Thursday, December 22, 2011

Return of The Old Rambler

I guess it’s about time I gave readers of this blog (at least those who haven’t deserted me) an explanation for my lengthy absence and the lack of a timely response to their e-mails; 386 unanswered e-mails in one account and 522 in the other.

The simple truth is that I’ve had neither the energy nor the inclination to sit down at my computer long enough to even check my email accounts, let alone post to my blog. A lengthy hospitalization (over three months) can be both debilitating and depressing.

Obviously, rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated, although it was ‘touch and go’ for awhile. Nor have I been soaking up the sun on some remote island in the South Pacific. In fact, a vacation on some snow covered island in the frozen reaches of the far north would have been preferable to where I did spend the summer and a good part of the fall. Hospitals are no place for rest and relaxation.

I knew I was in deep shit when I woke up back in June with some sweet young thing asking me if I knew my name or where I was. I answered, in a barely audible whisper, “Huh?”

“Do you know where you are?” she persisted.

“Hospital,” I wheezed, after giving the question some serious thought. “CABG” (coronary artery bypass graft)

“That’s right.” She smiled, “Now, can you tell me your name.”

I did the Socrates routine and answered her question with one of my own. “How in fuck does a guy get run over by a truck in the middle of an operating room?” Her raised eyebrow suggested she was in no mood for humour. So I told her who I was even though I suspected she already knew. I was in no position to be combative.

Bypass surgery is fairly commonplace these days; some might be tempted to say routine. But it does come with some considerable risk attached. The surgery itself went well, or so I’m told. It was an infection, a touch of pneumonia and fluid on the lungs which kept me in the intensive care unit for five weeks. I’m still trying to figure out how you get an infection, especially a contagious one, in such a sterile environment.

At any rate, I spent five weeks with nothing to eat or drink that wasn’t pumped through a tube. And weeks after that eating solid foods pureed to the point of liquidity and drinking fruit juice thickened to the point where you had to drink it with a spoon. Did you know that they can even thicken water?

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I did manage to shed 35 pounds. But, it’s a weight loss regimen I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, even the fanatics in the anti-smoker brigade.

But I’m not going to spend a lot of time crying in my beer. I was sick. And, thanks to some very capable and dedicated medical professionals, I’m now on the road to recovery.

The cardiac surgeon seems happy with the outcome and I’m happy I’m still on the green side of the grass. Even the nurse I overheard confide to a colleague, “He’s not going to make it,” seemed pleased to be wrong. And it will come as no surprise that I’m as pleased as a pig in shit that she was. Wrong that is.

It has not been a pleasant experience. And, it’s taken a toll both physically and mentally. But it’s time to shake off the lethargy and get on with the business of living. And that includes making regular posts to this blog.

I’ll be out of town over the holidays, spending time with my kids and grandkids. But, hopefully, I should be able to start making regular posts in the New Year.

Until then, I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and the best of luck in the New Year.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can we make smoking safer by reducing TSNA?

A new “scientific” study from anti-smoker researchers concludes:”We found no indication that any meaningful attempt was made to reduce or at least control TSNA levels in the new varieties of the popular brands Marlboro and Camel introduced over the last decade. In light of the recently granted regulatory authority to the FDA over tobacco products, regulation of TSNA levels in cigarette tobacco should be strongly considered to reduce the levels of these potent carcinogens in cigarette smoke.”

The researchers are calling for the US FDA to dictate a reduction in the levels of TSNA (tobacco specific nitrosamines) in cigarettes. This follows a WHO (World Health Organization) proposal to mandate a lowering of selected “toxicants” in cigarette smoke published in the journal Tobacco Control in 2008.

Study authors are claiming that higher levels of TSNA in cigarette smoke are associated with a higher risk of cancer, and that reducing TSNA will have an unspecified beneficial affect. “Modification of tobacco curing methods and other changes in cigarette manufacturing techniques could substantially reduce the levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA), a group of potent carcinogens, in cigarette smoke.”

The inference is that reducing the levels of TSNA in cigarettes will reduce the alleged health risks of smoking; that mandating lower levels of TSNA will, in fact, result in safer cigarettes.

The problem, of course, is that the specific chemicals, or chemical compounds, (the toxicants) responsible for the alleged risks related to tobacco smoke are unknown. So, following the logic of the anti-smoker crowd, there can be absolutely no scientific evidence that reducing or even eliminating specific constituents in tobacco smoke will reduce its overall toxicity.

If the specific constituents in tobacco smoke responsible for lung cancer are unknown, it follows that no safe level of exposure to those unknown constituents can be determined.

In fact, that is just what the US Surgeon General has stated unequivocally; that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. And, if there's no safe level of exposure, just how in hell will forcing the cigarette companies to reduce levels of specific tobacco constituents improve public health?

The researchers are highly critical of the tobacco companies, blaming them for their failure “to reduce or at least control TSNA levels.” But, obviously, if there is no such thing as a safer cigarette, as the anti-smoker zealots contend, then reducing the levels of some chemicals in tobacco is a complete waste of time, effort and money.

This latest study ignores the fact that it was anti-smoker zealots who were responsible for the termination of research into potentially less hazardous cigarettes. In fact, for 30 years, the anti-smoker cult has categorically rejected the possibility.

In the late seventies, the Smoking and Health Program was administered by the National Cancer Institute in the US; charged with the task of developing a less hazardous cigarette. Among those researching the possibility of less hazardous cigarettes were such notables as Gio Batta Gori and Ernst Wynder, both of whom opposed smoking.

Dr. Gori, who received the U.S. Public Health Service Superior Service Award in 1976 for his efforts, maintained that a less harmful cigarette could be developed. He did not envision a “safe” cigarette, but rather a safer cigarette, one which would reduce the risk(s) associated with smoking even though it might not eliminate those risks in their entirety. Focusing on harm reduction, Gori asserted, could substantially reduce the morbidity and mortality for which tobacco was thought responsible.

In 2002, Gori wrote: “One-fifth of humanity smokes with little indication they might soon quit, too many public and private interests benefit handsomely from the trade, and an illegal market stands eager to fill an uncontrollable demand should taxes and prices be set too high or should cigarettes be made illegal. Hence, the sensible and ethical public health policy would be to continue efforts to persuade smokers to quit, and to consider ways to reduce the risks for those who keep on smoking.”

Unfortunately, Dr. Gori's harm reduction approach to tobacco use was discarded in favour of the zealots zero tolerance policies and research on less hazardous cigarettes was terminated circa 1980 when the prohibitionists announced they could end smoking by the year 2000.

So how can the WHO and the anti-smoker zealots insist, on the one hand, that less hazardous cigarettes are neither feasible nor desirable, while on the other advocating a reduction of TSNA and other toxicants, ostensibly to facilitate some kind of health benefit to smokers?

If the anti-smoker crowd were genuinely concerned about the health of smokers, they would embrace the concept of harm reduction. They would actively promote all products with the potential to reduce the alleged hazards of smoking, including snus and the electronic cigarette, not just those products on offer from the pharmaceutical industry.

Instead, the anti-smokers stridently attempt to discredit those tobacco products, with dishonest claims and blatant misrepresentation of the facts.

