Sunday, January 31, 2010

No jobs, no health care for smokers

It's a well known fact that tobacco has been the subject of great controversy since Columbus discovered America and took samples of the wicked weed home with him. Moral crusaders, reformers and prohibitionists have been engaged in an undeclared war on smokers and other tobacco users for centuries. The last great battle with anti-smoker fanaticism ended following World War I, about the time Prohibition was imposed in the US.

So, current anti-smoker efforts are not something new. The only thing new is the extremism of the current incarnation of Lucy Payne Gaston's “Anti-Cigarette League of the World” and public acceptance of the blatant discrimination against smokers.

In 2007, a report entitled “Prevalence of Tobacco Use in Tennessee, 1997-2007”, was prepared by the Tennessee Department of Health. It was noted that Tennessee had received plaudits from the ALA (American Lung Association) for passing the Non-Smokers Protection Act prohibiting smoking in most public places and workplaces, for increasing its cigarette tax substantially and for significantly increasing funding for its tobacco control program.

The report continues: “However, even with the expected effects of these interventions, it is apparent that efforts to reduce tobacco use in Tennessee must be ongoing and increased.”

But how do you increase efforts that already include comprehensive, draconian smoking bans, drastic intrusions on the concept of private property and usurious levels of regressive tobacco taxation?

For starters, many private employers are refusing to hire smokers, whether they engage their habit on or off the job. It's a gross encroachment on personal autonomy which is usually justified by the contention that smokers increase health care costs for the employer.

But for Memorial Hospital, in Chattanooga, Tenn., the decision to deny smokers employment is intended to “set an example” in the community and is not based on potential savings in health care costs. And, under the new policy, all job applicants will be tested for nicotine as part of pre-employment drug screening. Any evidence of nicotine use, including traces that may occur from nicotine delivered through smoking cessation products like the patch, nicorette gum or lozenges, will make job applicants ineligible for employment.

This conspicuous intrusion into the personal lives of prospective employees is completely unwarranted, has absolutely no bearing on the suitability of any candidate for any job and is unlikely to have any impact on job performance. But, since the new policy at Memorial is restricted to new hires, it is legal despite its punitive, discriminatory nature.

Current employees at the hospital will not be affected because state law prohibits termination of an employee for engaging in legal activities during non-work hours.

Dr. Michael Siegel, an anti-smoking advocate and professor at Boston University School of Public Health, said the policy is "too invasive" and creates a "slippery slope," even though it's legal.

And, create a slippery slope it does. Should employers really be permitted to check for high blood pressure, high cholestrol or BMI (body mass index) during pre-employment screening? Should they be permitted to deny employment to individuals with these high risk factors for heart disease? Then why single out smokers?

But, this is not the most egreigous example of smoker persecution to come out of Tennessee recently. Earlier this month, state representative Mike Turner introduced legislation in the Tennessee state legislature which would have denied health insurance coverage to all new state employees who smoke or use other tobacco products.

Using the same justification as private employers, Turner claims that: "People who use tobacco products are risking their health and causing more expense to the plan, so this is the attempt to try and hold down some of those costs."

However, Turner announced late in January that he is withdrawing his proposal under the "strong encouragement" of fellow Democratic Rep. John Litz, a tobacco farmer from Morristown.

But, the simple fact that an elected representative could introduce such discriminatory legislation, without fear of social censure or potential political ramifications, is cause for concern. His proposed legislation exemplifies the extremist leanings of the anti-smoker brigade and the unmistakable success of their strategy to denormalize smokers.

For now the discrimination remains smoker specific, although there is considerable evidence that intended future targets include consumers of alcoholic beverages and the overweight and obese. And, the puritans and the health nuts have already signalled their intention to use the same tactics as the anti-smoker brigade in these other areas of “public health”. The slippery slope is no longer theoetical; it is fast becoming a reality.

So, the next time you see a “Help Wanted: Smokers need not apply.” sign, give it some serious thought. Whatever your vice, you just might be the next target.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Judge confines pregnant smoker to hospital

A few weeks back I reported on a study conducted by a team of researchers at UBC (University of British Columbia) led by Dr. Kirsten Bell, a medical anthropologist. The study concluded that there is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, especially those designed to de-normalize smokers. Bell and her team referred to a 2005 Canadian Lung Association survey which indicated that: “As many as one in four doctors who responded, admitted to providing lesser care to smokers.”

