Sunday, February 28, 2010

Canadian women's hockey celebration: real joy

To-day's post is a little off my regular beat. It's about a hockey team that won an Olympic gold medal and then had a bunch of moralistic morons try to steal their moment of glory. Then again, maybe I'm not so far off topic. I've been writing about puritanical simpletons for almost two years now.
And, some clown from the Vancouver health department did publicly scold members of Canada's women's hockey team for smoking.

At any rate, it's a story on which I had to comment. I'm Canadian, eh.

I missed the women's gold medal hockey game on Thursday night. I had to chair a board of directors meeting and by the time I got home it was all over. Unfortunate, I thought, but I'd pick up the highlights on the news and read about the game in the morning papers.

Unfortunately, there was more about the post game celebration in the papers than there was about the girls on-ice achievement. Imagine. Hockey players drinking beer and smoking cigars? Horrors. Some idiots actually referred to it as a “scandal.”

It was a long hard grind for the young ladies on Canada's women's hockey team. But, they withstood the pressure and capped off an excellent overall performance by defeating the US women's team 2 to 0 to win Olympic gold. And, apparently, they did what the vast majority of people do under such circumstances . . . they celebrated.

They opened a bottle or two of champagne, drank a few beers and some of them lit up one or another tobacco products, mostly cigars. (I hope they were decent Cubans.) They clowned around and posed for goofy photographs. And, they smiled. They smiled a lot. Because they were happy. Because they'd just won Olympic gold. Because they were justifiably proud of their accomplishment.

But, that got some people's knickers in a knot. Said one commenter on a news article suggesting the girls be banned from future competition, “Breaking out alcohol and cigars sends a bad message to young kids who are highly influenced. Booze and tobacco are bad for your body. All you beer-guzzling Canadians who think it's okay, you're wrong.” Huh?

Beer-guzzling Canadians? Well, OK. But we're also polite, courteous and helpful to strangers.

Some unsolicited advice for this prude and the other puritans who are so highly critical of the these young women; grab a cold one and chill. Preferably a Canadian brew. We make good beer up here in the Great White North.
Hell, if the the girls hadn't popped a cork and swilled a few beer, I'd have been demanding they provide proof of citizenship. They're Canadian, after all!

A lot of the news accounts made it seem as if the girls had been falling down drunk and engaging in some kind of public debauchery. But, just a quick look at the photographs should convince anyone with an unjaundiced eye that wasn't the case. They were girls, doing what girls often do. They were having a little innocent fun. And, they'd earned it.

The girls . . . (And, for the record, that term is not meant in a derogatory or chauvinistic manner. I'm retired and collecting Old Age Security. To me, anyone under 45 is still a kid.)

At any rate, the girls had opened the bubbly in the dressing room. Some of them had digital cameras and they wanted to take some pictures. They wanted a record of the occasion; to take home some tangible memories in addition to their gold medals. And, who in their right mind can criticize them for that? (Don't bother to answer that; the question was rhetorical.)

So, after the fans had left the arena, some of them took themselves, their cameras and some bubbly to centre ice. And, they held one of the most spontaneous, most honest victory celebrations in recent memory. And, they took pictures. Pictures which captured the exuberance of the moment. Pictures they'll look at in years to come and remember the camaraderie; the glory. Pictures they'll be able to show their children and grandchildren with justifiable pride.

Unfortunately, although the fans had left the building, the press had not. And, they also took pictures. And, if there's anyone who should feel shame in this situation, it's the press who took the photos and built a mountain from a molehill. The photos of the Canadian players gleefully displaying their gold medals, posing with cans of beer, champagne and cigars, posing atop a Zamboni, etc, apparently struck some as inappropriate.

Just how did these priggish puritans expect them to celebrate the thrill of a lifetime; hold a temperance meeting, maybe?

Take a close look at the photos. That bottle of champagne (with the Canadian logo) appears to remain unopened; passed around like a prop at a photo shoot. Many of the cigars appear to be unlit. Look at the cameras in the hands of the girls as they joyfully snapped pictures of their friends and teammates. Look at those beautiful, smiling young faces.

Clearly, this was not some public display of drunken debauchery, even if some did consume a brew or two or take a sip of the bubbly. It was meant as a private moment, despite its public setting.

But now, the International Olympic Committee is “looking into the incident.” Canadian hockey officials have issued an apology. An unwarranted apology, in my opinion, because the girls did nothing wrong. And, some priggish individuals want to rain on their parade; to deny them their moment in the sun.

Hopefully, the young women on Canada's Olympic hockey team won't let their self-righteous critics bring them down.