This latest study, and the proposals from the WHO which preceded it, must be considered disingenuous at best. Just more bullshit and bafflegab from the disciples of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Smoking is . . . is not, an addiction

There's been a lot written about smoking and addiction on the blogs and websites dedicated to such issues this past week. It's actually a difficult subject to discuss because there's no longer any real definition of addiction; the meaning has become rather vague, lost actually, with the parameters seemingly changing to suit the occasion.

John Banzhaf, one of the high priests of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker, has pontificated that smoking is not an addiction. The addiction, he claims, is to nicotine. And, since nicotine addicts can get their fix from any number of sources or delivery systems, including the patch, gum or electronic cigarette, then smoking becomes a choice.

And, it naturally follows that, if smoking is a choice, then it is fair and reasonable to discriminate against smokers by refusing medical treatment, among other things.

Anti-smoking activist Michael Siegel, takes exception to Banzhaf's decree, claiming that smoking is indeed an addiction; smokers are as much in need of the rituals involved in smoking as they are in the hit of nicotine.

Siegel's main concern is that, if smoking is viewed as a choice rather than an addiction, then legal action against the tobacco companies, dependent as they are on the proposition that people don't quit because they can't, becomes that much more difficult. The contention that the tobacco companies compel smokers to use their product by making it addictive becomes a somewhat specious argument.

If nicotine is the addiction, and there are other sources of nicotine available, then the case against the tobacco companies goes up in smoke. The anti-smoker strategy of painting smokers as the helpless victims of “big tobacco” falls apart and smokers become the authors of their own misfortune.

In the US, the patch became available by prescription in 1992, and over the counter in 1996. Other alternative nicotine delivery systems have been developed and marketed since then. So, if nicotine is addictive, then Banzhaf has a point. And, the smoker has ample access to an alternative supply of nicotine. In addition, there are now a number of relatively safer tobacco products available, including the electronic cigarette and snus. Plug (chewing tobacco), cigars and pipes have also been shown to be less hazardous in comparison to cigarettes.

So, can either smoking or nicotine be properly considered an addiction?

Reviewing the smoking prevalence statistics from Health Canada's last SAMMEC report, we find that 44% of Canadians over the age of fifteen (roughly 8 million) are former smokers. So, if either smoking or nicotine is an addiction, obviously neither requires a herculean effort to break. Certainly neither is in the same league as heroin or cocaine addiction.

To me, that suggests the anti-smoker claim that 75% or 80% or 120% of smokers want to quit but simply can't because of their addiction is just so much bullshit. If they really wanted to quit, they'd join the 8 million Canadians who have already done so.

As a layman, I have to rely on common sense to distinguish between addiction and habit. For example, if I run out of smokes and knock on my neighbours door to beg a fag, I'm entertaining a habit. If I kick in his door, beat him about the head with a blunt instrument and take his fags, then I'm feeding an addiction.

That may be considered a simplistic analogy, but the scientific (medical) definition of addiction has become meaningless. I read of addictions to chocolate, sex, Big Macs, computer games and pale ale, among other things. The growing list of addictions has become something of a joke. Every time I read about some new addiction, I find myself wondering just what the fuck they're talking about.

No two people are alike. Like their fingerprints, each individual is unique. Some will have a much more difficult time in giving up their habit(s) than others. But, that does not make them addicts. Some people will use addiction as an excuse for not giving up a habit, but it's just as likely that they haven't really made the commitment required to quit successfully. Because, deep down, they don't really want to quit smoking, or eating chocolate or drinking pale ale.

So, it appears that one faction of the anti-smoker cult wants to paint nicotine as the culprit. That way they can lobby government to promote NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) as the cure for “nicotine dependence” and provide free NRT for those poor helpless souls who, according to the zealots, just can't quit any other way. And, greater sales of NRT will, not coincidentally, put a smile on the faces of their financial backers in the pharmaceutical industry.

In addition, if nicotine is the addiction, they can continue to attack all forms of nicotine delivery from alternative tobacco products such as the electronic cigarette and snus. To the anti-smoker cult, pharmaceutical nicotine is the only acceptable form of nicotine.

The opposing faction wants the act of smoking itself identified as the addiction. Going down that road leads to more legal action against the big, bad wolf as symbolized by the tobacco industry. They can continue the charade that smokers, because of their addiction, are simply incapable of free choice.

Neither construct fits the classical definition of addiction; both do a disservice to smokers who may actually want to quit. Those individuals are being convinced by anti-smoker zealots that quitting is hopeless without the intervention of the cult; that the road to salvation (giving up the habit) lies only in following the dictates of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker.

Dictates . . .dictator . . . anti-smokers . . . that's why I'll never be a former smoker.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kentville – No smoking Down in the Valley

Kentville is a small town in the picturesque Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia with a population of about 6,000. I haven't been down that way in years. Better make that decades; time flies when you're having fun.

In a recent news article, Bob Gee, owner of Mader’s Tobacco Store in Kentville, said freedom of choice is being limited, with regulations slowly eroding constitutional freedoms and rights. He was, of course, talking about the plethora of anti-smoking legislation passed by the province in recent years by gutless politicians folding under intense lobbying by the lunatic fringe of the anti-smoker cartel.

I've written several articles over the past couple of years to update the status of Bob's fight with the province over the tobacco displays in his shop. Back in 2007, Gee was ordered, under Nova Scotia's Tobacco Access Act, to cover up the tobacco displays in his store. He refused.

In 2008, he was charged with improper storage and display of tobacco products. Bob entered a plea of not guilty, thereby initiating a lengthy, and ongoing, legal battle with the province.

To the best of my knowledge, the constant delays have originated with Crown persecut . . . er, prosecutors, who always seem to need more time to prepare their case.

Last year, Provincial court judge Claudine MacDonald ruled that the provincial legislation breached Gee's right to freedom of expression under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The question now before the courts is whether the law is a reasonable means of protecting some compelling public interest which would override Gee's right to freedom of expression.

In October of 2010, the crown was still asking for more time to prepare their case. Bob's next court date is scheduled for June of this year. Unless, of course, the Crown needs still more time to prepare. I believe it was William Gladstone who used the the phrase: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Maybe the Crown is just trying to wear him down. They have all the time in the world, and all the power of the state behind them. And, the province certainly has much deeper pockets than he has.

But, Bob does not seem intimidated by the power of the state; men of principle seldom are. He shows no sign of capitulation, despite the odds.

Back in March, Bob Gee wrote a letter to Kentville Mayor Dave Corkum and town council criticizing a recent by-law banning smoking on all town-owned and -leased property, including streets and sidewalks. “Kentville’s bylaw does not reflect the larger issue at hand, which is really about how we as individuals educate ourselves, our families and one another so that the freedom to choose does not become hindered through a state of dictatorship.”

He noted that he has provided a service to the public and government by collecting over $20 million in (sales) taxes over the 35 years his shop has been in operation, and that he has conducted his family-run business in a way that gives back to the community. “It saddens me to realize that this same consideration was not returned to us and many of the customers that support us and the Town of Kentville when the town council decided to put this by-law into effect.”

And, he noted the government's reluctance to make tobacco illegal, but instead to set rules and regulations on smokers. Punishing rules meant to denigrate and demean, I might add. And, he has a valid point.

