growing segment."

And, they may have a point. Certainly, those retailers who have been offered a chance to participate in the program will have an advantage over those who weren't provided the same opportunity. If some retailers can sell for 50 cents a pack less, then they will likely attract more business. And, since the discounts will be available only on Imperial products, Imperial will gain a bigger market share.

But, although some retailers and competing tobacco companies may be upset, it is an issue for those involved. If Imperial's actions contravene the Competition Act, there are legal remedies available to injured parties.

But, why is the Canadian Cancer Society involved in the dispute. They don't even have a horse in the race. Yet, the CBC article saw fit to include comments from this “charity” which receives a significant amount of funding from Canadian taxpayers.

"The Canadian Cancer Society supports a total ban on all promotional measures put forth by the tobacco industry that are intended to increase tobacco sales and thus consumption," said Maureen Summers, executive director of the Nova Scotia division. "We will be working with our national public issues office to move this issue forward to see what we can do with provincial and federal governments in terms of strengthening the Tobacco Act and legislation that would restrict this kind of activity and promotion from the tobacco industry."

So, the Cancer Society wants to ban all promotional activity by the tobacco industry, but they're opposed to banning tobacco?

The tobacco industry, like all other legal business enterprises, exists to make a profit. If the damage caused by tobacco is so great, then the society should be moving to ban it. Anything less is hypocritical bullshit.

But, at least the Cancer Society didn't base their objections to Imperial's promotion on a need to “save the children”.

In the US, CTFK ( Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids) has attacked a new sales promotion by RJ Reynolds, the makers of Camel, one of the bigger selling brands in the US.

Matthew L. Myers, President of CTFK, claims in a statement: “It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children.” Huh.

Myers is referring to an RJ Reynolds promotion for Camel cigarettes, called the Break Free Adventure. The sales promotion, scheduled for December and January, involves specially designed cigarette packs bearing the names of US cities and landmarks. The campaign apparently offers “Thousands of Prizes”, under conditions which aren't exactly clear.

And, the reason the conditions aren't exactly clear is that I can't get into the Camel website to find out what it's all about. To get into the site, you have to provide personal information such as as name, address , zip code, email address, birth date, etc., for age verification purposes.

But, not to worry, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids provides the graphics for the campaign on their website, without all the rigamarole. In fact, their web site and the news media in the US are doing a far better job of advertising the promotion than the tobacco company.

But to Myers, the new Camel promotion points to a need for more money for NGOs like his own to combat the evil influence of the tobacco industry.

“This campaign also underscores the need to step up the implementation of proven measures to reduce tobacco use. These include effective regulation of tobacco products and marketing, including the graphic cigarette warnings unveiled this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs nationally and in every state; higher tobacco taxes; and smoke-free workplace laws.”

How strange. Not a mention of banning tobacco.

The call for tobacco prohibition will come . . . eventually. But, for now, anti-smoker groups are content to extort all the money they can from the tobacco companies and smokers. Then, they'll simply find another target.

Yeah, I know. You don't believe in the slippery slope argument. Have you heard that San Francisco has banned giving away free toys with “unhealthy” happy meals?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fighting the haze of secondhand smoke drivel

A special feature in the Toronto Star titled “Smoke get in your eyes - and lungs” was published on Saturday. The on-line edition declares “Tenants and condo dwellers fighting haze of second-hand smoke.” Uh-huh.

“Fighting a haze of secondhand smoke.” Such colourful language. You can almost see the vast cloud of secondhand smoke ferociously forcing its way through solid walls to prey on unsuspecting non-smokers, making life miserable and putting their very lives in jeopardy.

I was out of town over the weekend and I didn't see the Star article until I was handed a copy at a meeting in our own co-op last night.

The article, by Laura Eggerton, begins: “Pamela Schuller thought she was moving her children to a healthy, family-friendly environment when she moved into the Bain Apartments Cooperative in Toronto’s Riverdale neighbourhood.”

But then, in 2003, one of those filthy smokers moved into the lower unit of her stacked townhouse. And her children began complaining the apartment “stunk of smoke and they couldn’t breathe.” Naturally, Schuller became concerned about her health and the health of her children.

And, although she'd heard about such problems, “it was the first time Schuller realized the smoke was putting her health and that of her children at risk.” So, she joined an anti-smoker campaign.

The article goes on to note: “For the next five years, as a member of the Smoke Free Living Initiative at the Bain Coop, Schuller did what a growing number of tenants and condo dwellers are doing across Canada — she fought to get a non-smoking policy in her building. A year ago, with the help of others in the cooperative, she succeeded.”

So the tenants at Bain passed a bylaw stating that whenever both households in a stacked pair of units agree to non-smoking status and submit their request for that designation in writing to the co-op office, the units will be declared smoke-free. A completely voluntary approach to resolve the issue? Or, is it?

If both parties could agree voluntarily that the units should be non-smoking, why was there a need for a by-law? And, what happns if both tenants agree that the units should be designated smoking units?

One interesting thing about the the Star article is that it does not explain how the by-law resolved Schuller's concerns for the health of her children, or if, in fact, the problem was resolved. Did she reach some kind of agreement with those offensive smokers? Did the nasty smokers move out? Was her unit sealed against the diabolical intrusion of secondhand smoke into her personal space? How was the health of her children compromised in the first place? Did they suffer from some preexisting medical condition which made them especially sensitive to tobacco smoke? Is she still being inundated by secondhand smoke?

The article addresses none of these questions. Schuller had served her purpose as a lead-in to a propaganda piece about the healths hazards of secondhand smoke and the need for legislation to protect poor unfortunate non-smokers. Legislation which would make it easier to throw 88-year old seniors into the street.

At no point in the article does the author question the alleged health hazards of secondhand smoke. They are simply assumed to exist. And, a veritable who's who of Canadian anti-smoker activists are quoted, starting with Neil Collishaw, the research director at Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Can you guess what his quote was? Sure you can. “There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke,” said Collishaw.

“There’s going to be a lot of work done by many at the local level to encourage social housing landlords and other landlords to go smoke-free,” said Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco. Perley was a member of the Tobacco Strategy Advisory Group which recommended that the Ontario government amend the Residential Tenancies Act so landlords could more easily enforce no-smoking clauses in leases.

“I think we’ve gone as far as we’re prepared to go right now,” said Premier Dalton McGuinty. “There’s only so much government can and should do.” Of course, he's facing an election campaign in the coming year and he's a little concerned about the Premier Daddy nickname he's already earned.