I'm pretty confident the vast majority of Canadians will shower these talented young ladies with all the accolades they deserve. They did their country proud, both on and off the ice.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Anti-smokers resort to pornographic imagery

Very little about the antics of the anti-smoker crowd shocks me anymore. Not the suspect statistics, the fraudulent science or the hatred and vitriol excreted in their anti-smoker messages. But . . .

It appears that the anti-smoker crowd has reached new lows with the latest manifestation of their hate campaign against smokers. They've now resorted to the use of child pornography to sell their message of contempt for those who smoke, including young people who may experiment with tobacco..

An on-line news item from the Telegraph reports that an anti-smoking organization called “Droits des Non-Fumeurs” (Non-Smokers Rights) has caused an uproar in France with its latest anti-smoking campaign. Droits des Non-Fumeurs admits the ads are meant to shock and are designed to target young people. A spokesperson justified the ads, which critics say trivializes sexual abuse, by claiming “the posters showed neither rape nor abuse”. Huh?

Released earlier this week, the ads show an older man pushing down on the head of a teenager (both male and female) with a cigarette in their mouth, in a position that suggests oral sex. The tag-line reads: "Smoking means being a slave to tobacco".

"The campaign targets young people who see cigarettes as symbols of emancipation, of freedom,” A Droits des Non-Fumeurs spokesperson claims, “when it really causes dependency and submission.” Uh-huh.

But, behind the flowery rhetoric, the message to young people seems quite clear; if you smoke you're a slut or a pervert. They're saying that smoking, like sex, is vulgar and obscene. Young people should feel guilty about their perversion and quit the habit.

But, sexual activity, including fellatio, is not something ugly or demeaning when engaged in by consenting adults. And, while it may be irresponsible for young people to engage in sexual activity for a number of reasons, it is neither immoral nor indecent. Young people should not be taught to be ashamed of their sexual impulses, but rather to deal with them responsibly.

The moralistic, self-righteous bastards responsible for this outrage are trying to lay a guilt trip on impressionable young people by undermining their self-esteem and unforgivably attempting to shame them in the eyes of their peers.

Directing this kind of unethical, anti-smoking propaganda at adolescents and teenagers is loathsome and inexcusable.

There's a damn sight more pressure on kids growing up today than there was when I was a teenager half a century ago. But, there are some things which will never change.

For example, the need for acceptance by one's peers; the need to fit in. This kind of attack on young smokers will do little to discourage the use of cigarettes. It will simply create an “us” versus “them” mentality and generate more unneeded animosity between peer groups.

Fifty years ago, during my teen years, I experimented with booze, smoking and, yes, sex. I discarded the booze some years ago. (OK, OK, I admit it. I still appreciate a good single malt scotch every now and then). But, guess what? Half a century later, kids are still experimenting with those same “vices”.

These are adult frailties; part of the human condition. Remember, kids are ever anxious to breach the bonds of parental authority, to be seen as adults. So, many will continue to experiment with adult behaviours in their rush to “grow up”.

But, we're talking about young people; immature, inexperienced and not fully cognizant of the consequences of their actions. And, surely to God, there are better ways to educate our children about the potential perils of life than this thinly disguised vilification of young people who may choose to experiment with the tobacco habit (or engage in sexual activity).

And, let's not ignore the possibility that this kind of anti-smoker campaign will appeal to the naturally rebellious nature of teenagers and prove counterproductive.

This disgusting, irresponsible campaign by the bottom-dwelling bastards in the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker deserves the condemnation of responsible parents everywhere.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Smoking is addictive; get help to quit?

It's said that, if you repeat a lie often enough, people will eventually believe it. And, the bigger the lie, the more likely people will be to accept the falsehood as the truth. Nowhere is this bromide more apparent than in the Alice in Wonderland world of the anti-smoker.

For example, one of the common myths perpetuated by the anti-smoker crowd is that smoking is addictive, and that smokers are simply incapable of quitting on their own. They need help to quit. The concept of nicotine as addictive is re-invented with every incarnation of the holy crusade against smoking.

To be sure, the concept has been embellished upon, and exaggerated, through the years, but it's still the same old lie.

Nowadays, the anti-smoker crowd will tell you that nicotine is as addictive a substance as cocaine or heroin. Of course, to prove their theory, they had to redefine addiction. And, they've had to ignore (or conceal) all evidence to the contrary. But, because the public has been conditioned to believe the lie, through many decades of repetition, it was easy to sell them on the idea that smoking was as addictive as mainlining or snorting hard drugs.