Now, the fact that, as a smoker, I can expect less than quality care from one out of four doctors does not exactly inspire me with confidence. For that reason alone I would concur with Bell that the government should reconsider their anti-smoker policies. Smokers have become the target for more and more unjustified discrimination.

But, while some doctors in Canada admit to providing a lesser degree of care to smokers, at least one doctor in the US deems it appropriate to impose an excessive level of care on smokers, whether the patient wants it or not.

Samantha Burton is a smoker. And, she continued to smoke during the first six months of her pregnancy. She was admitted to hospital after experiencing what she thought might be premature labor. Her doctor argued she was risking a miscarriage if she didn't quit smoking immediately and remain in hospital on bed rest for the remainder of her pregnancy.

Burton, in her late 20s, has two young daughters. She didn't want an abortion, had obtained prenatal care and voluntarily went to the hospital after experiencing symptoms she'd been told to look out for.

Burton claims she was unhappy with the level of care she received at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital and the “brusk and overbearing” attitude of Dr. Jana Bures-Foresthoefel. Said Burton, "I was desperately hoping to receive the care I needed to save my baby. However, after a few days there, I did not feel I was receiving the care I needed”.

But, Burton was not permitted to leave Tallahassee Memorial, either to go to another hospital or to go home. Instead she was ordered by a judge to stay at Tallahassee Memorial and submit to all medical care from its hospital staff, whether she agreed or not. Jennifer Portman, in an article on, claims the Judge barred her from seeing another doctor.

After Burton allegedly threatened to leave the hospital, State Attorney Willie Meggs was contacted by the hospital and he, in turn, contacted Circuit Judge John Cooper. The Judge held an emergency hearing by telephone. The hearing was held only seven hours after the petition to the court was filed and Burton was not represented by counsel. Cooper made his ruling after taking testimony from Burton and Bures-Foresthoefel, but apparently without getting a second medical opinion.

The doctor (Bures-Foresthoefel) said Burton's membranes had ruptured, that she was having early contractions and the fetus was in a breech position. Three days after the judge ordered her not to leave the hospital, Burton delivered a stillborn fetus by cesarean section.

Following the loss of her baby, Burton contacted a lawyer and appealed the judge's order. She isn't seeking damages, but hopes to keep her case from setting a precedent for legal control over women with problem pregnancies. She also worries it could prevent women from seeking appropriate prenatal care.

David Abrams, Burton's attorney, said her condition didn't merit such extreme action. "Her symptoms were not that unusual, she wasn't in active labor and the state failed to show why bed rest at Tallahassee Memorial would have been any better than at another hospital or home." In addition, he noted, smoking, by itself, did not cause miscarriages.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer Diana Kasdan believes the court order sets a “horrible precedent”, saying that if the ruling stands it could lead to the state virtually taking over the lives of pregnant women, including telling them what they should or should not eat and drink and what medications they must take. The Florida ACLU has filed a brief in support of Burton.

And, the judges ruling does indeed set a dangerous precedent.

Prosecutor Meggs said Burton was threatening to leave the hospital and her doctor believed that would have endangered the fetus. Judge Cooper apparently agreed and ruled the best interests of the fetus overrode Burton's privacy rights.

But, even if there was a legitimate medical problem concerning the pregnancy, the disagreement could have been resolved by transferring her to another hospital. And it's not as if Burton was accused of doing anything to endanger her unborn child, other than smoking and seeking a second medical opinion.

Some critics say the state’s intervention could have dark ramifications for other pregnant women, suggesting that similar action could be taken for drinking a glass of wine or eating unhealthy foods, driving too fast or even failing to take their prenatal vitamins.

And they have a point. Such a precedent could, for example, permit a judge to order a pregnant smoker to submit to smoking cessation therapy and a drug regimen which included Chantix or Zyban?

Dr. Michael Grodin, a physician and professor of health law, bioethics and human rights at Boston University, said doctors should never resort to court orders. "People have the absolute right to refuse treatment. It's unconscionable. It's an affront to women."

Said Burton in a written statement: "The entire experience was horrible and I am still very upset about it. I am trying to move on. I hope nobody else has to go through what I went through."

Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal has yet to rule on Burton's appeal.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Smoking bans, outdoor patios & bus shelters

There have been a couple of articles in the news media since the beginning of the new year suggesting that anti-smoker activity has gone too far. The anti-smoker crowd, of course, took exception to both.