“It’s a sensitive issue when you’re talking about people’s homes,” said Pippa Beck, a policy analyst with the Non-Smokers Rights Association. Beck has been touring the country for the past couple of years trying to convince landlords that no smoking policies are perfectly legal and they don't have to worry about discriminating against smokers.

“You don’t need to go very far to find out about the dangers of smoking,” says Evelyn Robertson, a nurse and president of Newtonbrook United Church/Taiwanese United Church Non-Profit Homes in North York, which bans smoking anywhere on the property. “We believed it was our responsibility, as a board, to set a policy that would create a healthy environment.”

But, while the article is heavy on quotes from anti-smoker fanatics, it's completely devoid of any real evidence. And, the reason for that is simple. There is none. Not a single shred of evidence to suggest that the amount of secondhand smoke which might penetrate solid walls or otherwise migrate from one unit to another represents a serious health threat to non-smokers. In fact, the evidence that secondhand smoke presents a serious health threat in any situation remains highly controversial.

Nor was any evidence presented as to the extent of the problem. How many people are affected? Under what conditions? Was any thought given to alternate measures to resolve the problem?

Instead, the author relies on quotes from fanatics that there is broad public support for no smoking policies, as if that were justification for the campaign of discrimination directed at smokers.

And, if you don't believe this kind of lopsided, yellow journalism appeals to the hate mongers, consider this quote from the comments section following the on-line version of the article.

“I would say . . . lets have dedicated rent building just for smokers and other building dedicated for non smokers only. The government should take all taxes off cigarettes/tobacco products and give smokers a deduction for smoking on their income tax filing. This would be in Canada best interests to give them every opportunity possible to Kill themselves. I would sit back and have the time of my life watching them die.”

The only difference between that comment and Eggerton's article is one of degree. And the fact that Eggerton uses slightly better grammar.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Asthma rates decline due to less cigarette smoke?

There was an interesting headline in the Globe and Mail on Wednesday; it read: “Asthma rates decline among children; Statscan cites less cigarette smoke “

The article, by Jill Mahoney, claims that: “So few parents now smoke that there were not statistically significant differences in asthma rates between kids in smoking and non-smoking households between 2006-07 and 2008-09,” before going on to quote from the StatCan article: "This suggests that . . . adult smoking rates have become low enough that parental smoking has ceased to be [a] major cause of asthma in young children." That's quite a leap in logic.

But, there are a few problems with this “suggestion”. For example, according to the Asthma Society of Canada, the causes of asthma remain unknown. “Asthma is not contagious. While its causes are still unknown, researchers have determined that asthma can be caused by both hereditary (inherited) and environmental factors.”

So, in fact, parental smoking has never been identified as a “major” cause of asthma. Even the last US Surgeon General's report stated that evidence implicating secondhand smoke as a cause of asthma is merely suggestive.

And, the truncated quote from the StatCan article omits the claim by study author, Eleanor Thomas, that “reduced exposure to cigarette smoke contributed to declines in asthma over time.”

The full quote from the Statcan article reads: “Again, this suggests that reduced exposure to cigarette smoke contributed to declines in asthma over time, and that adult smoking rates have become low enough that parental smoking has ceased to be major cause of asthma in young children.”

That's two misleading claims based on that single quote, because Thomas is saying simply that the evidence suggests SHS exposure may have contributed to the alleged decline in asthma rates. But to do so, she ignores decades of previous data.

Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada has a chart showing that smoking prevalence began to decline in 1965 for men and about ten years later for women. Smoking prevalence rates have continued to fall for both men and women since 1975.

A “ fact sheet” from the Asthma Society notes that there was a dramatic increase in the incidence of asthma, beginning in 1980, which didn't level off until sometime after 2000. The Globe and Mail article points out this increase: “Researchers in western countries have generally found that asthma rates among children increased steadily for several decades before levelling off or even declining.”

The Asthma Society fact sheet also notes a dramatic increase in asthma rates during this period: “The prevalence of asthma among adults (15 years of age and over) has been increasing over the last 20 years. 1979 asthma incidence was 2.3 per cent, in 1988 it was 4.9 per cent, and by 1994 it had increased to 6.1 per cent of the population. “

Just to make it clear, asthma rates had been steadily increasing at the same time that smoking prevalence had been falling. And, declining rates of smoking prevalence, coupled with smoking bans in public places, including public transportation, should have resulted in reduced exposure to SHS beginning around 1975. Shouldn't we have seen at least some slight decline in asthma rates during that time frame, rather than such a sizable increase (roughly 165%).

Yet we have a claim by the study author that her study “suggests” that reduced exposure to cigarette smoke contributed to declines in asthma over time.

The real question is why the incidence of asthma went up in the first place. Smoking can't be tagged as the cause of the phenomenal increase in asthma rates between 1979 and 2000/2001; smoking prevalence was declining during that same period.

And, claiming that Thomas was only considering asthma rates for children ages 2 to 7 won't justify the claim that reduced exposure to SHS contributed to the recent decline. As noted in her article, “The prevalence of asthma among children aged 2 to 7 rose steadily until 2000/2001 and then fell.” Asthma rates were increasing across the board, in all age groups.

The Globe and Mail article includes another quote from the study: "A wide range of environmental factors, including reduced exposure to cigarette smoke, may have contributed to these trends."

That's an accurate quote from the study summary.

However, there's another quote in the body of the StatCan article which elaborates: “A number of environmental factors may be related to the recent declines in childhood ear infections and asthma: changes in the population structure; changes in diagnostic practices; decreases in the prevalence of respiratory allergies; improvements in air quality; changes in hygiene practices (particularly, in child care settings); and reductions in children’s exposure to cigarette smoke at home. An investigation of most of these factors is beyond the scope of this paper, but the possible role of exposure to cigarette smoke can be considered.”

So, the evidence, as related by Thomas and the Globe and Mail, is only one of many potential factors which may have contributed to the decline. What should we make of this study and the blaring headline that declining rates of asthma in children are the result of reduced cigarette smoke?

No investigation was made to explain the tremendous increase in asthma rates at the same time smoking prevalence was declining. No investigation was conducted to determine the role of the numerous other factors which may have contributed to the apparent decline among children between 2 and 7 years old. They were “beyond the scope of this paper”.

No comparison was made between asthma rates pre-1980, when smoking prevalence was high and almost all kids would have been exposed to SHS. The comparison was made between rates of asthma in 2000/2001, when the increase in asthma rates had apparently peaked, and 2006/2007 when the first downward trend was noted.

It's difficult to believe that the decline in smoker prevalence from 1975 onwards had no affect on the incidence of asthma until 2006/2007, and then, only among those aged 2 to 7.