If smoking causes the damage the government and the anti-smoker zealots claim, then they are criminally negligent in the discharge of their duties and as much responsible for any morbidity and mortality attributed to smoking as the tobacco companies. If smokers are the victims of the tobacco companies, as the anti-smoker cartel maintain, then the government has a responsibility to end the victimization, not profit from it through the imposition of punitive sin taxes.

And, if the anti-smoker zealots want to punish the tobacco companies, why are they insisting that smokers and small business owners who cater to them pay the price.

Dave Reid, owner of another Kentville shop, DM Reid Jewellers, sees smoking, as a matter of choice - not something you can legislate. “Businesses pay the consequences for the decision if customers are staying away from town,” he said. “There was no consultation before making the decision.”

“How far do we go to legislate lifestyle?” he asks. “They have to use common sense and be realistic.”

Mayor Dave Corkum says the by-law isn’t an attack on smokers, but that “Kentville” just doesn’t want people smoking on town-owned property. Kentville . . . the whole damn town? And, the litter issue seems to be on everyone's mind these days. The mayor also notes that town staff don’t enjoy picking up cigarette butts. Maybe he should consider public ashtrays. Or . . .

Maybe smokers should take their business a few miles up the road; to Wolfville, maybe. Somewhere they'll be treated like the decent, hard-working people they are instead of being segregated like refugees from a leper colony.

They just don't want people smoking on town property? Shit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

New York smoking ban; a ban too far

A recent New York Times op-ed piece by Dr. Michael Siegel has drawn over 400 comments to the online version of the article. Dr. Siegel is a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health and an enthusiastic anti-smoking advocate.

In his article, Siegel expresses his opinion that the smoking ban in city parks and on city beaches, which becomes effective May 23 in New York City, is carrying things a little too far. And, in that at least, he's right.

Smoking is still a legal activity. Smokers are taxpayers too and have as much right to use the parks and beaches as anyone else. And, there is scant scientific evidence to justify such a ban on public health grounds. Even anti-smoking activist Siegel admits: “. . . no evidence demonstrates that the duration of outdoor exposure - in places where people can move freely about - is long enough to cause substantial health damage.

But Siegel's opposition to the New York City smoking ban is not based on the injustice to smokers which it represents. Instead, he is concerned that the reasoning used to justify the outdoor ban “runs the risk of a backlash that could undermine the basic goals of the anti-smoking movement.” Uh-huh.

For example, Michele Bonan of the American Cancer Society says “We think the risk is greater than Siegel implies” and asks why “we” should take any risk at all. After all, she notes: “more than 80 percent of New Yorkers don’t smoke, and two-thirds support outdoor smoking bans”.

Of course, following that logic means that as long as two-thirds of non-smokers support herding smokers onto box cars and shipping them off to re-education camps, then it's a perfectly acceptable solution to the smoker problem.

The City's Health Commissioner, Thomas Farley, notes that: “Parks and beaches are special places, built and maintained with tax dollars for the benefit of all New Yorkers. Glass bottles that can break, amplified sounds and alcoholic beverages are prohibited, not because this would save lives, but to keep parks and beaches safe and enjoyable for everyone. Smoking doesn’t belong there either.”

So, the smoking ban isn't meant to save lives, but to protect some non-smokers from something they perceive as an annoyance; and an opportunity to punish smokers for their reluctance to submit to the tyranny of the majority and give up their habit. Parks and beaches are special places; special places that are to be reserved for non-smokers.

Other reasons enumerated to support the ban are equally frivolous. Thomas Farley: “Children in parks or on beaches should be learning how to play baseball, bike or swim, not how to smoke.”

So children are to be protected, not from any real hazards of secondhand smoke exposure in the great outdoors, but rather, from the very sight of a smoker. Like watching a character smoking a cigarette in a movie, a child seeing a smoker light up in a park might be lured into a lifetime of sin and depravity. Watching wanton acts of violence or sexual promiscuity, on the other hand, have no affect and are perfectly permissible.

Such anxieties are not driven by real science; they are founded on an irrational fear of cigarette smoke and unbridled hatred of smokers; fear and hatred encouraged and blatantly promoted by the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker which perceives smoking as an immoral act.

But, it is neither the vilification of a sizable minority of the population, nor the malicious persecution of smokers which apparently disturbs Dr. Siegel. “To make matters worse, in trying to convince people that even transient exposure to secondhand smoke is a potentially deadly hazard, smoking opponents risk losing scientific credibility.”

The Surgeon General's claim that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke is absurd. Even the discredited EPA report released in 1992 is predicated on an assumption of a lifetime of chronic exposure to secondhand smoke. Transient exposure such as might be encountered in a park or on a beach has never been demonstrated to be a health hazard; simply a nuisance to some non-smokers.

Thus smoking bans in the outdoors are based on scientific evidence which has likewise been manipulated to the point of absurdity.

Dr. Siegel's real fear is that the public, confronted with this outrageous persecution of smokers, might recognize the absurdity of smoking bans in outdoor environments and begin to question not just the science behind the fatuous smoking bans in outdoor environments, but the entire body of evidence supporting smoking bans in general.

And, they may find out that his claim that the anti-smokers have science on their side is a distortion of the truth; that the scientific evidence is neither as clear nor unequivocal as he implies.

To be fair to Dr Siegel, it should be noted that he has criticized many misrepresentations of fact from tobacco control researchers on his blog, The Rest of the Story. And he has been vilified by his colleagues in the tobacco control movement for doing so. The “movement” does not tolerate dissension within its ranks.

In this instance, however, I must question his motivation.

And, if protecting the public from the health consequences of secondhand smoke was the objective, then there were (are) compromises available which could have achieved that result without the blatant bigotry directed at smokers. But smoking bans are not intended to protect public health; they are intended to punish smokers.

The problem was (is) that the High Priests of the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker demand capitulation, not compromise.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

E-cigs are out in the land down under

Sophie Dwyer, Executive Director of the Health Protection Directorate of Queensland (Australia) Health recently advised Queenslanders that:“E-cigarettes are illegal in Australia.”

They are illegal because they contain nicotine. And, nicotine is classified as a dangerous poison. Says Ms. Dwyer: “If used inappropriately – or if children get hold of the liquid nicotine – the consequences can be fatal.”

A May 5, 2011 press release from Queensland Health notes that: “The World Health Organisation’s International Program on Chemical Safety advises that 10mg of liquid nicotine can kill a child within five minutes of them swallowing it.”

It's true of course. Pure nicotine is indeed poisonous. That's why farm workers harvesting tobacco wear protective clothing to protect them from exposure and the green tobacco sickness which it may cause. And, there can be little doubt that precautions are needed to protect children from accidental consumption.

The problem with the warning from Ms. Dwyer and Queensland Health is the means by which they seek to accomplish their goal of “protecting the children”.

The fact is that there are any number of consumer products which could have serious consequences if “used inappropriately” or “if children get hold of them”. These include most common household cleaners, prescription and over the counter drugs, beauty products, etc.