But, the anti-smoker brigade is still on the march, goose-stepping their way across Canada. This time it's the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health pushing for a ban on smoking outside bars and restaurants claiming second-hand smoke is a danger outdoors as well as indoors.

According to council president Mario Bujold, "Different research shows that outside tobacco smoke could have a level as high as indoor second-hand smoke concentrations." He also wants the smoking ban extended to bus shelters where people are “close together”. Maybe he afraid a little social interaction between smokers and non-smokers might get people to thinking smokers are really quite normal.

At any rate, it seems the provincial government is scheduled to review its tobacco policy this fall. Bujold and his anti-smoker crowd appear to be starting their lobbying campaign early.

The CBC claims the idea is even going over well with some smokers, and quote Montrealer Josh Bouzaglou who apparently told CBC that: “It would bother me getting smoke in my face on a terrace or in a bus shelter.”

Sounds like Mr. Bouzaglou has bought into the guilt trip laid on him by the anti-smoker element. But, I wonder how he manages to light up without getting a little smoke in his face? Of course, the article doesn't say what he was smoking.

Peter Sergakis, president of the Union of Bar Owners of Quebec which represents 700 bar owners in Quebec, is opposed to the idea of extending the smoking. ban. Said Sergakis: "They have created second-class citizens with smokers. They put them on the street, and now they're trying to convince the government to disallow them from smoking on the sidewalks or terraces. This does not make sense. It's totally undemocratic, and they're going too far."

Sergakis estimates bars in Quebec have lost 25 per cent of their business since the ban on indoor smoking went into effect, and he claims things will only get worse if the ban is extended. "Could you imagine? Our customers wait for the summer to go outside and smoke, and now we're going to ban them from smoking on the terrace?"

Bujold, naturally, countered that the bar owners' fears are exaggerated. Many people predicted bars and restaurants would be driven out of business when the indoor smoking ban came into effect, he said, but that didn't happen.Uh-huh.

At first glance, there's nothing new in this article. It's a scenario that has played out hundreds (thousands?) of times across Canada over the past decade or more. But, after reading the article, it dawned on me that there was something missing; something I couldn't quite put my finger on. So I read the article a second time. Then I realized what was missing.

There wasn't a single reference to smoking as the number one cause of preventable death; no reinforcement of the anti-smoker claim that smoking kills 45 thousand Canadians a year. No declaration that second-hand smoke was a killer of monumental proportions, lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce on the first unsuspecting non-smoker to pass by.

This is unusual in the main stream media which ordinarily promotes the fear-mongering messages of the anti smoker brigade, without verification of, or perhaps deliberately ignoring, the facts.

But not only was the usual anti-smoker diatribe noticeable by its absence, they even acknowledged, in an admittedly off-handed manner, that the evidence may not support Bujold's contention that second-hand smoke is a danger outdoors as well as indoors.

The article quotes Dr. Gaston Ostiguy, director of the Smoking Cessation Clinic at the Montreal Chest Institute, as saying the concerns of Bujold and the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health may be exaggerated. Said Ostiguy: “In the open air, a person is likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke for a very short time. To say that's it's dangerous for your health, I think that the data is not available to be affirmative on this”.

But, I'm not about to hand out any blue ribbons to the main stream media for balanced journalism just yet. Their reporting of the second-hand smoke issue has been unquestionably one-sided. Over the last decade or more the main stream media has abandoned the journalistic ethic of fair and accurate reporting. And, in so doing, they've abdicated their responsibility to inform the public.

So, we'll wait and see what the new year brings before handing out any awards for fair and balanced journalism.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Quebec doctor's defense of smokers criticized

January is turning out to be a bad month for the anti-smoker brigade. It seems that some people are questioning the increasingly aggressive tactics being used to force smokers to quit.

First, there was a study by Kirsten Bell and her colleagues at UBC (University of British Columbia). Dr. Bell and her team suggested: “There is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, that the stigma around smoking could lead to patients hiding their tobacco use from doctors, and feeling desperate about ever kicking the habit.“

Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association berated the study, saying "These people [Dr. Bell and her team] have simply bought into the tobacco industry's mischief."

But, although Mahood claims the tobacco-control movement has not tried to stigmatize individual smokers, the evidence tells a different story. Denormalization, a concept Mahood endorsed as a tactic to disparage tobacco companies, has evolved into a strategy to humiliate and de-humanize smokers. Mahood proudly points to the falling rate of tobacco use as clear evidence the anti-smoker program of denormalization has succeeded.