Objective science? Or a blatant attempt to justify smoking bans and smoker denormalization? You be the judge.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New study: No evidence linking SHS and lung cancer

“There's no safe level of exposure.” That's the oft repeated mantra of anti-smoker zealots warning of the alleged dangers of secondhand smoke exposure. The quote, attributed to former US Surgeon-General, Richard Carmona, is usually expressed with all the reverence due a religious text.

The evidence is conclusive; unambiguous; proven beyond a reasonable doubt . . . or so say the zealots. But what's the scientific reality?

A new Canadian study finds no evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke contributes to lung cancer. The study, conducted in Toronto, Ontario, states: “Among never smokers in our population, we observed no association between either exposure to ETS at home or at the workplace and lung cancer risk.“

The study, was published online, at BioMed Central, in June of this year. The authors included researchers from several prestigious organizations, including the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine, Princess Margaret Hospital (Toronto's most well known cancer treatment facility), Women's College Health Research Institute and Mount Sinai Hospital Family Medicine Clinic, all based in Toronto.

A study from such reputable sources must have generated a fair amount of media attention, at least here in Canada. Right? And, perhaps it did.

But, if it did . . . well , maybe “I got stoned and I missed it”, to quote an old song by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show from back in the seventies.

At any rate, I didn't hear about the Canadian study until I followed a link to a Danish blog a few days ago. Uh-huh. I had to go half way round the world to find out what's happening in my own back yard.

The blogger, journalist Klaus Kjellerup, quotes lead author of the study, Darren Brennner of the University of Toronto: "Passive smoking at home and at work has been investigated in numerous studies, but results have been small and insignificant. A meta-analysis of 34 studies show 20% increased risk, but only 7 of the 34 studies showed significantly increased risk.”

Brenner was apparently referring to the 1993 meta-analysis conducted by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) which was branded a blatant fraud by US District Court Judge, William Osteen, in 1998. The EPA study is among a relative handful of studies which found a (very) small relative risk between SHS and lung cancer/heart disease, but only after manipulating data to conform to their predetermined conclusion.

In fact, as noted often on this blog, the vast majority of studies on the subject find no relationship between lung cancer and SHS. Some (the IARC study conducted on behalf of the WHO) even found a negative association between SHS exposure in kids and lung cancer in later life, suggesting a protective effect from childhood exposure.

Author and epidemiologist, Geoffrey Kabat, claims in his 2008 book, “Hyping Health Risks”, that the danger of passive smoking (secondhand smoke) is a matter of politics and faith - not scientific evidence. "There are few scientists who believe that passive smoking can cause fatal diseases." Huh?

Kabat, together with James Enstrom, published one of the largest studies to date (British Medical Journal, 2002) on the effects of secondhand smoke exposure, finding no correlation between SHS and lung cancer or heart disease. He and Enstrom were subjected to harsh and malicious personal attacks after publishing their study.

"It is basically consistent with what we already know. But the study is interesting because it measures a variety of risks against each other, " Kabat commented on the Canadian study in an interview with Kjellerup. "It confirms the risk relationship between lung cancer and exposure to a variety of hazardous substances and factors in the work environment - and it confirms that passive smoking plays an insignificant role in lung cancer."

Back in June, Denmark’s Minister for Health, Bertel Haarder, was quick to backtrack on a quote attributed to him by Kjellerup, following a hearing on smoking in Copenhagen. “I do not believe that passive smoking is dangerous. I am a non-believer in that theory.”

Haarder, without denying the statement, explained that the quote was taken out of context: “I didn’t know I was being interviewed. We were just standing and chatting – so I don’t think it’s fair that it is being put forward as a ministerial statement.”

“What I am asking, is that journalists tell me when I am being interviewed so that I can be sure that what I say is reported in the right context . . . I had a chat with some people in which I said that passive smoking cannot be as harmful as active smoking and that you cannot put the two on the same footing.” Uh-huh.

Is the Danish Health Minister afraid that expressing a privately held view , “I do not believe that passive smoking is dangerous,” might lead to political retribution? Did he perhaps fear he might be subjected to the kind of personal attacks directed at Kabat and Enstrom?

In a shocking interview with LeParisiene, Dr. Phillipes Even, the former president of the prestigious Necker Research Institute in France, stated unequivocally, “Clearly, the harm [of secondhand smoke] is either nonexistent, or it is extremely low.”

When asked why he didn't speak up earlier, Professor Even explained that his position as a civil servant, dean of the largest medical faculty in France, included an obligation to remain consistent with official policy. “If I had deviated from official positions, I would have had to pay the consequences. Today, I am a free man.”

That the vast majority of studies find no statistical link between secondhand smoke and chronic diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease, is a fact little known to the majority of the population in the US, Canada and other nations where anti-smoker zealots control the agenda.

And, they're unlikely to learn the facts while the anti-smoker booster club in the main stream media chooses to disseminate anti-smoker rhetoric and propaganda unchallenged. They're unlikely to learn the facts when the media ignores conflicting scientific evidence, in effect, refusing to publish dissenting views.

And, they're unlikely to learn the facts when prominent scientists can be intimidated into silence.

Geoffrey Kabat says: "There are few scientists who believe that passive smoking can cause fatal diseases." The latest study from Canada seems to confirm the view that secondhand smoke does not contribute to lung cancer.

But, the public will never know as long as the main stream media continues to present only one side of the argument.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Obesity as an “infectious” disease . . . serious science?

It appears that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the US and could infect 42% of the population sometime within the next 40 years. Yes, the key word is infect. "It looks like obesity is becoming more infectious," said Alison Hill, a graduate student at the Harvard-Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Health Sciences and Technology, during an interview with Reuters. Uh-huh.

And, of course, they have a “scientific study” to support their prognostications, the findings of which are reported in the Public Library of Science journal PLoS Computational Biology.

According to an article in Reuters, “U.S. government researchers in January said 68 percent of U.S. adults are considered overweight, having a body mass index or BMI of 25 or higher, and a third are obese, having a body mass index of 30 or higher.”

The Reuters article, by Julie Steenhuysen, notes that: “Being overweight or obese raises the risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, arthritis and other conditions,” before going on to note that: “Obesity-related diseases account for nearly 10 percent of medical spending in the United States or an estimated $147 billion a year.”

What's that you say? It's nobody's business if some overweight junk food junkie wants to eat themselves into an early grave.

But, that's where you're wrong, friends and neighbours. What about the economic burden placed on the rest of society? That $147 billion will likely triple in size when lost productivity, caused by fatties calling in sick after eating too much the night before, is taken into account. And, weren't you just told that your fat friends could infect you with their, er . . . fat contaigon?