Even my tube of toothpaste contains the warning, “Do not swallow. Children under the age of six should use only a pea sized amount and be supervised while brushing.” There is an additional warning on most labels to get medical help if more than a pea sized amount of toothpaste is accidentally swallowed.

But we don't ban toothpaste, despite the fact that it contains a poison, fluoride. Nor do we ban Easy Off oven cleaner, prescription drugs or aspirin; all of which could cause serious harm or death to children and adults alike if common sense is not applied in their use or if precautions aren't taken to keep them out of reach of inquisitive toddlers.

The electronic cigarette is designed for adult use. The cartridges used with the device contain a dose of nicotine approximating the dosage found in nicotine replacement therapy sold by the pharmaceutical industry.

According to Dwyer, “They (electronic cigarettes) contain vials of liquid nicotine, which is a very dangerous poison.” But, that's a dishonest statement which highlights the disingenuous nature of her argument.

Electronic cigarettes do not contain vials of liquid nicotine; at least, not any I've ever seen.

As noted previously, the cartridges contain measured amounts of nicotine. The liquid vials are purchased separately by “vapers”, as users of the e-cig refer to themselves, looking to save money by refilling their empty cartridges. But, if it's the vials of liquid nicotine which are causing all the concern, then why not simply ban the sale of liquid nicotine and allow the electronic cigarette, with the prepared cartridges, to be sold to those adults who choose to use them?

Another less than honest claim by Ms. Dwyer is that: “There is no evidence e-cigarettes are effective in helping people to quit smoking.”

While there may be no formal clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of the electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation, there is a substantial body of anecdotal evidence suggesting that the electronic cigarette is an effective tool to help people quit. In addition, many prominent anti-smoking advocates promote the device, both as a harm reduction tool and a means of achieving smoking cessation. .

Even the New Zealand Ministry of Health recently acknowledged publicly that electronic cigarettes are "far safer" than smoking tobacco. So why do they consider the e-cig an unapproved medicine and regard their distribution as an offence?

One statement by a Health New Zealand spokesperson sheds some light on the matter, “It (the electronic cigarette) does raise issues about the social approval of such devices and does run counter to one of the objectives of the [Smokefree Environments] Act and this bill, which is to de-normalise smoking." Uh-huh.

The objective of Health New Zealand is not to rescue smokers from the alleged hazards of smoking; it's to denormalize smoking and turn smokers into social outcasts. The anti-smoker crowd obviously sees the electronic cigarette as an impediment to that goal.

Meanwhile, back in Australia, Ms. Dwyer is busily shilling for the drug barons. “There are a range of safe products people can use to help them quit smoking, including nicotine patches, gum, lozenges, inhalers or sub-lingual (under-the-tongue) tablets.”

Uh-huh. Nicotine is poisonous. Nicotine is a menace to children. Nicotine is evil. You must buy only government approved nicotine from your government approved nicotine pusher. We insist. The law is on our side; because we make the law. And, the law says smokers are to be punished.

According to the press release, “Queensland Health is committed to making Queenslanders Australia’s healthiest people . . .” Uh-huh.

There appears to be no end to the bullshit and bafflegab being spread by the anti-smoker cartel!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ban smoking in movies to save lives

Hyperbole is defined as an extravagant statement or figure of speech not intended to be taken literally. Of course, with comments originating from anti-smoker fanatics it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference between hyperbole and plain old bullshit.

Take, for example, the following statement: “God knows how many film-goers died from watching Lauren Bacall smoke.” Are we really expected to believe the sultry siren from the age of the silver screen caused untold numbers of mysterious movie deaths just by blowing a little smoke?

No. I don't think so. That's an obvious exaggeration; an extravagant statement. And, just as obviously, it's not intended to be taken literally (or seriously). It's hyperbole. Surely the Guinness people would have kept a tally if movie-goers were kicking the bucket in great numbers while watching Lauren Bacall light up on screen. Hell, it would have been front page news if even one movie buff had died from watching the sexy screen star caressing her Winston's.

But why single out Bacall? Does she deserve all the blame for any mysterious movie deaths which may have previously passed without notice. Was it only Bacall's surreal cigarette smoke which surreptitiously slipped from the screen to slay unsuspecting movie-goers. I mean, God only knows how many film-goers died from watching Bette Davis and the chain-smoking characters she often portrayed. If watching someone smoking on screen really killed people, then, together, those two would have qualified as a weapon of mass destruction.

At any rate, the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health apparently has a new study which claims “the very sight of a character lighting up on the screen is enough to encourage a new generation of smokers.”

Shit. More hyperbole. I think.

But, I don't believe many teenagers sit up to the wee hours of the morning, being led astray by Bacall or Davis; lured into a lifetime of degradation as chain-smoking cigarette fiends? Nor do I believe watching Bacall on the small screen has the same deadly impact as watching her from front row seats in a real theatre.

So, perhaps the hyperbole prone Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health is talking about more recent films.

Yes. That must be it. They recently handed out their Ashtray award for the Quebec film with the most scenes of smoking on screen. The award, intended to communicate the disapproval of the anti-smoker zealots for on-screen antics involving smoking, went to a film titled “Les amours imaginaires”, directed by Xavier Dolan (who also co-starred in the film).

Dolan, in his early twenties, is considered one of the most gifted of the current crop of young Québécois film makers. His first feature, “J’ai tué ma mère”, won several awards at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival. It also won Dolan the Toronto Film Critics Association Jay Scott Prize for emerging talent.

None of which matters to the censors of the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health. To the anti-smoker zealots the quality of a film is not based on the truth and humanity which it reveals, or the number of laughs it produces, but rather the number of tobacco occurrences in the film.

And it's not at all surprising they have a scientific study to support their argument.

The scientific study, conducted by researchers from Université du Québec à Montréal, counted 116 “tobacco occurences” in the film which they estimated, with great scientific precision, at one occurrence every 59 seconds. Uh-huh. One tobacco occurrence every 59 seconds. They counted them. On their fingers and toes. Which suggests the film was reviewed by at least six scientific cigarette censors. Or, maybe they used a specially modified scientific calculator.

At any rate, after rigorous scientific analysis, the Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health, which commissioned the study, concluded that “by glamorizing smoking, the movies encourage teens to smoke”. Uh-huh.

In addition, after reviewing a similar study of American teens, carefully extrapolating the data to the Quebec population and allowing for potential confounding factors such as language and the consumption of French-Canadian pea soup, the council estimated that “about 40% of young Quebec smokers start the habit because of what they have seen in the movies.”

It is unclear whether or not the “young Quebec smokers” were ever exposed to Lauren Bacall or Bette Davis movies. When asked, most of the kids responded: “Who?”

Also unclear is the number of tobacco occurrences to which a teenager must be subjected before trotting off to the nearest First Nations reserve to get his/her first fix of the noxious weed, then plummeting into the depths of depravity and ultimate death caused by their newly acquired addiction.

However, it has been rumoured that the US Surgeon General plans to announce that there is no safe level of exposure to on-screen tobacco smoke. One over-zealous zealot named Whinnykoff proclaimed alarmingly “If you can see it; it can kill you. Third, er . . fourth, er . . . fifth hand smoke is even more deadly than active smoking. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.”