Now, a new book by a Quebec psychiatrist claims that “the current anti-smoking climate is putting too much pressure on those who can't kick the habit while keeping from them the psychological and health benefits of smoking.”

In his book, “ Écrasons la cigarette, pas les fumeurs (Crush cigarettes not smokers)”, Dr. Jean-Jacques Bourque, a former president of the province's Association of Psychiatrists, defends smokers and points out some of the beneficial effects of smoking. He notes that, among other things, that smoking can be helpful for those suffering from deep depression and that people smoke to relieve stress.

According to an article by Marianne White on, Bourque takes aim at what he describes as propaganda from Health Canada, the provincial government and anti-smoking activists. He says they have resorted to fear to convince smokers to quit and overblown the effects of second-hand smoke."The idea that is promoted by the Quebec government, that second-hand smoke is more dangerous than the smoke inhaled by someone who is smoking, is completely off the rails," Bourque said in an interview with Radio Canada.

And he's right. The second-hand smoke scare may be the biggest hoax of the twentieth century. The anti-smoker cult, including Health Canada, has promoted the hoax despite a clear lack of evidence demonstrating that SHS causes cancer, heart disease or any other form of chronic disease. The alleged hazards of second-hand smoke have been used to create a climate of fear in the non-smoking population, to encourage them to accept, without question, mean-spirited anti-smoker initiatives meant to force smokers to quit.

Angry anti-smoker zealots have attacked the book as irresponsible.

The Montreal Gazette opines that Bourque's book “goes way too far when it actually extolls the psychological and health benefits of smoking.” Like the anti-smoker zealots, the Gazette was offended by suggestions in his book that smoking may have some beneficial effects, noting that smokers are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.

But, even the rabidly anti-smoking Gazette admits that, “the good doctor has a point about the current state of the decades-long fight against smoking. Perhaps the time has indeed come to ease up a little on the scare tactics and the apartheid-like strategy of casting smokers into the frigid outer darkness to indulge their addiction.”

But, Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, makes it clear that the anti-smoker cult is not about to ease up on smokers. "We shouldn't be rolling back measures to protect people's health just to make smokers feel better about themselves."

Flory Doucas, of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control, attacked the timing of the book's release, noting that the new year was a time when people are often trying to change their lifestyle for the better. Said Doucas: "It is very hard to quit smoking and often smokers will procrastinate. This kind of book kind of consoles them and gives them the false assurance that they don’t need to quit right away.”

But, what I think has really got anti-smoker knickers in a knot is that both the study by Dr. Bell and her colleagues, and Dr. Bourque's book, have gotten some attention in the Canadian press.

The anti-smoker cult has been able to successfully promote their campaign of smoker denormalization because the main stream media has, by and large, ignored their obligation to inform the public. News coverage has been a one-sided affair, with only one point of view, that of the anti-smoker cult, presented in the media.

For example, the public has been led to believe that the science showing that second-hand smoke is a health hazard is clear and unequivocal. But, the facts are that only a fraction of the studies conducted demonstrate a link between second-hand smoke and lung cancer. And for every study claiming a link, there are six which show no statistically significant association.

But, when prominent physicians and researchers suggest that anti-smoker efforts to stigmatize smokers may have gone too far, both the public and the politicians may start to question some of the extreme measures currently used to force smokers to quit. And, if the anti-smokers lose their stranglehold on the media, their propaganda efforts and their denormalization campaign could meet with considerable resistance.

Of course, that may be just wishful thinking on my part. But, Borque's book and the study from UBC have gotten some attention in the national media. And, that opens the door a tiny crack. Remember, the flood begins with a single raindrop.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The portrayal of smokers as abnormal

In my last article, I reported on a recent study by researchers at UBC (University of British Columbia) dealing with the stigma attached to smoking and, by extension, smokers.

Dr. Kirsten Bell, a medical anthropologist at UBC and lead author of the study, noted the contrast between how smokers are treated, and “the non-judgmental, 'harm-reduction' approach widely applied to people with other addictions.” Dr. Bell and her team suggested: “There is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, suggesting that the stigma around smoking could lead to patients hiding their tobacco use from doctors, and feeling desperate about ever kicking the habit.“

That contrast was clearly demonstrated by a couple of recent news articles.