Did you think this was a joke?

Another scientific study, also from Harvard, reported in 2007 that if someone's friend becomes obese, that person's chances of becoming obese increase by more than half. According to Hill, the study is based on the idea that obesity can spread like an infectious disease and people can catch it from their friends. Huh? An infectious disease? Like swine flu or typhoid, maybe? And they have a scientific study to prove it?

Isn't science grand? And, I'll bet you dollars to donuts (preferably from Tim Horton's) that Ms. Hill made the infectious disease claim with a straight face.

But, this must be serious stuff. US First Lady, Michele Obama, noted at the launch of her “Let's Move”, multi-billion dollar anti-obesity campaign, in February, 2010, "The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake."

The economic health and security of the nation?

OK. I believe maybe she over-stated the case just a trifle.. But, I think the First lady was recommending school programs to encourage healthy eating and promote physical activity, thereby reducing the number of kids (”nearly one in three children in America”) thought to be overweight or obese.

However, I don't believe she intended to advance the proposition that the kids should drop their plump friends for fear of becoming infected with the “fat virus”. Unfortunately, when the fanatics start churning out their questionable scientific studies, legitimate public health concerns often take a back seat to gross exaggeration, sickening silliness and outright bullshit.

The lunatic fringe is always ready to climb aboard the bandwagon promoting the latest public health scare. They just love to tell other people how to live their lives. For their own good, of course.

Recently, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to pass a law that prohibits giving away free toys with unhealthy meals for children. The idea is to “promote healthy eating habits while combating childhood obesity”. No more Happy Meals, lest the kids start putting on the pounds and infecting their friends and classmates.

Earlier this summer, the Center for Science in the Public Interest threatened to sue McDonald's if it didn't stop using Happy Meal toys to “lure” children into its restaurants.

A couple of weeks back, Ontario's Minister of Health Propaganda, Margaret Best, threatened to have KFC's new sandwich, the “Double Down” prohibited in Ontario because of it's high fat, high sodium content.

The Robert Wood Johnston Foundation is reducing the amount they spend on denigrating and demeaning smokers. Instead, they've committed $500 million to combatting obesity. And, they probably won't stop until the kids are hunkered down behind a dumpster, surreptitiously gorging themselves on black market Twinkies and washing them down with contraband Coca-Cola.

The pharmaceutical industry will be laughing all the way to the bank as demand grows for appetite suppressants and anti-fat vaccines in the wake of the new war on obesity.

But, if the science proves that obesity is a communicable disease . . .

Obesity may well be a legitimate public health concern. But suing fast food joints and banning happy meals is not going to resolve the problem. Neither is junk science.

Enough of the bullshit and bafflegab; time to add “scientific credibility” to the long list of oxymorons.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mike & Molly – Overweight couples on TV

“So anyway, yes, I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other . . . because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room - just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair.”

The above comments, penned by a writer called Maura Kelly, came from the on-line version of Marie Claire, a women's magazine. Kelly was commenting on the CBS sitcom "Mike & Molly," about a couple who meet at an Overeaters Anonymous group and begin a relatioship. Huh? They've got a 12 step program for the overweight?

The show, which has apparently done well in the ratings, has also drawn complaints for its abundance of fat jokes.

I must admit, I've never seen or even heard of the show or it's stars, Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell. I don't watch all that much TV, and when I do, I'm most likely watching the History channel, one of the news channels or one dedicated to old movies. I do make an exception for the many incarnations of “Dr. Who”, but that's neither here nor there.

Mike and Molly has also drawn criticism from some viewers who are not comfortable watching intimacy between two plus-sized actors. Hence the article by Ms. Kelly in Marie Claire, where she notes: ”And while I think our country's obsession with physical perfection is unhealthy, I also think it's at least equally crazy, albeit in the other direction, to be implicitly promoting obesity!”

Wow. And I thought sitcoms were about entertainment. Forgive my naivety.

After offering that “I'm happy to give you some nutrition and fitness suggestions if you need them”, Kelly closed her article with the line: “What do you guys think? Fat people making out on TV - are you cool with it? Do you think I'm being an insensitive jerk?”

Her readers apparently responded in the affirmative.

In an update to her blog post on Marie Claire, Ms. Kelly offered an apology of sorts: “I would really like to apologize for the insensitive things I've said in this post. Believe it or not, I never wanted anyone to feel bullied or ashamed after reading this, and I sorely regret that it upset people so much.”

Unfortunately she goes on to clarify what she meant in her original blog entry.

“I would like to reiterate that I think it's great to have people of all shapes and healthy sizes represented in magazines (as, it bears mentioning here, they are in Marie Claire) and on TV shows - and that in my post, I was talking about a TV show that features people who are not simply a little overweight, but appear to be morbidly obese”. Uh-huh.

The woman apparently suffers from “foot-in-mouth” disease.

Another blogger, Rosie Schwatz, at Enlightened Eater, chastised Ms. Kelly for her article, noting however that the article may have had some positive benefits: “The good news is that it ignited a firestorm of controversy. Judging people by how they look and how much they weigh may finally be recognized as unacceptable.”

I think Ms. Schwartz may be a little premature in her conclusion.

Is she perhaps unaware of the anti-obesity campaign initiated by Michelle Obama? Does she know that the Robert Wood Johnson foundation recently committed $500 million to fight the “epidemic” of obesity? Is she familiar with the intentions of some public health zealots to model their anti-obesity efforts on the “successful” tactics employed in anti-smoker campaigns?

Ms. Schwartz believes “It's time to drop the fat bashing.” I agree. But . . .

I've seen what's happens when public health officials declare an epidemic and decide to help people for their own good. Hell, I'm a smoker.

And, the anti-fat fanatics are already crawling out from under their rocks; lawsuits against fast food joints for “causing” obesity, calorie counts on restaurant menus to remind the overweight of the harm they may be doing to themselves, taxes on sugary soft drinks to combat the epidemic and, eventually, the denormalization of the obese, those poor helpless junk food addicts so desperately in need of society's help to become normal, healthy human beings.

If the treatment afforded smokers is any indication, then the overweight and obese may be in for a rough ride. They don't deserve it, but then neither do smokers.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Smoking, greedy governments and hypocritical lawsuits

Alberta's Justice Minister, Alison Redford, recently announced that the provincial government would be filing a lawsuit against the tobacco industry.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in three other provinces; British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick. The statements of claim seek to have the tobacco industry compensate the governments of those provinces for the alleged health care costs incurred for treatment of smoking related illness.