To understand just how pervasive the lie has become, take the following statement: “Trying to quit the tobacco habit unaided is a losing fight against heavy odds, and means a serious shock to your nervous system. So don’t try it! Make the tobacco habit quit you. It will quit you if you just take Tobacco Redeemer according to directions.” Uh-Huh.

So, what is “Tobacco Redeemer”? A brand new smoking cessation product from Pfizer or Glaxo-Smith-Kline to add to their list of nicotine replacement therapies and anti-smoking drugs? Well, to be honest, I've been unable to find out much about the stuff. You see, the assertion comes from an ad in the December,1919 issue of Popular Mechanics. According to one source, it was a medicine manufactured by the Newell Pharmaceutical Co. of St. Louis, Missouri.

Surprising, isn't it, how long the anti-smoker fanatics have been with us? And, the snake oil salesmen peddling smoking cessation products are even more likely to be working for the pharmaceutical industry as they were ninety years ago.

And, the reason is simple. The pharmaceutical industry profits handsomely from the sale of smoking cessation products such as Zyban, Chantix and NRT products (or Tobacco Redeemer). Or, to reiterate another cliché: “Follow the money.”

I suspect that a full page ad in Popular Mechanics was just as expensive ninety years ago as the blurbs for smoking cessation products you see several times a night on TV. And, the manufacturers of Tobacco Redeemer were no more interested in public health than they are today. Their motivation then, as now, is profit.

To be sure, the pharmaceutical companies are riding the coattails of another growth industry – the anti-smoker cartel, but their motivation is the same; turn a profit and keep the shareholders happy. The massive funding of the anti-smoker movement by the drug companies is simply another marketing tactic. It's an investment they hope will pay off in increased sales.

The anti-smoker cartel created the need, quitting smoking, and the pharmaceutical industry is prepared to fill that need . . . and to fill corporate coffers at the same time.

Anti-smoker advocate Simon Chapman, noted in a recent article that: “In 2006, the global nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) market was estimated at $1.7 billion. The pharmaceutical industry places more messages about quitting in front of smokers than any other source: in the USA, smokers see 10.37 pharmaceutical cessation advertisements per month compared with 3.25 from health agency messages. The constant megaphoning of the idea that quitting requires drugs is causing a rather spurious tail to wag a large banished dog carrying an important message.”

That's a lot of advertising. And, $1.7 billion is a lot of sales.

But, as Chapman also points out in his article, “studies repeatedly show two thirds to three quarters of permanent ex-smokers stop unaided and about half find it easier than anticipated.” In other words, the vast majority of smokers who quit, did so without drugs.

Or, as Chapman says: “The good news on cessation is treated almost like a state secret. There are no campaigns highlighting that most ex-smokers quit unaided despite globally hundreds of millions having done so. Among my colleagues, unassisted cessation is rarely researched, instead framed in studies often funded by the pharmaceutical industry as a challenge to be eroded by persuading more to use drugs.”

But, the efficacy of smoking cessation products is even more dismal than Chapman admits. The failure rate of smoking cessation products has been estimated by some at more than 95%. (Quit Smoking)

Yet, the belief that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quit without help is being fraudulently perpetuated by the the anti-smoker cartel. The Canadian Cancer Society, Non-Smokers Rights Association, Physician for a Smokefree Canada and even government agencies like Health Canada, maintain the myth and actively promote the use of smoking cessation drugs.

It's a situation which can, and does, carry with it some serious negative consequences. The message, constantly repeated, is that giving up the habit requires medical intervention in the form of drug treatment. The message betrays the truth; the vast majority of quitters can do so on their own.

And, the constant repetition of the anti-smoker mantra makes it all the more difficult, for those who wish to do so, to quit. The message subverts their confidence in their own inner strength, forcing them into an unnecessary drug regimen.

Unfortunately, the truth also undermines the marketing strategies of the pharmaceutical industry. And, any drop in sales of smoking cessation drugs jeopardizes the funding of the anti-smoker industry. So . . .

The myth lives on.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

More anti-smoker hysteria! third hand smoke

There's a sucker born every minute.
Each time the second hand sweeps to the top,
Like dandelions up they pop,
Their ears so big, their eyes so wide.
And though my tale is bonafide baloney,
Just let me spin it,
And ain't no man who can resist me, wait and see..
Cause there's a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute,
And friends the biggest one excluding none is anyone
Who buys the bullshit and bafflegab of the anti-smoker crowd.
Author Unknown

OK. So, I modified the last two lines, and it doesn't rhyme, but I'm sure you get my point. What else could you call someone who takes third hand smoke seriously. OK. So maybe we could call them gullible for starters. Simpleton might be a valid descriptor, or buffoon.