Glenrose Hospital is a rehabilitation centre in Edmonton, Alberta and, according to an article in the Edmonton Sun, Glenrose is poised to establish an anti-smoking program for patients at the end of January. Dr. Hubert Kammerer, head of geriatrics at Glenrose, says: “It’s a complex problem. It’s not easy to smoke now, the people who smoke now are hard-core addicts and they need a comprehensive program to help with their addiction.”

Kammerer is right; it's not easy to smoke now, especially in or around hospitals, including psychiatric and palliative care units where patients are prohibited from lighting up and forced to quit, with or without nicotine replacement therapy. No consideration is given to the added stress imposed on smoking patients by forcing them to relinquish their habit under what may be already stressful conditions.

Certainly, no compassion is shown these individuals (Kammerer's “hard-core addicts”); no smoking rooms provided, no protected outdoor space. It's quit or be damned.

According to the Sun article, “The program at Glenrose is targeted toward two groups of patients — one that wants to quit, and another that isn’t ready and needs help coping with withdrawals while in hospital. If patients are willing to quit, they’ll be offered counseling and medicines designed to help minimize cravings.”

The article doesn't specifically say how Glenrose will deal with those smokers who don't want to quit. But, it's safe to assume they will not be offered a designated smoking area should they decline the offer of counseling and nicotine replacement therapy.

Contrast this with the non-judgmental, more tolerant, treatment afforded intravenous drug users who often have access to needle exchange and other programs designed to limit the harm caused by illicit drug use. Compare the current trend in some jurisdictions in providing drug users with “safe injection sites” while depriving smokers of any space in which to engage their habit.

Compare the anti-smoker literature presented to hospital patients who smoke with the literature handed out to intravenous drug users. Another news release reported an initiative launched in New York City, a hot bed of anti-smoker activity. They recently distributed a pamphlet, at taxpayer expense, offering tips on preparing and injecting heroin. Uh-huh.

While Kammerer's “hard-core” tobacco addicts are offered draconian smoking bans, punitive taxation and a host of other “interventions” designed to denigrate and demean smokers, heroin addicts are treated to pamphlets giving them detailed tips on prepping the dope and injecting it into their arm.

The anti-smoker brigade has conducted a deliberate campaign to stigmatize smokers. The consequences have been neither unforeseen nor unintentional.

Dr. Bell and her colleagues cite anecdotal evidence that the stigma attached to smoking may be impairing the doctor/patient relationship. A US survey shows that roughly one in ten patients will try to hide their tobacco use from their doctors. They note a 2005 Canadian Lung Association survey which indicated that: “As many as one in four doctors who responded, admitted to providing lesser care to smokers.”

But, Dr. Bell and researchers at UBC have only seen the tip of the iceberg. They probably didn't have to dig too deep to find their “anecdotal” evidence that the anti-smoker campaign to de-normalize smokers has gone too far. And, when one in four doctors admit they provide lesser care to smokers, then the anti-smoker campaign has indeed gone too far.

Consider the following, some of which have been publicized in the news media.

The head of a cardiology unit in a metropolitan hospital cancels a scheduled angiogram and discharges a patient admitted to hospital with chest pain after learning the patient has continued to smoke after a diagnosis of, and previous treatment for, angina. A 72 year old woman, dying from lung cancer, chooses to die at home rather than the (arguably) more comfortable setting of a hospital or palliative care unit because if she goes into hospital, “They'll take me fags away.”

A 12-year-old boy in the UK who hanged himself with his school tie rather than admit to his parents that he had been caught smoking. Another 12 year old boy in the UK who was admitted to hospital after taking an over-dose of nicotine (nicorette gum) distributed at his school without parental consent.

Recently, there was a horrific example of the affects of anti-smoker efforts to portray smokers as something less than human. An 8 year old boy had his fingers burned with a lighter and matches after he was caught smoking. The babysitter punished the boy while his parents watched. All three were deservedly convicted of child abuse.

But, some measure of guilt belongs to the anti-smoker zealots who have created a climate of fear and loathing of smokers. And the press, the politicians and the public bear some responsibility for their complicity in supporting and promoting the anti-smoker agenda of de-normaliztion.

The anti-smoker zealots will, of course, tell you it's all for our own good; that some collateral damage is to be expected in any war. They plan to save smokers from themselves, even if it means stripping smokers of their humanity. Or, as Dr. Kammerer says: “We . . . need to do everything in our power to help them with their nicotine addiction.” Uh-huh.