Les Hagen, executive director of Alberta's incarnation of Action on Smoking and Health, believes that's a fantastic idea. "This industry has really been getting away with murder for decades and it's time for them to be held accountable for an enormous impact on our quality of life."

The governments involved and anti-smoker zealots like Mr. Hagen, are obviously looking for a settlement similar to the US Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). In that case, state governments in the US agreed to a $245 billion settlement with the tobacco companies, to be paid over 25 years.

The gimmick was that the settlement cost the tobacco companies nothing. It allowed the tobacco companies to pass the costs on to consumers, in fact creating a hidden tax on tobacco which was collected by the companies and then passed on to state governments.

In simpler terms, it was a con job. The government could pass off the settlement as a major rebuke of the tobacco industry and make it look like they were really taking care of the tobacco “epidemic,” but . . .

The tobacco companies continued selling their product and raking in their profits, state and federal governments continued to collect their punitive tobacco taxes, the anti-smoker zealots got their cut of the action and the only ones to take a real hit were tobacco consumers.

It's expected that all ten Canadian provinces will eventually join those which have already filed lawsuits. The costs to the tobacco companies, if any of these lawsuits are successful, could be well in excess of a hundred billion dollars; more than enough to bankrupt all three of Canada's major tobacco companies.

To put those numbers in perspective, Canada's three major tobacco companies earn an estimated one billion dollars a year in profits. That means, over the past ten years, they've made roughly ten billion dollars in profits. There's simply no way that the tobacco companies could afford to stay in business and pay the enormous amounts being demanded by the provinces.

And, according to Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, provincial and federal tax revenues over the past ten years were approximately $ 61.8 billion, roughly 6 times the profits made by the tobacco companies. It's highly questionable whether the provinces and the feds are prepared to give up that kind of steady income by sending the tobacco companies into receivership.

So, unless the provinces are intentionally setting out to bankrupt the industry, the only plausible objective of these lawsuits is to emulate the smoke and mirrors con game perpetrated by state governments in the US with the Master Settlement Agreement.

Les Hagen intimates at such a scenario when he notes: "At some point when this hits a critical mass or tipping point, the industry will probably come forward with some proposals which may or may not be acceptable to provinces." Uh-huh.

And, here's a little more food for thought; something that's seldom, if ever, noted in the mainstream media.

If the tobacco companies were earning a profit of one billion dollars a year, they would have earned a maximum of $60 billion since 1950. But, there's no evidence the industry was making that much money until recently, even during the 50's, 60's and 70's when smoking prevalence was at its highest.

Which means government has likely generated more tax revenue ($61.8 billion) from the sale of tobacco products in the last 10 years than the tobacco companies have earned in profit in the past 60.

According to Health Canada, smoking “kills” 37,000 Canadians a year. The government's response to this alleged slaughter? The stigmatization of smokers through smoking bans in bars, restaurants and other “public” places, hiding tobacco displays from public view and the implementation of punitive, ever increasing tobacco taxes.

Combined federal and provincial tax revenue for the 2007/2008 fiscal year were just under $7 billion dollars (excluding sales taxes). That means the government extorted roughly $190,000 from smokers for every Canadian who was allegedly “killed” by smoking. And, now they're demanding that the tobacco companies cough up even more money.

Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e-s?

Update – Previous Post:
Philipina Schergevitch, the octogenarian who was turfed from her Calgary home when the seniors complex she was living in went “smoke free”, has found other accommodation. Her family apparently found suitable housing elsewhere for the 88 year old smoker.

The Bishop O'Byrne Housing for Seniors Association deserves a kick in the ass for their despicable treatment of this elderly woman. And hardly a peep in protest from the main stream media. Disgusting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

88 year old smoker to be thrown into the street by housing association

I've written several articles over the past couple of years about the treatment afforded seniors at the hands of anti-smoker fanatics. I've expressed my concern for the elderly and infirm in senior's homes forced outside to have a cigarette in the severe, inhospitable weather conditions that are so much a part of Canadian winters.

In 2007, a worker at a Manitoulin Island (Ontario) long-term care home was charged with, and later acquitted of, criminal negligence causing death in the case of a
resident who died of exposure after he was forced to go outside, in minus 16 degrees Celsius cold, to have a smoke. Murray Miles Patterson, 65, a resident of the Manitoulin Lodge in Gore Bay died Jan. 17, 2007 at an area hospital.

The Smoke Free Ontario Act allows the creation of designated smoking rooms in long-term care facilities and psychiatric hospitals. Unfortunately, most facilities have decided not to build them, forcing many elderly, frail and often sick long-term smokers who can't, or won't, kick their habit to smoke outside.

Health Minister George Smitherman suggested at the time it was a "copout" to blame the government's anti-smoking law for the death. Smitherman is an ass and his response itself is the cop out.

Now, Calgary based Bishop O'Byrne Housing for Seniors Association is
planning to evict an 88 year old woman because she's a smoker. Philipina Schergevitch, has been a resident of the Francis Klein Centre, which is operated by the association, for the last ten years. The life long smoker, who has been smoking since she was fifteen, has been told her lease will not be renewed; to pack up and find alternate living accommodation by the end of the month.

Myrt Butler, the association's chief administrative officer, said the board of directors voted five years ago to implement a no-smoking policy in all of its Calgary units. In 2009, residents were given one-year notice there would be a ban on smoking in suites, effective July 31, 2010. Short-term leases were signed with smoking tenants so they could either adjust or find alternative housing.

Tenants are allowed to smoke in designated exterior areas, Butler said.

How compassionate of them; how caring; how fucking condescending. To demand that elderly seniors either quit or do their smoking outside, exposed to the elements and all the adverse health consequences that entails for an individual of advanced years; colds, flu, pneumonia. This is incoherent, irrational thinking, devoid of any sense of proportionality.

The Non-Smokers Rights Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, and the other anti-smoker bastards are likely rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of putting the boots to an 88 year old smoker. After all, that's why they exist; to make life as miserable as possible for smokers, and damn the consequences.

And, what about the government?

According to neighbour, Carol James, "These are independent apartments, subsidized for low-income seniors and they have to find something like it, but there's very little out there."

If these are subsidized units, then the subsidy is likely provided by some level of government. Will the government agency responsible do anything to prevent this travesty of justice. Or does the government believe this is an appropriate mechanism to “motivate” seniors to give up their smoking habit?

The evidence used to justify smoking bans in multi-unit rental buildings is rooted in studies of prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, usually over a lifetime, and the onset of chronic diseases like lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. The amount of secondhand smoke required to generate even a minute elevation in risk has never been accurately measured in those studies. And, the evidence is nowhere near as conclusive as claimed by anti-smoker zealots.