Unfortunately, some of the people buying into this nonsense are actually well educated. Some of them need more than their fingers and toes to calculate their IQ. Like the doctor who, when asked how long third hand smoke clung to the furniture and draperies, responded with scientific precision, “A long time.” Uh-huh.

God forbid I should ever have to rely on her for medical care for anything more severe than a hangnail.

The latest third hand smoke insanity . . . er, study, reportedly cost over $700,000. This incredibly expensive piece of propaganda was conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. The experiment involved impregnating cellulose substrates with pure nicotine vapour, then applying nitrous acid to see if the reaction created carcinogens in the form of tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These refugees from a loony bin in Berkeley weren't interested in testing a hypothesis, they were hell bent on supporting the contention that third hand smoke was a health hazard.

At any rate, they found that nicotine, when combined with nitrous acid, produced TSNA's (Tobacco Specific Nitrosamines). The main indoor sources of nitrous acid are from unvented combustion appliances such as gas stoves or wood fireplaces. So modest levels of nitrous acid are likely to be present in many homes. Smoking, of course, can also produce nitrous acid because it is a product of combustion.

But, to produce TSNA's of even microscopic proportions, they had to use concentrations of nicotine and nitrous acid which far exceeded anything likely to be found in the average home. And, as author Chris Snowdon notes in an article in the Free society, “if your house or car is full of nitrous acid then you have more to worry about than it reacting with absorbed nicotine.”

The study is being heavily reported in the main stream media, along with suitable comments from health scare professionals. “Third-hand smoke found in hair and on clothes can be as dangerous as the fumes billowing directly from a cigarette – particularly to babies and children.”

But, the study did not prove anything remotely resembling harm to anyone, including children.

They proved that sufficient quantities of pure nicotine vapour (not tobacco smoke residue) when mixed with sufficient quantities of nitrous acid caused a chemical reaction which produced barely measurable levels of some TSNA's. And, since the quantities of both nicotine and nitrous acid were magnified far beyond normal, all they really proved was that there was a chemical reaction when the two were combined.

They did not show that secondhand smoke residue was found in significant quantities in the homes of smokers, that so called third hand smoke was hazardous without the influence of nitrous acid, or that there was a degree of risk posed to toddlers licking floors which are, apparently, never cleaned. Just how many square feet of floor does a toddler have to lick to make him ill?

Yet, according to most news accounts, it's third hand smoke and the multiplicity of allegedly deadly chemicals they contain, which are the danger. And, they're already burying our kids, figuratively speaking.

The real solution to any potential hazard of third hand smoke will be denied by the anti-smoker crowd and ignored by a gullible public. Just keep the kids to hell away from research facilities while they're conducting their fraudulent experiments. That way, they'll never be exposed to a quantity of third hand smoke sufficient to do them any harm.

The only real worth of this particular study is in its propaganda value. It allows the anti-smoker cult to link secondhand smoke residue (now called third hand smoke) with the safety and well-being of children. It allows the cultists to twist and distort the reality and instill an irrational fear of smokers in the minds of parents in particular, and the public in general. It will allow the cultists to justify otherwise unjustifiable discrimination against smokers.

Just like the studies on secondhand smoke, it is meant to create the perception of harm while ignoring the reality of the science.

I'll finish with a quote purloined from the pages of The Smoker's Club Newsletter. Elizabeth Whelan, M.D., President, ACSH (American Council on Science and Health) and anti-smoking advocate:
"There is such a phenomenon as third-hand smoke. There's no evidence whatsoever that it's hazardous to health, but as an aesthetic matter, it's quite noticeable if you're sitting next to someone on a bus who reeks so badly of smoke that you are nauseous. Still, being able to smell something doesn't mean it will give you cancer or any other disease."

"I can't believe we've reached the phase in anti-smoking hysteria that we're now worried about carcinogenic effects of third-hand smoke. When are we going to get to fourth-hand smoke?"

Dr. Whelan should check out the latest rambling from Leg Iron over at Underdogs Bite Upwards. We're way past fourth hand smoke.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Third hand smoke lunacy won't go away

The petite woman smiled briefly as the well-dressed young man stepped into the elevator cab on the ground floor. His office was on the fortieth floor of the high rise office building, and he noted, as he moved in front of the elevator control panel, that the woman was going to the same floor. He turned to the woman with a friendly smile and commented casually: “Looks like we're going in the same direction.”