The Quebec Council on Tobacco and Health is quick to point out that they are not calling for outright prohibition of smoking in the movies, but rather they contemplate giving movies which depict smoking an automatic “18A” rating. Given that, in La Belle Province, this rating is usually reserved for hardcore pornography, this would place Casablanca (with Lauren Bacall), and “Les amours imaginaires” (with Xavier Dolan), in the same classification as Deep Throat (with Linda Lovelace) and Debbie Does Dallas (with Bambi Woods).

How I know the names of the stars in the latter two movies is in no way germane to the issue. But, I should note that they surfaced only after serious scientific research.

I have only one question . . . who are these fucking clowns?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

E-cigs a “tobacco product”; help or hindrance

Anti-smoking activist Dr. Michael Siegel noted on his blog (The Rest of the Story) a few days back that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the US has decided not to appeal a ruling by the DC Court of Appeal. That ruling declared that electronic cigarettes were to be regulated as tobacco products, rather than drug delivery devices; the drug, of course, being nicotine.

This could be good news for the hundreds of thousands of smokers who have successfully used the e-cig to cut back on their smoking habit or quit smoking altogether. Unfortunately, I believe it's premature to begin celebrating in the streets.

The reason for my (very) cautious optimism is that the FDA has yet to clarify how they will regulate this new “tobacco” product. And, it could be several years before FDA guidelines are actually put in place.

The pharmaceutical industry has invested heavily in anti-smoker campaigns intended to demonize tobacco in all its forms, as well as denormalizing and stigmatizing tobacco users. Their payoff has been increased sales (and the enhanced profits generated by those sales) of smoking cessation products; the nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, inhalers, etc.

They will not take kindly to any competition which might jeopardize their return on those investments.

And, while the FDA may have to justify any restrictions placed on the electronic cigarette, the anti-smoker zealots are under no such restraints. For example, they have already convinced legislators in several jurisdictions in the US, to include electronic cigarettes in their smoking bans. They have accomplished this objective despite the fact that there is little or no evidence of any deleterious effect whatever from using the e-cig.

They oppose the device, not because of any real hazard associated with the it, but simply because it looks like users are smoking. And, of course, if smokers are permitted to substitute the e-cig for pharmaceutical nicotine, funding from the drug lords in the pharmaceutical industry for their war on smokers may not be as bountiful as it has been in the past.

I noted in a previous post on the subject that one of the reasons the anti-smokers were unwilling to accept the electronic cigarette as a legitimate means of smoking cessation was that they hadn't yet figured out how to extort tax revenue from the users. And, since the zealots also depend on money extorted from smokers through sin taxes (and, in the US, the Master Settlement Agreement) to fund their war on smokers, that source of funding is also threatened.

If smokers turn to the electronic cigarette in any great numbers, to cut back or quit, tobacco sales will decline thus adversely impacting tax revenue and consequently the finances of the anti-smoker cartel. With the electronic cigarettes now designated a “tobacco product”, the anti-smokers can press for sin taxes to be imposed on the sales of the devices, even though many anti-smoking advocates consider the e-cig a far less hazardous product than real tobacco cigarettes.

Another point to consider is the marketing methods used to generate sales of the e-cig. The product has been sold primarily through the internet with orders delivered through the mail. Mail orders sales of tobacco products have been severely restricted in recent years. And, some credit card companies have even refused to handle such transactions.

This provides another opportunity for the zealots to delay the introduction of the e-cig into the open market. Of course, that may change if the e-cig is permitted to be sold through regular retail outlets..

In Canada, a number of convenience stores have begun carrying a line of e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, the cartridges must remain nicotine free. Health Canada has restricted the sale of nicotine to a format and dosage consistent with the nicotine products sold by the (legal) drug industry.

On a personal note, I invested in an e-cig about four months ago from a local convenience store. My original e-cig was confiscated by Customs and Excise Canada because the carts contained nicotine. But, even without the nicotine, I've managed to cut back from a pack and a half of native brand cigarettes a day to a large pack a week. And, no, I have no intention of quitting.

My cardiologist is still screaming bloody murder, but I can live with that.

It's unfortunate that Health Canada has elected to join forces with the anti-smoker crowd in their efforts to eradicate tobacco and those who choose to use it. They should focus more on reducing the harm tobacco allegedly causes although I don't see that happening any time soon..

Did I say unfortunate? That's an understatement. I consider what they're doing fucking criminal.

In addition, retailers will not be permitted to promote the “theraputic” properties of the e-cig, or advertise the device as a less hazardous substitute for cigarettes, at least, not without the prior approval of the FDA. And, since that will not be acceptable to the anti-smoker crowd, FDA approval should not be expected anytime in the near future.

The facts are that regulating the electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product may not be as beneficial as some people expect. Tobacco is, arguably, the most heavily regulated product in history, and it is definitely the most heavily taxed in most jurisdictions. Tobacco products, including reduced risk products such as the electronic cigarette and snus, are anathema to the zealots.

So, there's one thing of which we can be sure; the anti-smoker fanatics will continue their vehement opposition to the electronic cigarette (and all other forms of harm reduction tobacco products). Because it's a “tobacco” product. Because it so closely resembles smoking. Because it represents a threat to their funding sources. Because it interferes with their overall objective.

They're fanatics driven by an unhealthy obsession with eradicating tobacco and tobacco users, especially smokers.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Non-smoking bars lose business . . .

Anti-smoker zealots have persuaded gullible politicians that smoking bans are needed to protect the public from the hazards of secondhand smoke; hazards which may, but most likely do not, exist. They have convinced legislators that no economic damage would ensue from the implementation of smoking bans, that there would be no additional costs to society for enforcement and that there would be no political fallout because the majority supported the imposition of smoking bans and other punitive action against smokers.

Of course, anti-smoker zealots have been known to stretch the truth. Hell, they've even been known to flat out lie.

Public nudity, like smoking, is frowned upon. But, those who find that activity pleasurable are accommodated. They can join a nudist camp where they can socialize with like-minded individuals. Strip clubs, open to the public, cater to those with more prurient interests. Those who find such activity offensive can choose not to be exposed through the simple expedient of not attending such facilities.

No such accommodation is afforded smokers.

Through the legal device of the smoking ban, ordinary citizens have been turned into lawbreakers as they seek to avoid the punishment meted out for publicly engaging in what is an otherwise legal activity. Or, in the case of bar owners and their staff, the penalties imposed for allowing their clientele to engage in a legal activity.

At any rate, Sheriff Todd Nehls wants the lawbreakers out of Dodge. And the lawbreakers he's most interested in are the bar owners and bartenders who allow patrons to smoke in their establishment.

According to Nehls, blatant disregard of the statewide smoking ban will no longer be tolerated in the taverns of Dodge County, Wisconsin. He's ordered his deputies to make unannounced bar checks to catch the culprits and issue citations, thus turning the Dodge County Sheriff's Department into the Dodge County Bureau of Smoker Harassment.

The Wisconsin smoking ban, like most such bans, was to be self-policing. That is to say the bar owners and their staff were to be pressed into service as unofficial “smoke police”, without remuneration and with no clear direction as to how they were expected to carry out the responsibilities with which they were charged. Questions of liability, in almost all cases, have been completely ignored.