Anti-smoker fanatics rely on the preposterous claim that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. They argue the extreme, and nonsensical, position that, if you can smell, it could kill you. They scour apartment buildings for those who claim to be severely affected by even the tiniest exposure to SHS. And a dumbed down media dutifully disseminates their propaganda as if it were the norm.

But there has never, repeat - never, been a study on the health effects from secondhand smoke drifting through solid walls, through plumbing or electrical fixtures or air vents. The amount of exposure required to cause adverse health effects of any kind under these conditions has never been measured. The number of people adversely affected has never been quantified.

If landlords want to ban smokers renting apartments because a small number of residents consider it a nuisance, they should be free to do so. But, they should not be invoking public health concerns to justify their bigotry. The evidence simply doesn't exist.

Throwing an 88 year old woman into the streets offers some insight into the real motivation of the power hungry bastards in the anti-smoker “movement” and their politics of fear. They simply hate smokers.

All Canadians, smokers and non-smokers alike, should be expressing their indignation at this travesty. It will take only a few minutes of your time to tell the bigots at Bishop O'Byrne Housing for Seniors Association what you think about this outrage, committed in the name of “public health”.

As for the anti-smoker fanatics and their lap dogs in the press . . . fuck'em.

Send them an Email:
Francis Klein Centre - Email:
Bishop O'Byrne Housing for Seniors Association - Email:

Read some of my previous comments on this subject.
Throw smokers into the street say anti-smokers
Secondhand smoke travels through solid walls
Secondhand smoke and multi-unit dwellings

A few bloggers in the UK have picked up on this story and plan to send a letter of protest to Bishop O'Byrne Housing for Seniors Association. You can find details at the The Smoking Doctor or F2C Scotland. If you want to sign the letter of protest, you can send your name and email address to Or write your own email and send it to one of the addresses given above.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anti-smoker zealots neither normal nor legitimate

Ontario's anti-smoker zealots are calling for dramatic new initiatives intended to force smokers to give up the habit. These measures include smoking bans in multi-unit rental buildings, smoking bans on bar and restaurant patios, in city parks, licensing and limiting the number of retail outlets permitted to sell tobacco products, and a host of others draconian initiatives intended to denigrate, demean and “de-normalize” those who choose to use tobacco products.

“I think we’ve gone as far as we’re prepared to go right now,” said Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in response to a 44 page report prepared by TSAG. “There’s only so much government can and should do.”

Margaret Best, Ontario's Minister of Health Propaganda, echoed the premier's sentiments to some degree; "We are not looking at any further bans with respect to smoking at this point in time. " However, she noted that, although the proposal to extend smoking bans to patios, doorway areas and rental units is not likely to become a reality, the government is willing to consider the report's other recommendations.

The less than enthusiastic response by the premier and the health propaganda minister is likely due to the fact that a provincial election is scheduled for October of next year. McGuinty and his crew have acquired a reputation for their attempts at socially engineering personal behaviour. They aren't anxious to antagonize a sizable part of the electorate, Ontario's two million smokers, with yet another draconian exercise in behavioural control.

A government-appointed advisory panel called TSAG (Tobacco Strategy Advisory Group) compiled the report entitled “Building On Our Gains, Taking Action Now: Ontario’s Tobacco Control Strategy for 2011-2016.” The panel included representatives from the Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, Non-Smokers' Rights Association, Ontario Medical Association, Ontario Lung Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and the Ontario Public Health Association among others.

The advisory panel notes in their report: “It's time to renew and extend Ontario's tobacco control strategy with a focused, aggressive campaign to 'de-normalize' and 'de-legitimize' the tobacco manufacturing industry.” Uh-huh.

Does this mean that tobacco farmers are not to be considered normal or legitimate? How about convenience store owners who rely on tobacco sales for a substantial portion of their income? Are the working men and women employed directly by the tobacco companies no longer paying their taxes and contributing to the economy? How about those employed on the periphery of the industry; the paper manufacturers, printers, truck drivers, wholesalers, etc. Is it really acceptable to discard these workers as not normal or legitimate?

If the tobacco industry is neither normal nor legitimate, what should we make of provincial and federal governments who profit so handsomely from the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products? According to Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, the federal and provincial governments confiscated 6.97 billion dollars in sin taxes for fiscal 2007/2008. That's actually down from the record high of $7.65 billion set in fiscal 2003/2004. Compare those numbers to estimated health care costs nationwide of $4.36 billion, also estimated by Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada, for 2006.

Should we consider the politicians who support these usurious levels of tobacco taxation abnormal or illegitimate? Should we not save some public vitriol for these governments who make many times more money from the sales of tobacco products than the tobacco companies themselves earn in profits?

And let's not forget the anti-smoker cartel.

The advisory panel also wants increased tobacco control funding, noting that the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines recommend a jurisdiction of Ontario's size spend at least $100 million. The province currently spends $42.8 million on tobacco control, down from $60 million annually in both 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

In effect, the anti-smoker parasites want to feather their own nest with money extorted from smokers well into the forseeable future. Further increases in price can potentially decrease the harm caused to the health of Ontarians and provide a source of dedicated revenue for a comprehensive tobacco control system.”

The hypocritical bastards want to de-normalize the tobacco companies, and by extension those who use tobacco products, while at the same time demanding that smokers pay their often exorbitant salaries and fund activities intended to denigrate and demean those they claim they want to help; those they claim are the victims of the tobacco companies.

They hype the alleged death and destruction caused by tobacco use, and whine about the associated health care costs, while demanding, and as often as not getting, their cut of the action.

Hypocritical bastards.

And, they admit that their efforts to date have had little or no real influence on tobacco consumption.

“Until recently, smoking rates declined in all age groups in Ontario. This is no longer the case. After years of decline, according to the 2008 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey, there has been no statistically significant change in the percentage of current Ontario smokers aged 15 years and older since 2005.

The prevalence of smoking dropped substantially during the 1980's, and while it continued to decline in the 1990’s, the rate of decline began to slow. In recent years, smoking rates have stopped decreasing across North America, and have even started to rise for the first time in some population segments.”

They refuse to acknowledge that their draconian smoking bans and punitive tobacco taxes are part and parcel of the problem, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary.