But, as he turned towards the petite woman, he was surprised to see that she had retreated into the far corner of the elevator cab. She appeared distraught, her mouth agape, eyes bulging . . . and she was whimpering like a baby.

Concerned about the woman's obvious distress, the young man took a step in her direction. “Are you all right, Miss?” He queried. He was totally unprepared for the woman's hysterical reaction.

“Stop!” She cried.”Don't come any closer or I'll . . . I'll scream.”

She stood with her arm extended; her hand open, palm outward as if fending off some invisible menace. The colour had drained from her tear stained cheeks. Then she made good on her threat.

“Help.” She screamed as her knees buckled and she slid slowly to the floor. “Smoker! Smoker! Oh God, somebody help me.” She had a really big voice for such a small woman.

Realizing the source of the woman's distress, the bemused young man glanced at the indicator light above the elevator door. It read eighteen. Another twenty-two floors with this bellowing mad-woman. A mischievous grin spread across his face and he withdrew the pack of Putter's Lights from his shirt pocket.

At the sight of the cigarette pack, the woman stopped screaming. Her mouth continued to open and close, but no sound issued forth.

The young man removed a cigarette from the pack and passed it under his nose, savouring the full, rich smell of the tobacco. Then he offered the unlit cigarette to the terror stricken woman.

When the elevator ground to a halt and the doors opened on the fortieth floor, the young man stepped off the elevator. He glanced over his shoulder at the woman, still slumped on the floor of the elevator cab, mumbling incoherently. He'd call for an ambulance when he got to his office. And, he'd be sure to suggest that they bring a straight-jacket; size small.

Last year, I commented on a “scientific” study about third hand smoke conducted by Dr. Jonathan Winickoff. OK, it wasn't really a scientific study, it was a telephone poll where people were asked if someone smoking in a room tomorrow could kill you today or some other such nonsense.

Winickoff, who coined the term “third hand smoke", claimed that: “Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette or in a hotel room where people were smoking. Your nose isn’t lying, The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: “Get away.”

Winickoff's study got a lot of press coverage around the world. And, e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y knows that, if it is reported on “News at 11”, it must be true.

Global warming, for example, is a serious threat to mankind's very existence. All the news media have reported it, so it must be true. Of course, up here in the Great White North, we're wondering where they're hiding it. After months on end of sub-zero temperatures, we could use a little hit of global warming, man-made or otherwise.

But, I digress. Back to this other insanity; third hand smoke.

On my blog last January, I opined that: “By the end of the month, third hand smoke will be a bigger threat to humanity than atomic weapons. For sure, it will be even more deadly than secondhand smoke which is, in turn, more hazardous than first hand smoke.”

OK. So, it took a little longer than a month. But, according to ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), “another very recent study shows that nicotine exhaled into the air is converted by other common indoor air pollutants into cancer-causing chemicals which can linger on clothing, furniture, draperies, etc. - a new risk being termed "thirdhand smoke". The risk could be comparable to that of smoking."
Damn. In Canada that means another 37,000 bodies a year. Morticians must be rubbing their hands in glee.

The best way to avoid contaminating non-smokers with this new threat is to follow the advice of the anti-smoker cult and quit smoking. Failing that, you should smoke outside, change your clothes after every fag and avoid hugging your children (or grand-children), until you've had a shower.

But, be forewarned, that shower may get you into trouble with the environmentalists. Of growing concern is the threat to the environment posed by LSSR (Liquified Secondhand Smoke Residue), also known as fifth hand smoke . . . or is it sixth hand smoke. No matter, it's serious stuff. Just like third hand smoke.

LSSR, of course, is the contaminated water flushed down the drain after a smoker bathes or washes his/her clothes. Deadly, naturally, because it involves third hand smoke which was once secondhand smoke, a by-product of first hand smoke.

The anti-smoker cult hasn't estimated a death toll due to their newly created third hand smoke hazard. In fact, they haven't even calculated a relative risk factor or determined the diseases from which those exposed to third hand smoke will die. But, you can be sure they're working on it.

We'll explore this issue more in my next post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lower taxes do not equal higher smoking prevalence

In my last post, I wrote about a study conducted by HEC Montreal which concluded that lowering taxes did not contribute significantly to an increase in either smoking prevalence or consumption.

I opined that the anti-smoker fanatics would find it hard to dismiss the highly regarded business school, and their study, as the work of tobacco company stooges. I was wrong, or at least half wrong.