For example, if a police officer or other law enforcement official is injured in the line of duty, he or she is provided with a pension and health care coverage. But, will the same coverage be extended to the 130 pound waitress who is injured in an altercation with an uncooperative patron who defiantly lights up despite the proliferation of no smoking signs and the absence of ashtrays?

Will the state, which has unilaterally imposed the responsibility for law enforcement functions on bar owners and their staff, provide similar compensation if those civilians are injured carrying out the duties imposed on them by the state?

Who will be liable if a patron is seriously injured in an altercation with over zealous bar staff who attempt to eject uncooperative clientele? Will the state absolve bartenders and wait staff of any liability if they are sued for assault or use of excessive force?

Remember, this obligation to enforce a state law is being imposed on civilians, without their consent, without compensation of any kind and with no training in proper police procedure or law enforcement. Bar owners and bar staff are expected to comply with the law or be subjected to financial penalties without defining what compliance, for any practical purposes, actually means.

Is it enough to remove ashtrays and post signs? To orally inform patrons that lighting up on the premises is illegal? Are they required to stop serving uncooperative clientele? Should they call the police?

Bar owners are faced with a simple ultimatum: stop your clientele from smoking in your establishment or be penalized.

According to Sheriff Nehls: “We now have this rivalry of bar owners turning in other bar owners. That’s what the fight is about now. You’re either a business that complies with the law and has no business as a result or you’re breaking the law to get more business. And we’re going to bring that to an end.” Huh? They have no business as a result of enforcing the smoking ban?

That's an open admission that smoking bans do adversely affect the bottom line; that given a choice, smokers will choose to patronize bars which allow smoking. Non-smoking custom could likewise be free to patronize bars which prohibit smoking. Those who choose not to be exposed to secondhand smoke need never enter the doors of an establishment which allows smoking.

Of course, if the bars which adhere to the law are losing business to those which don't, then the the anti-smoker argument that most bar patrons prefer a non-smoking environment is a demonstrable lie. Otherwise, those establishments which ignore the smoking ban would be losing business to the smoke free venues.

Prohibition, by whatever name, has been shown to be counter-productive. The prohibition of alcohol in the US from 1920 through 1933 did not eradicate drinking. Prohibition, smoking bans. A rose by any other name.

Perhaps it's fitting to give the last word to John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a staunch supporter of prohibition: “When Prohibition was introduced, I hoped that it would be widely supported by public opinion and the day would soon come when the evil effects of alcohol would be recognized. I have slowly and reluctantly come to believe that this has not been the result. Instead, drinking has generally increased; the speakeasy has replaced the saloon; a vast army of lawbreakers has appeared; many of our best citizens have openly ignored Prohibition; respect for the law has been greatly lessened; and crime has increased to a level never seen before.”


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Government profits from kids smoking

The Spanish flu was a pandemic which killed an estimated 50 to 100 million people as it swept around the world in 1918/1919. In a few short years, the death toll in Canada alone was estimated at 50,000. It is considered one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.

The anti-smoker zealots claim there are 37,000 tobacco related deaths each and every year in Canada. If those numbers are believed, then the death toll from tobacco far exceeds the estimates of death due to Spanish flu.

And, the government response to this purported mayhem? Tax the victims into extinction and sue the pants off those allegedly distributing the virus while allowing the body count to climb. Uh-huh.

Newfoundland is one of those Canadian provinces that passed “enabling” legislation in anticipation of a lawsuit against the country's tobacco companies. The Tobacco Health Care Costs Recovery Act, passed by the Newfoundland Legislative Assembly in 2001, paved the way for legal action against the tobacco companies to recover the the health care costs the government asserts were incurred in the treatment of tobacco-related illnesses.

This “enabling” legislation allows the province to sue the tobacco companies directly. It also allows the province to dictate the rules of procedure, including the rules of evidence, to be followed by the (provincially appointed) courts where the case will be tried. Enabling legislation, however, should not be seen as an attempt to stack the deck in favour of the government. Although there are clearly advantages to having the dealer on your side, Newfoundland was merely following the lead of other provinces and providing the house with a slight edge.

In February of 2011, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador announced it was prepared to proceed with the lawsuit. And, although they haven't specified how much money they're seeking in the statement of claim, it is expected to be a billion dollar lawsuit.

And, that makes it difficult to ignore the hypocrisy inherent in the government's action.

According to Physicians for a Smokefree Canada (PSY), Newfoundland spent roughly $95 Million on direct health care costs in 2006. In the same time frame, 2005/2006, they confiscated $116 million in tobacco taxes from the province's smokers, not including sales taxes.

The fact is that Newfoundland's tobacco consumers have already reimbursed the province for direct health-care costs, allegedly incurred due to tobacco use, on an annual basis. And, the same situation holds true for every other province in Canada.

On a nation wide basis, the combined provincial and federal revenue from sin taxes on tobacco was $7.09 billion in 2005/2006 (excluding provincial sales taxes and goods and services tax). Physicians for a Smokefree Canada estimates nationwide direct health care costs attributed to smoking at $4.35 billion in 2006.

Any way you look at it, in Newfoundland and in every other jurisdiction in the country, Canada's tobacco consumers are paying more than their share of health care costs.

Of course, you're not likely to learn that from newspaper or magazine articles on smoking. Most such articles, coming as they do from the main stream media, follow the “party line” of the anti-smoker zealots; portraying smokers as a financial burden on the health care system.

And, there seems to be another popular misconception among members of the general public; the belief that “smoking related” diseases are exclusive to smokers. For example; “I think the decision to smoke tobacco is the choice of each person, and the province should no longer foot the bill for smoking related illnesses. Then in turn, no lawsuit would be necessary.”

In fact, there is no such thing as a smoking related disease which can only be caused by smoking. Ischemic heart disease is referred to as a smoking related disease although only about 13% of the 40,000+ deaths annually are attributed to smoking.

So what the writer is actually proposing is that “the province should no longer foot the bill” for smokers, despite the massive amounts of revenue they contribute to government coffers.

While browsing through the “fact sheets” on the PSY website to check my figures, I came across another interesting tidbit; one to which I hadn't really given much thought.

The anti-smoker zealots are constantly berating the tobacco companies for marketing their product to children. And, that may or may not be the case. I suspect that claim, like most of the propaganda provided by the zealots, is something of an exaggeration.

But has it crossed anyone's mind that governments also profit from the sale of cigarettes to school-age children; that they make many times the profit from that demographic than the tobacco companies. Uh-huh. Someone at Physicians for a Smokefree Canada has taken the time to calculate the dollar amount spent by "school-age children" on tobacco.

“Based on Health Canada’s estimate that tobacco companies make $4.43 in profit on each carton of cigarettes sold, and that retailers make $3 on each carton of cigarettes sold, industry revenues that result from young Canadians smoking totals $14 million per year, or more than $50 per school-aged smoker.”

The kicker: “Provincial and federal governments collectively receive $83 million a year in revenue from tobacco taxes on cigarettes smoked by young Canadians, representing about $380 for each of the 220,000 young Canadian smokers identified in the survey.”

And, incidentally, PSY estimates that only 10% of the cigarettes smoked by the “young people” in their survey came from First Nations “contraband”.