Bullshit and bafflegab at it's finest.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Shaming smokers into submission

According to a National Post article by Tom Blackwell, a new study from the University of British Columbia (UBC) claims “years of anti-smoking laws and campaigns have amounted to a public shaming of smokers that could make it harder for them to quit.”

Blackwell's article quotes Dr. Kirsten Bell, a medical anthropologist at UBC and lead author of the study: "People are made to feel really, really bad about their smoking and are treated quite badly, but feel quite helpless in quitting."

According to the Post, the researchers at UBC looked at a range of anti-smoking measures they contend have "de-normalized" smoking and smokers themselves. This would include, of course, smoking bans, punitive tobacco taxation, mass media campaigns which vilify smoking and smokers, graphic warnings on cigarette packages, etc.

But, there are additional, even more draconian measures currently being used to coerce smokers into quitting. And the affects are doing a damn sight more harm to smokers than making it difficult for them to quit.

These include efforts to ban smoking in apartment buildings and condos which would effectively deny smokers the right to smoke in their own home; to deny smokers the opportunity to foster or adopt children; to deny smokers access to some medical procedures; to fire or refuse to hire smokers whether they smoke on or off the job; and a host of other initiatives designed to denigrate and demean smokers.

The Post article notes that: “Katherine Frohlich, a public-health expert at the University of Montreal, said studies by her research group found that poorer smokers feel the policies have discriminated against them by, for instance, restricting their social interaction and isolating them at home.”

Ms. Frohlich is quoted as saying that: "We shouldn't dismiss the fact these interventions have been incredibly successful. [But] we have to take into consideration the fact that there are some pretty serious unintended consequences."

But, social isolation is not an unintended consequence of anti-smoker policies. Rather it is the deliberately planned outcome of those policies. Anti-smoker policies were meant to foster the notion that smoking is a dirty, anti-social practice not to be tolerated by the non-smoker in ordinary social intercourse.

Of course, this has been the chosen strategy of anti-smoker zealots for decades. Smokers had to be punished; shamed into quitting, by any and all means available.

The poor, meaning those dependent on fixed incomes, pensioners and low income wage earners suffer the consequences of this discrimination to a greater degree than most. And, that too was intentional.

Punitive tobacco taxation is regressive, striking at the poor disproportionately. And, it's no coincidence that anti-smoker efforts to have smoking banned in apartment buildings have been concentrating on social housing, which is meant to provide decent housing for low income families. Dependent on government subsidy, these individuals have no real means of fighting back.

Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association, claims in the article that “the tobacco-control movement has not tried to stigmatize individual smokers”.

Bullshit and bafflegab. Mahood was one of the driving forces behind the Campaign for Tobacco Industry Denormalization (TID). In 2004, the campaign solicited the cooperation of then Health Minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, to implement the TID strategy to fight the “tobacco epidemic”.

It was noted that the public perception was that “the tobacco industry is a normal, legal industry selling a normal, legal product, an industry entitled to be accepted within the mainstream of normal business.” Signatories to the letter included Mahood, Cynthia Callard of Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, and a host of other NGOs and government agencies dedicated to the elimination of smoking and the stigmatization of smokers.

And, although TID was supposed to denormalize the tobacco industry, the only way to accomplish that goal was through a series of interventions intended to disparage, denigrate and demean smokers as a group. Smoking had to be transformed into a deviant behaviour, practiced only by nicotine addicted misfits unworthy of either compassion or common courtesy.

And, it's no surprise that the anti-smoker zealots immediately chose to attack and discredit the study, claiming the researchers' work was "shoddy", and merely parroted the views of the tobacco industry. Said Gar Mahood of the Non-Smokers Rights Association: "What they've done with this paper is mischievous and careless and ill-informed. These people have simply bought into the tobacco industry's mischief."

This is a common anti-smoker strategy for dealing with legitimate researchers whose conclusions contradict the established wisdom of the anti-smoker cartel; paint them as ill-informed dupes, or worse, willing stooges, of the evil tobacco industry.