I underestimated the brass of the anti-smoker crowd. No, they didn't try to vilify HEC or anything so audacious. Instead they attacked the CCSA ( Canadian Convenience Store Association) which commissioned the HEC study. “The CCSA is the friendly neighbourhood face of Canadian Big Tobacco," said NSRA (Non-smokers Rights Association) policy director Melodie Tilson. Nice turn of phrase.

A Canada Newswire (CNW) article refers to the NSRA as a “health association”, although it's hard to imagine what a propaganda factory like the NSRA has to do with health. “The health association [NSRA] released a critique by former World Health Organization economist Emmanuel Guindon in response to a Canadian Convenience Store Association study earlier this month that purported to justify tobacco tax cuts.“

The Canada Newswire article was based on a press release issued by the NSRA.

According to CNW, “Condemnation of the CCSA for releasing a wrong-headed analysis of the 1994 tobacco tax rollbacks has been expressed by many health organizations including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. The CCSA study has also been severely criticized by a group of Quebec economists with Analysis Group on behalf of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.”

By “wrong-headed”, of course, they mean the HEC study contradicts the teachings of the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker. And, everybody knows the doctrine of the cult can never be questioned.

At any rate, it's not surprising that “health organizations” like the NSRA, Physicians for a Smokefree Canada and the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control would condemn the CCSA for questioning church doctrine. Condemnation and the demonizing of smokers (referred to by the anti-smoker cult as de-normalization). is what they're all about. Nor is it surprising that former WHO (World Health Organization) economist Emmanuel Guindon would offer up a criticism on the HEC study. After all, the whole concept of de-normalization originated with that organization.

The anti-smoker crowd has always played fast and loose with the truth, claiming every study which disagrees with (their) conventional wisdom is dishonest, flawed or the work of big tobacco front groups. The main stream media seldom publishes information which does not carry the ant-smoker seal of approval. And the vast majority of the unquestioning public is unlikely to go wading through hundreds of scientific journals on the internet or the local library to uncover the truth.

The HEC study, released in January, 2010, was newsworthy because it challenged conventional wisdom, that smoking prevalence can be controlled by high taxes. But, after a pretty thorough search on Google, I couldn't find a single article in Canada's mainstream media. In fact, I only found a handful of blog entries on the subject, including my original source for the information, CAGE (Canadians Against Government Encroachment).

But, I did find the CTUMS (Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey) for 2003. And, what really caught my eye was a chart on the first page of the report showing smoking prevalence trends from 1985 to 2003. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. And, the graphic certainly points out the truth of the underlying data better than words could ever explain.

The chart (shown above, slightly modified) shows the smoking rate for youths (15 to 19 years of age) in 1985 and 1991.There is a steady decline during that period which ends in 1991, and then increases through 1996 where, once again, it begins to decline. For the age group 20 to 24, the smoking rate levels out in 1991, then continues its decline from 1994. For the age group 25+, the smoking rate shows a continuous decline from 1985 onward.

Clearly, the change in trend began in 1991, almost three years prior to the government reduction in tobacco taxes in February of 1994. This timing appears to be corroborated by data from Statistics Canada in their Report on Smoking Prevalence in Canada, 1985 to 1999. “There was a significant and large increase (6.5 percentage points) in current smoking prevalence for 15 to 19 year-olds between 1991 and January 1, 1994. Since 1994, there has been no significant change in current smoking prevalence of youth.”

In other words, the existing data from statistics Canada substantiates the HEC study showing no significant change in smoking prevalence due to the decrease in tobacco taxes in 1994. This should come as no surprise since the HEC Report was based on Statistics Canada data.

It is quite likely that the increase in smoking prevalence during the early nineties, attributed to the reduction of tobacco taxes by the anti-smoker crowd, was actually the result of the growing availability of cheap contraband which began around 1989.

Dealers in black market cigarettes don't require proof of age and they sell their contraband at pocket money prices which many teenagers can afford. Higher taxes encourage the black market, which in turn, means cheaper smokes for kids. The anti-smoker crowd doesn't seem to understand.

The simple facts are that tobacco taxes represent the profit margin available to smugglers and dealers in contraband. The higher the tax, the greater the potential profits. And, tobacco taxes in Canada are at record setting levels, as is the problem with contraband.

Reducing taxes to combat smuggling makes sense.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New data on smoking prevalence & consumption

In a previous post (OK, in several previous posts), I commented on government's refusal to admit that their tax-gouging policies have been an abject failure. They were not accomplishing the stated goal of reducing cigarette consumption, especially among young people.

Instead, with the growing availability of contraband, young people have greater access to cheap smokes than ever. Tobacco retailers are unable to compete with the cheaper product and suffer serious economic harm. And, despite the highest levels of tobacco taxation in Canadian history, governments at both senior levels lose billions in tax revenue.