Monday, April 11, 2011

First Nations: Scapegoats for flawed tax policy

More whining from those who want to blame others for the consequences of badly flawed tax policy initiated at the insistence of anti-smoker zealots for the sole purpose of persecuting smokers.

Michel Gadbois is senior vice-president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association. And, Gadbois believes that tobacco taxes are unjustly punishing law-abiding, taxpaying tobacco retailers, because the punitive sin taxes are driving business away from the members of his association.

He's right, of course; at least in part. But, extortionate sin taxes on tobacco are really intended to punish law-abiding, taxpaying tobacco users . . . smokers, in other words. Unfortunately, convenience store owners and other tobacco retailers have become collateral damage in the anti-smoker crusade to eradicate smokers and all things related to tobacco.

It's no secret that convenience stores, especially the smaller, independently owned corner stores, are highly reliant on sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products to generate adequate levels of income to remain in business. And, as sin taxes on tobacco soar, more and more smokers are turning to unregulated, untaxed product from other sources. In Canada, that means tobacco products manufactured on, or distributed through, First Nations reserves.

According to an article written by Gadbois, and published in the Calgary Herald contraband tobacco sales have “devastated the convenience store industry” forcing more than 2,300 corner stores, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, to close over the last year. In addition, claims Gadbois, illegal sales were the cause of more than $2 billion in lost tax revenue in 2009.

Gadbois warns of a similar fate befalling convenience store operators in Alberta and other provinces if sales of untaxed tobacco products are allowed to continue. “Alberta and the other western provinces will face the same fate if this activity goes unpunished.”

The recent seizure of cigarettes from the Montana First Nations in Alberta is a “step in the right direction”, claims Gadbois, but fails to resolve the issue. More drastic action is required. He seems particularly chagrined that the manufacturer (Rainbow Tobacco) and the band chief of the Montana First Nations have initiated legal action and are seeking redress through the courts for what they consider an illegal seizure by provincial authorities in Alberta.

So, he wants Ottawa and the provinces to declare war on Canada's First Nations. He wants them punished in the mistaken belief that this will stop the flow of contraband and save thousands of convenience stores which rely on “legal” tobacco sales for substantial portions of their income.

Gadbois concludes his whine saying: “Look for leadership among those who recognize the problem and intend to extinguish the contraband trade once and for all.”

Obviously, Gadbois is not among those who “recognize the problem”.

The problem originates, not with the manufacture and sale of untaxed contraband, but with the usurious levels of sin taxes intended to force smokers to give up the habit. Contraband tobacco is merely a response to those punitive levels of taxation.

Canada's First Nations did not create the demand for cheap tobacco; demand was created by government's insistence on treating smokers like cash cows to be milked whenever they needed an unsympathetic source from which to extort additional revenue. The trade in contraband flourishes because smokers, in ever increasing numbers, are fed up with the constant tugging at their teats.

The fact is that the “man in the van” has followed the imposition of excessive sin taxes, meant to punish smokers and control their behaviour, wherever that particular brand of extortion has been introduced. It's a global phenomenon.

It's the glaring disparity between the cost of production and the legal selling price of a pack of smokes (roughly 80% of which is tax in one form or another) which represents the massive profits available to those engaged in the contraband trade. And the greater the disparity, the greater the potential for profit.

A confrontation with Canada's First Nations will not “extinguish the contraband trade once and for all”. With the kind of profits to be made from this government folly, there will always be someone waiting in the wings to take up the slack and reap the rewards inherent in what is a flawed and ill advised public policy.

Canada's First Nations simply make a convenient scapegoat for the problems created by anti-smoker venom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bans - kids playing, happy meals and fruitcakes

At first glance, it appeared it might be an April Fool's Day gag. But, then again . . .

The headline certainly sounds pretty ominous, not to mention a little silly: “HOA Wants Kids Banned From Playing Outside”. Uh-huh. A Florida homeowners association is going to vote on a proposal to ban children from playing outside.

According to an online article from News4Jax, a Jacksonville news outlet, the proposal states that "minor children will be under the direct control of a responsible adult at all times." No more sending little Johnny out to play, without Mommy and Daddy.

The proposal would also ban the game of tag, skateboarding, Big Wheels and “loud or obnoxious toys” on "common property," presumably whether there was an adult present or not.

The board of the homeowners association claims the proposals are all about child safety. The complex of 48 townhomes has no playground for the children and they have little space to play other than the parking lot. Of course, if it's about child safety, why do they specifically propose to ban “loud or obnoxious” toys?

But then, this is how it always starts. First, it's a ban on kids playing in public, then it's a ban on kids playing in the parks, or maybe even in the privacy of their own homes. And, eventually, they'll progress to the final solution, a ban on heterosexual sex. No sex, no kids . . . no problem.

They're banning all kinds of things these days, for the good of the children, of course.

In November of last year, San Francisco banned toys included with Mac Donald's Happy Meals. The city's Board of Supervisors wanted to protect the kids from turning themselves into chubby little cretins and contributing to the obesity “epidemic” which is apparently sweeping America. But, just how many calories can there be in a plastic figurine of Ronald Mac Donald or Hamburglar?

And, I wonder, do burgers and fries from Wendy's, or the A&W, represent a lesser degree of risk to children's health because they don't come with toys?

In the US, they're getting so ban happy, they're even trying to ban bans. Uh-huh. OK, to be more accurate, they're banning some bans.

The Arizona legislature recently passed legislation to ban cities or counties in that state from banning any kind of incentive offered by restaurants, including toys, contests, coupons, trading cards, coloring books, admission tickets, ride tokens and crayons.

Apparently, Arizona's politicians don't want anyone stupidly banning toys in . . . er, with? happy meals and, by extension, making them look stupid. Of course, the powerful and corrupt junk food lobby may be pressuring Arizona's lawmakers so they can continue to addict kids to their deadly junk food fare.

And, then there's smoking. Smokers have been banned from lighting up in public places, private places, outdoor places and imaginary places. No, Virginia, the world of Pandora, the setting of the movie Avatar, is not a real place. But then, the Na'vi aren't trying to ban smoking. It's the anti-smoker zealots in the real world who are trying to ban smoking in the imaginary world of the movies.

OK. So maybe the anti-smoker zealots have no connection to the the real world. They live in an Alice In Wonderland World, which, like Pandora, is an imaginary world. Unfortunately, they're trying to ban smoking everywhere in the real world, as well as their imaginary world. They want all worlds for themselves, the greedy bastards.

And, I wonder which world the homicidal healer hails from; you know, the doctor from Dallas who delights in running down smokers. I kid you not.

Apparently, a Dallas psychopath, euphemistically referred to as a physician, was unhappy with the rate at which smokers were (allegedly) killing themselves and decided to help one smoker give up his unhealthy habit. Unfortunately, the doctor's treatment included ending another unhealthy habit, most often referred to as breathing, by running the smoker over with his car.

The 54-year-old doctor, Jeffrey Reed Thompson, is free on $5,000 bail after being charged with aggravated assault with a vehicle. It is only a rumour that Thompson plans to enter a plea of self defense, claiming the smoker was jeopardizing the health of his two door Mercedes by blowing secondhand smoke on it's windshield.