"Tobacco control measures such as advertising bans, public awareness campaigns, and point-of-sale display bans have had the cumulative effects of denormalizing traditional cigarette brands, stripping them of the social significance they once had. As big tobacco company brands have been denormalized, there has been growth in demand for 'no-name' cigarettes and discount brands. This bourgeoning demand has been filled by the contraband market through baggies [clear plastic bags of loose cigarettes] and Native brands of cigarettes."
The Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, Anti-Contraband Policy Measures: Evidence for Better Practice, June 2009.

But, rather than follow a more reasonable, more pragmatic course of action, they demand more and more money for law enforcement to contain the contraband problem which they and their political cronies created.

According to the anti-smoker fanatics, the tobacco manufacturing industry is neither normal nor legitimate. The money they generate, on the other hand, is as pure as the driven snow. Ask any politician or anti-smoker zealot.

Did I mention what a hypocritical bunch of bastards they are?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Protecting kids from the sight of cigarettes

Bob Gee was back in court earlier this month. Gee is the owner of Mader's Tobacco Store in Kentville, Nova Scotia and has been fighting a provincial tobacco regulation which bans tobacco displays. Gee was ordered, under the province’s Tobacco Access Act, to remove his tobacco displays in January, 2007. He refused.

In March, 2008, he was charged with improper storage and display of tobacco products. Gee entered a plea of not guilty claiming the tobacco regulation violated his right to freedom of expression.

Those charges were later stayed while the province amended the law to allow retailers to display their tobacco products through a catalogue which could be viewed by consumers when making tobacco purchases. Presumably, the government believed that by allowing Gee to display his tobacco product line via a catalogue, they were no longer violating his right to freedom of expression.

Gee still refused to take down his tobacco displays and, in July, 2009, he was once again charged with improper storage and display of tobacco products.

Earlier this year, a provincial court judge ruled that the law did indeed violate Gee's right to freedom of expression. That was back in August. The ruling placed the onus on the province to prove that infringing on Gee's right to freedom of expression is reasonable and for the public good.

On October 7, lawyers for the attorney-general and the Crown told Judge Claudine MacDonald they needed more time to prepare for the case. Just another of many delays requested by, and granted to, the Crown. The new date for the hearing is June, 2011.

The outcome of the case could have far reaching consequences. Bans on so-called point of sale displays have been implemented in all provinces across Canada. Should the Crown be unable to convince the court that bans on tobacco displays are, in fact, in the public interest, then all of those bans are could be compromised.

Rob Cunningham, of the Canadian Cancer Society, claims the case is a public health issue. "These laws remain very important for public health. All 13 provinces and territories in Canada have legislation banning tobacco displays."

Provincial court judge Claudine MacDonald has already ruled that displaying a product conveys a meaning and can therefore be regarded as an "expressive activity" protected by Canada's Charter of Rights. The question remaining is whether the law is a reasonable means of protecting some compelling public interest which would override Gee's right to freedom of expression.

The reasoning behind the bans, put forth by anti-smoker zealots like the Canadian Cancer Society, is that the tobacco displays encourage kids to start smoking. The zealots claim that even the sight of a cigarette package will entice kids to adopt the smoking habit. But, there's absolutely no evidence, scientific or otherwise, to support that contention.

Other countries have considered tobacco display bans but rejected the idea because the evidence was speculative and not proven to reduce smoking rates. Two such countries were Denmark and Sweden, where bans on point of sales displays were debated in their respective parliaments earlier this year.

“Canada has introduced a so-called point of sale display ban on tobacco, which means that the packs are not allowed to be visible. This does not mean that there has been any noticeable effect on consumption. Some provinces have even seen an increase.” (Jan R Andersson, Swedish MP, June 15, 2010)

“If there was a clearly documented effect from putting all tobacco in boxes behind dark curtains, we could maybe consider it, but we do not believe that the few countries who have implemented something similar can document any real effect.” (Bertel Haarder, Danish Minister of Interior and Health, May 27, 2010)

And, in the absence of any evidence, how can it be considered reasonable to prohibit a retailer from displaying a legal product line?

Nor is there any evidence to suggest that an adult trying to quit smoking will break down at the mere sight of a pack of smokes and take up smoking again. Cigarettes, clearly, are not an impulse item.

Junk food, however, in the form of candy bars and soda pop, are impulse items. And, over the last couple of years, childhood obesity has been identified as a serious public health issue. But, would it be considered reasonable to force grocery stores or corner stores to hide the pop, candy bars and potato chips lest children be tempted to buy them and risk becoming obese?

Anti-smoker zealots were very successful in convincing gullible politicians that it was morally objectionable to have tobacco products displayed where they could be seen by children; that legislation was needed to eliminate the remote possibility that tobacco displays might encourage kids to pick up the habit. Politicians, eager to score a few cheap brownie points with their constituents, were quick to buy into the emotional appeal of “protecting the children.”

The courts, on the other hand, will be looking for evidence. And, the courts will hear both sides of the debate; not just the one-sided argument presented by anti-smoker fanatics and the press.

The sale of tobacco products to minors is illegal. That's a justifiable prohibition. Protecting children from the sight of a cigarette pack, however, is neither justified nor reasonable.

Bob Gee, at 66, says he just wants to retire and turn the business over to his son. The province of Nova Scotia is probably just wishing he'd go away.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Health warnings to provoke “discomfort and disgust”

The Canadian government has postponed plans for graphic new warning labels on cigarette packs. And, that, of course, has got anti-smoker groups pissed off.

"I would have expected that large warnings would be announced by now . . . the government hasn't really given a clear reason why and I can't conceive of a good reason why," said Rob Cunningham of the Canadian Cancer Society.

Graphic warnings on cigarette packs have been required in Canada since 2001. Anti-smoker zealots claim the current labels are no longer effective and need to be made even more repulsive and pornographic if they are to be successful in coercing, er . . . encouraging, smokers to quit. And, of course, they have to be made much larger since smokers are apparently too blind to read the existing messages.

Currently, the labels cover half the surface of the pack, front and back, with messages reminding smokers of the health risks of smoking and urging them to quit. We must assume the graphic warnings are directed exclusively at smokers, since cigarette packs are hidden from view in retail outlets selling cigarettes and other tobacco products to adult consumers.

The federal government decision to shelve plans for larger, more graphic labels was announced in September.

"Health Canada continues to examine the renewal of health warning messages on tobacco packaging but is not ready to move forward at this time," a spokeswoman told Reuters in a September 29, 2010 article.

The government apparently wants to concentrate on the fight against contraband which is costing senior levels of government hundreds of millions in lost revenue from tobacco taxes annually.

Unfortunately for the government, the tobacco companies are also losing money due to ever-increasing sales of contraband.