Confiscatory tax policies create a climate which allows the black market to flourish, increasing policing costs and introducing unregulated, potentially contaminated product to the market. Smuggling, theft, hijacking, the participation of organized crime; all accompany punitive taxes imposed by governments.

Anti-smoker activists have convinced governments around the world that a policy of high taxes is the best way to reduce smoking prevalence. They've been warned repeatedly, by economists and policy analysts, that escalating tobacco taxes can quickly become ineffective and actually do more harm than good.

In 1994, the Canadian government was forced to confront the issue when high tobacco taxes encouraged a thriving black market. The federal government lowered taxes to a more reasonable level and five of Canada's ten provinces introduced similar tax reductions.

The burgeoning market in contraband quickly ground to a halt.

The anti-smoker fanatics, displeased with Ottawa's decision, immediately began lobbying to re-instate the punitive taxes. Lower taxes would cause smoking prevalence to skyrocket, they claimed. And, first to be hurt would be the children who, encouraged by the lower cost, would take up the habit in significant numbers.

The lobbying efforts of the anti-smoker brigade appear to have paid off. By 2000, governments at Queen's Park and Ottawa had begun the steady escalation of sin taxes . . . and the contraband problem, once again, became a serious issue.

Last September, Ontario MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament) Toby Barrett introduced a private member's bill to lower tobacco taxes in Ontario. He was shot down Said Revenue Minister John Wilkinson: "We are with those who believe that we need to get our smoking rates down (and) that taxation is an effective deterrent.”

But, is Wilkinson's claim supported by the facts?

Michel Gadbois, Executive Vice-President of CCSA (Canadian Convenience Stores Association).claims it is not. And, he claims he has the evidence to prove it. Said Gadbois: “Let’s stop pretending that lowering excessive taxes encourages smoking: it is absolutely false and plain to see in the Statistics Canada survey done at Health Canada’s request.”

He was referring to a report prepared by HEC Montreal for the CCSA. The report is based on data in “the biggest study in the country to date examining the effects of decreased tobacco taxes, namely the 1994-1995 Statistics Canada Survey on Smoking in Canada.”

Apparently, following the reduction in sin taxes in 1994, Health Canada commissioned a study by StatCan to explore the issue of whether lowering taxes would significantly impact smoking prevalence rates. They were obviously anticipating a significant increase in smoking prevalence following the tax reduction, likely assuming the data would support that contention.

Because Health Canada wanted data collection to begin immediately, it was decided that the survey would focus on cigarette smoking only. The HEC Report claims the idea was ”to get into the field as quickly as possible and be able to measure any changes in smoking resulting from the decrease in taxes on cigarettes which took place in early February [1994] in certain provinces.” Among the major objectives was to measure the effect of price on prevalence and on amount smoked, and to measure these items in ways that were “consistent with past surveys and planned future surveys.”

But, the StatCan survey data, apparently, did not support anti-smoker claims that lower taxes would increase consumption or smoking prevalence and the survey was buried.

It's unclear how HEC came into possession of the StatCan data. But a press release was issued on January 13, 2010, announcing the report from HEC Montreal.

It is customary for the anti-smoker crowd to dismiss contradictory evidence as the work of the tobacco industry or their “front groups”. But, it will be difficult for them to question the HEC Report on those grounds. It was prepared by Jean-François Ouellet, a well qualified associate professor at HEC Montreal, which is, in turn, a highly regarded business school independently affiliated with the University of Montreal.

And, it will be even more difficult to explain why the StatCan survey data was never made public, given its potential impact on government policy in this area.

The HEC study, entitled “The failure of tax policies to curb tobacco consumption: Results of the 1994 Statistics Canada Survey on Smoking”, observes that: “A statistical test on smoking patterns conducted in some provinces having lowered tobacco taxes and others who did not, does not reveal a statistically significant link - smoking patterns were not significantly lower in the provinces that did not decrease taxes compared to the provinces that did (in fact, the opposite shows a link).”

Also noted in the HEC Report was the fact that, among the five Canadian provinces which reduced taxes, three, including Canada's most populous province (Ontario), had quit rates above the Canadian average.

Another excerpt from the report: “Repeating this comparison while looking at the effects of the tax system on the difference in the number of cigarettes smoked per day during the survey period, the same results appear: no significant difference is observed in the provinces where taxes are decreased and those where they are not.”

In a not so surprising twist, the completed StatCan survey has never been acknowledged or published by Health Canada.