The Post article notes that Dr. Bell and her team claim: “There is an "urgent" need for governments to revisit their anti-smoking policies, suggesting that the stigma around smoking could lead to patients hiding their tobacco use from doctors, and feeling desperate about ever kicking the habit.“

I'll buy that. Not because it makes it harder for smokers to quit, but because current policies are discriminatory and just plain wrong.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Punishing taxes on smokers

“There are plenty of weapons of persuasion, of restriction, of financial penalty by price and tax increases with which we could seriously hope to reduce the consumption of cigarettes by a substantial proportion within 5 years”

That quote comes from the 3rd World Conference on Smoking and Health held in New York in 1975 where anti-smoker advocates gathered to plan their crusade to eliminate smoking: “our target must be, in the long-term, the elimination of cigarette smoking.” The report stemming from the conference can only be described as an anti-smoker manifesto which has recently been referred to as the Godber Blueprint

The “weapons of persuasion” referred to in the statement include, of course, the draconian smoking bans and usurious levels of tobacco taxation the anti-smoker zealots pressured governments around the world into implementing. But, over the last few years, there has been growing evidence that smoking bans and government extortion in the form of penalizing tobacco taxes have not had the desired effect. In fact, many anti-smoking initiatives appear to be counterproductive.

For example, higher tobacco taxes are considered by the anti-smoker brigade to be the most effective way to reduce tobacco consumption, especially for young people and others with low incomes. According to Luke Clancy, Director General of the Irish Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society, a new institute set up by the government to look at all aspects of research on tobacco control, it is “the most important intervention there is in tobacco control”.

Professor Clancy has also served two five years terms as chairman of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Ireland, which is among the more rabid anti-smoker groups. And, last month Clancy's anti-smoker bias was clearly evident in an article on Inside Ireland, when he took issue with the failure of the Irish government to increase the country's already punitive levels of tobacco taxes.

Ireland's Finance Minister, Brian Lenihan, indicated he would not increase the price of tobacco as it could lead to further growth in tobacco smuggling.

Clancy appears to recognize the scope of the problem: “Smuggling of tobacco into this country has now reached epidemic proportions and must be tackled head on by the government. Over 20% of cigarettes smoked in this country are non-duty paid in Ireland – so the loss in revenue to the exchequer is over €400 (million) euro per annum.”

But, he is not prepared to admit that outrageous tobacco taxes are the cause of the problem. And, even if they are, his solution is simply to crack down on smuggling.

In October, confronted with evidence that smoking prevalence in Ireland was at an eleven year high of 33%, despite high tobacco taxes and a smoking ban in pubs and restaurants, Clancy told the Independent: "There is no evidence of any decline in smoking in this survey, indicating a clear need for higher prices of cigarettes and better treatment of tobacco-dependence."

Clancy's position mimics that of others in the anti-smoker cult; smokers must be coerced into quitting, regardless of any other costs to society.

And, there are other costs. There is a substantial body of evidence suggesting that smuggling and the illegal tobacco trade are cutting into government revenues. And, there are additional costs to law enforcement budgets. At the same time, there is considerable damage to the the livelihoods of convenience store owners and tobacco retailers.

And, the problem is not confined to Ireland. The same problem is surfacing in Great Britain, Germany and, seemingly, the rest of the developed world. In Norway, it is estimated that 40% of the cigarettes smoked are smuggled.

Canada has one of the most serious contraband problems in the world. It's estimated that roughly 50% of all tobacco sold in Ontario is contraband. The provincial government admits to losing over $500 million dollars in tax revenue annually. Across Canada, that likely translates to billions in lost tax revenue.

In Canada, tobacco taxes have pushed the price of cigarettes far beyond what most consumers are willing to pay, beyond what many can afford to pay. But, the demand persists. And, given the economic incentive, there will always be those willing to supply that demand. Price no longer lowers consumption, it simply forces consumers to seek alternative, less costly sources of supply from an unregulated market.

And, despite large seizures of contraband, both in Europe and here at home, I suspect the involvement of “organized crime” is over-stated. I would opine that most of the smuggling is done by ordinary citizens; seniors, the unemployed and underemployed, and yes, a few small time crooks looking to make an easy buck.

In Europe, it's largely a matter of smokers buying cigarettes in low tax jurisdictions and smuggling them into jurisdictions where the anti-smoker crowd has convinced politicians that exploitive taxation is sound fiscal policy. In Canada, we have the added advantage of access to First Nations reserves where tax free smokes are available at a fraction of the cost of the taxed variety.

On a personal note, the cost of my pack a day habit and that of my wife is eased by regular trips to the First Nations. The $400 a month savings stretches my monthly pension cheque considerably.

Do I feel like a criminal? Hell, no!

The real criminals are the weal-kneed bastards in Ottawa and Queen's Park who allow the anti-smoker fanatics to lead them around by the nose. The hypocrites who target low income groups, pensioners and others on fixed incomes with unconscionable taxes in the name of public health.