Imperial Tobacco spokesman Eric Gagnon claims contraband tobacco costs the industry between $875 million and C$1 billion a year. "The biggest tobacco problem in Canada today is contraband. So increasing a health warning on a product that already has a 50 percent health warning -- and is also hidden from public view -- is not a public health initiative."

And, the tobacco company's support of Conservative government efforts to control contraband has allowed the loyal opposition to accuse the government of pandering to the tobacco industry and protecting industry profits. "This government is listening to the business lobby, the tobacco lobby," said Liberal MP, Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Minister of Health.

The government announcement prompted a nasty rebuke from anti-smoker zealots at Montreal's Concordia University. An article from the Concordian also questions the governments motives. “After millions of public dollars were spent on this campaign, how is it that the plan could simply be scrapped? And for what? To aid tobacco companies in the war against contraband cigarettes, which will essentially lead to putting more money in their pockets?”

The article by Lindsay Sykes asks: “Is it fear of the discomfort and disgust these images will invoke in people that has this plan being taken off the table for now? Isn't that the purpose of these images, after all; to be a preventative measure for future smokers and a motivation to quit for those who already smoke?”

Of course, larger, more disgusting images might also motivate more smokers to buy contraband. There are no warning labels on the clear plastic bags sold from the trunk of a car. And, they're a damn sight cheaper than the “legal” variety.

To end on a more humourous note, the federal Liberals recently launched a proposal to provide funding for Canadians providing essential home care to family members so they wouldn't have to quit their jobs.

The Liberals introduced their billion dollar home-care plan with a glossy brochure which featured a photo depicting two generations of a happy, smiling family. Unfortunately, one of the family members was enjoying a cigarette during the photo shoot.

Maybe the the photographer was a smoker who saw nothing abnormal about a guy having a quick puff while having his picture taken.

The faux pas, however, did not escape the attention of Prime Minister Stephen Harper . “I look at this brochure where on page six the Liberals talk about health care and on page four they promote somebody smoking,” he chided. Ouch.

No wonder the Liberals were so quick to take issue with the governments decision to delay those graphic warnings. They had to show they were just as tough on smokers as those other fellas.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Piecemeal prohibition – the anti-smoker agenda

The anti-smoker brigade and their allies in government will tell you at every opportunity that smoking is the single biggest cause of preventable death worldwide. The question which immediately arises is why the zealots don't simply lobby for outright prohibition on the manufacture and distribution of tobacco products?

And, the short answer is that it's all about the money.

For example, the anti-smoker cult in the US is lamenting a substantial loss of funding as governments at the state level reduce the amount of financial support provided to the anti-smoker zealots. “Overall funding on tobacco control is down because of dramatic cuts in state spending in recent years,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told the New York Times in July, 2010.

The Times article also noted that, according to a report prepared for the anti-smoker fanatics, state funding for anti-tobacco programs dropped to $567 million last year, from $717 million two years earlier, a 21 percent decline in anti-smoker spending in just two years. The report bears the logos of the biggest players in the anti-smoker industry; the Cancer Action Network, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and of course, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

And, there can be little doubt that anti-smoking has morphed into an industry. A cute little chart in the report shows that state governments confiscated 209.3 billion dollars from tobacco consumers from 2000 to 2010, while spending “only” 7.04 billion on “tobacco prevention”. That doesn't include the additional billions from federal excise taxes.

Nor does the spending on tobacco control include spending by the federal government or foundations such as the Robert Wood Johnston Foundation, the Legacy Foundation or funding provided by the pharmaceutical industry.

It's clear that full scale prohibition would have an immediate and dramatic adverse impact on tax revenue for governments at all levels. In truth, governments have become addicted to the revenue generated by tobacco taxes. The anti-smoker cult simply can't afford to antagonize their political allies by demanding full scale prohibition and jeopardizing that tax revenue.

In turn, the loss in tax revenue would have an adverse impact on the funding levels of the the anti-smoker zealots and compromise their ability to conduct their denormalization campaign against smokers.

There are additional negative consequences to outright prohibition of tobacco products which might make it unacceptable to government: the resulting job loss in the tobacco industry and small business enterprises (convenience stores, for example) dependent on tobacco sales for substantial portions of their income, the prospect of a flourishing black market, and the strong possibility of a public backlash against such draconian infringement on personal liberties.

The immediate financial and social consequences of prohibition could be catastrophic. And, there would be no resulting compensatory benefit from savings in health care costs for decades, if they materialize at all.

This leaves the anti-smoker fanatics, and the blinkered governments which support them, in a very difficult position. Despite their ultimate goal (the eradication of smokers), they can't afford the social and economic disruption which would result from outright prohibition.

So, they continue their efforts to denormalize smokers and make smoking unacceptable in the eyes of the general public, while they consider the ways and means of achieving their ultimate objective.

These problems are acknowledged in a recent research paper from Singapore: “Thus, although the endpoint of a total ban is highly desirable, the political reality is that it is only by a phased, long-term introduction that such a ban is likely to be achieved.”

And, their solution?

“We propose, alongside current under-age bans, the introduction of laws banning the provision of tobacco to any citizen born in or after a specific year, suggesting the year 2000 as it is convenient for recall by all parties. The proposal introduces the concept of tobacco-free generations that will never legally be able to take up the harmful habit of smoking, at any age.”

Uh-huh. As far as smoking is concerned, no one born after 2000 would ever reach adulthood; they would never be legally permitted to buy or use tobacco – ever.

The authors of the paper believe such a gradual approach to prohibition would eliminate the current obstacles to achieving their utopian smoke free society. “Our proposal minimizes immediate hardship to tobacco stakeholders. Those currently legally smoking maintain the legal right to continue.”

It's a novel idea; stripping future adults of their rights while they're too young to appreciate the difference. But if that idea seems a little over-the-top, the fanatics are also exploring other alternatives.

For example, another proposal mentioned in the research paper would ”transfer responsibility for manufacturing and supplying tobacco to an enterprise with the mandate to achieve a timetabled reduction in tobacco”.

According to that proposal: “The elimination of profit driven behaviour from the supply of tobacco would enhance the ability of public health authorities to reduce tobacco use.” Uh-huh. Just nationalize the tobacco industry, turn it over to some unidentified non-profit (anti-smoker) authority and let them gradually choke off the supply of tobacco.

Many years ago, we used a process, most often referred to as brainstorming, as a problem-solving technique. The idea was simply to consider all possible solutions to a problem, no matter how preposterous. But, those potential solutions considered too far-fetched usually wound up in the discard bin.

Obviously, to the anti-smoker fanatics, no solution to the “tobacco problem” is too radical.