And, if the conclusions of the HEC Report are dependable (there is no cause to suspect otherwise), the reason Health Canada kept the StatCan study under wraps becomes clear. Because it seems to demonstrate, quite convincingly, that higher tobacco taxes do not effectively force adults to quit or deter young people from adopting the habit.

That fact demonstrates, quite clearly, that penalizing taxes are not about public health. It is about punishing smokers and filling government coffers. It shows that Health Canada is not interested in studies which contradict or question the rhetoric of the anti-smoker cult. They will publicize only research that favors anti-smoker doctrine.

And, Canadian tobacco consumers are expected to pay the price.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Smokers face double risk: active smoking & SHS

Over the past couple of years, I've read a number of “scientific” studies on smoking and second-hand smoke. Many of them have left me scratching my head and wondering what they were trying to accomplish. And, given the creative nature of some of those studies, it's clear that some of the researchers had altogether too much time and money on their hands, and nothing worthwhile on which to spend either.

For example, a study conducted a year or so ago where a researcher in Montreal concluded that exposure to second-hand smoke caused nicotine dependence in children as young as ten. As I recall, the scientific method on which she relied to reach her conclusion was to survey 10 and 12 year old children to see if they had ever suffered nicotine withdrawal symptoms following exposure to second-hand smoke. Uh-huh.

I believe I still have a copy of the study but I can't remember if I filed it under “Are They Kidding Me”, “For Laughing Out Loud” or “Just Plain Bullshit”. It might even be in my “How Ridiculous Can You Get” file, along with the study on third-hand smoke.

At any rate, I may have to start a new file, tentatively titled “What The Hell Is This About ” for the latest study from Italy. The study was reported on the CAGE (Canadians Against Government Encroachment) blog. The authors recommend that, in future, any study related to the health of smokers must take into account the environmental tobacco smoke his own cigarettes emits.


It's not enough they've got me scared to death (figuratively) that I may die (literally) from smoking (eventually), now they want me to worry (unnecessarily) about dying (theoretically) from my own second-hand smoke.

Does anyone else consider this overkill?

According to the researchers, the study was needed because: “Very few studies have evaluated the adverse effect of passive smoking exposure among active smokers, probably due to the unproven assumption that the dose of toxic compounds that a smoker inhales by passive smoke is negligible compared to the dose inhaled by active smoke.”

The study was conducted under . . . er, less than ideal circumstances, which may have compromised its integrity. For one thing, It was extremely small, with only 30 participants; 15 smokers and a control group of 15 non-smokers.

The researchers claim the study was conducted “in a controlled situation of indoor smoking”. But, the controlled situation turned out to be an enclosed, 4M2 newsstand (roughly 36 square feet). In fact, the square footage is not that much bigger than granddad's old outhouse. Most people considered the outhouse a confined space, even though it had two seats, one for big bums and one for little bums.

It was also a good place to file scientific studies of a questionable nature.

At any rate, according to study authors, in this environment ETS contaminants could be easily monitored, with very few confounders. However, they also noted, in the name of scientific integrity I suppose, that newsstands "were usually placed near heavy traffic streets and therefore newsagents were also exposed to urban pollution" from traffic emissions.

Not surprisingly, the authors concluded that: “During indoor smoking, ETS contribution to total BaP (Benzo-a-pyrene) dose of the same smoker, may be not negligible”. Earth shattering.

It's hard to know how to respond to such conclusive evidence of . . . er, whatever. Frankly, I don't know whether to laugh, tear my hair out or sing a few bars of “Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares.” Maybe I should send the authors an e-mail complimenting them on this scientific break-through.

Dear Maria Teresa, Anna and Fred,

Just thought I'd drop a line to acknowledge your superlative exercise in redundancy. However, I must point out that if the alleged 1,700% increase in relative risk for lung cancer hasn't convinced me to quit the habit, the additional relative risk of 20% allegedly due to exposure to second-hand smoke is unlikely to do the trick.

And, if it's your intention to suggest (facetiously?) that smokers can die twice, don't. Such a suggestion might damage your credibility (severely). Besides, Health Canada has been (statistically) killing some smokers twice for years. (Seriously.)

But, if I may, I'd like to offer some constructive criticism regarding the subject matter of the study. Maybe the money might have been better spent on some topic of more immediate import to the betterment of mankind. Perhaps a study on the mating habits of fleas. Do they really light up a Camel after mating? Or do they just roll over on the camel's back and go to sleep?

Please forgive the impertinence.
The Old Rambler

OK. I'm being sarcastic. But, just where do they come up with this shit? Or more to the point, why?