I really hate to jump on the ban bandwagon, but maybe it's time for a ban on anti-smokers passing themselves off as sane, rational people.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Should we be grateful for anti-smoker abuse?

What do governments do when faced with crippling deficits and the need to either reduce spending or raise taxes? Well, they polish up the hobnails and put the boots to the sinners. Smokers are an exceptionally popular target these days.

New Brunswick's Finance Minister, Blaine Higgs, is trying to persuade smokers in that province they shouldn’t turn to the black market following a recent 45% increase in provincial tobacco taxes. Last week, the debt ridden province raised the level of legalized extortion on a carton of smokes from $23.40 per carton to $34.00 per carton. The government hopes to extort an additional $44 million annually from the province's smokers.

The increase in provincial sin taxes will bring the price of a carton of cigarettes in New Brunswick to roughly $90.00, over 75% of which is tax imposed by one level of government or another. This is generating some concern that New Brunswick's smokers may take to buying contraband. Or, perhaps in the interests of accuracy, we should say there is concern that more smokers may switch their allegiance to contraband tobacco products.

A Globe and Mail article quotes Higgs: “I’m asking all citizens to do their part. If they’re going to smoke, we’d like for them to pay taxes legally.” Uh-huh.

First they divide the population into opposing camps and endorse an anti-smoker campaign to denormalize the smaller of the two groups; smokers. Then they pass laws to drive smokers into social isolation, relegate them to the status of second class citizens, confiscate a substantial portion of their wealth, allow their paid mercenaries in the anti-smoker industry to encourage and promote discrimination against smokers, discrimination which would not be tolerated against any other identifiable minority . . . and they promote this unbridled hatred of smokers under the pretext of protecting public health.

And, of course, smokers should be thankful for the punishment meted out by the Holy Church of the Anti-smoker and their altar boys at all levels of government. It's for their own good, after all.

It's also fucking infuriating.

Yes, they admit, punitive tax increases impose a serious financial burden on the poor. But if they're forced to choose between eating and buying cigarettes maybe some will be forced to give up the cigarettes. And, the zealots have pronounced that “good”, motivated as they are by their alleged concern for the welfare of smokers.(And, if you believe the anti-smoker zealots, or their political lapdogs, are really interested in the welfare of smokers, I still have some oceanfront property in the Alberta badlands for sale.)

Of course, those feeling the financial pinch might just opt to take advantage of the $50 to $60 a carton savings available from making their tobacco purchases on the black market and apply those savings to their food budget.

I made my choice years ago. I've been waging my own quiet protest against the tyranny of the anti-smoker zealots, saving thousands of dollars in the process and I haven't been bitten in the ass by a single terrorist.

Go ahead. Ask me if I feel guilty. You silly fool.

There's little doubt contraband cigarettes pose a growing problem across Canada. In Ontario, for example, it's estimated that somewhere between 40% to 50% of all tobacco sales are contraband.

A few days before Higgs announced his latest round of confiscatory tobacco taxes, a 53 year old Bas-Caraquet (New Brunswick) woman was fined $55,000 after the Mounties executed a search warrant and found 520 cartons of contraband smokes believed to have been acquired somewhere “up the line” in Quebec or Ontario. Was the government trying to send a message?

By some estimates, only between 3% and 10% of the underground trade gets stopped. But I think that may be something of an exaggeration. And, every time they increase sin taxes on tobacco, they increase the profit margin for those engaged in the underground economy.

No. I do not consider bootlegging tobacco a criminal activity. The real criminals are the politicians in Ottawa, Queen's Park and other provincial capitals across Canada who view smokers as a cash cow.

No apologies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Odds and ends and anti-smoker rhetoric

Although I'm still working to fulfill other commitments, I figured I should take the time to write a post to let those who care know that I'm still alive and kicking. I should be back to writing blog entries on a regular basis in a week or so.

With everything that's happening in Japan, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, etc., it's amazing how the anti-smoker zealots manage to maintain any level of press coverage. But, they do.

According to an article in the Windsor Star, an 11 member panel of experts has unanimously agreed that evidence now exists to link second-hand smoke to breast cancer. The article also notes, however, that: “Studies on the possible relationship between cigarette smoke and breast cancer have been inconsistent, with some showing an increase in risk and others not.”

The experts reached their conclusions after reviewing “all available evidence” from studies which showed no consistent results. And they call that science?

One of the panelists, University of Toronto public health expert Dr. Anthony Miller, is quoted as saying: "On average, it would be about a 50- to 70-per-cent increase in risk, depending on how much women smoke." Such scientific precision.

Of course, if studies linking active smoking and breast cancer show inconsistent results, one has to wonder how Miller can then claim that: "Even moderate exposure to passive smoking, such as living or working with a smoker early in life, increases a woman's risk of breast cancer when she is in her 30s, 40s and 50s." No 30 year latency period for breast cancer I suppose. Did they unanimously agree that passive smoking was more hazardous that active smoking?

Or maybe it's just another example of anti-smoker bullshit and bafflegab?

Everybody in Canada knows that smoking kills 37,000 Canadians a year, more than all deaths due to suicides, homicides, HIV and car accidents combined. That's a scary and often repeated statistic.

But how's this for a statistic. IHD (Ischemic Heart Disease), excluding deaths attributed to smoking, kills more Canadians every year than smoking related deaths due to oropharyngeal cancer, oesophageal cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, laryngeal cancer, lung cancer, cervical cancer, urinary tract cancer, renal cell carcinoma, bladder cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, pulmonary circulatory disease, cardiac arrhythmias, cerebrovascular disease, atherosclerosis, pneumonia, influenza, fire related deaths and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease combined. Uh-huh.

And, only about 30% of deaths from smoking related diseases are attributed to smoking.

Aren't statistics fun?

How about this one? Although the average life expectancy in Canada is roughly 80 years, less than 13% of the Canadian population had actually survived past 65 years of age when the last smoking attributable mortality tables were prepared based on 2002 data. Yet, roughly 70% of all deaths attributed to smoking occurred after the age of 65.

Statistics may be fun, but growing old sure as hell isn't. Shit, I passed 65 almost two years ago. I could kick the bucket any day now. Maybe I should quit smoking. Just in case.

Naw. Fuck it.

In Scotland, Professor Candace Currie, director of the child and adolescent research unit at Edinburgh University, claims drinking, drug use and smoking among schoolchildren has fallen to the lowest level in two decades. Says Currie: “Some people have suggested the ban on smoking in public places supported this decline, as there are fewer people visibly smoking.” Uh-huh.

But, I wonder how a smoking ban which applies only to adults managed to cause a decline in underage drinking and cannabis use? Strange.

And, I wonder how truthful the kids are when answering such surveys.

“Yes Miss. I swipes a couple fags from the old man's pack a Player's every day. An', every Friday me an' Frankie pools our money an' picks up a bottle a 999 from the bootlegger before heading out ta da dance at the Odd Fellows Hall.”

Of course, maybe the kids are more honest today than when I was a kid.

On a slightly different topic, Joe Warmington in his column in the Toronto Sun today, quotes a Toronto City Councilor: “It just makes no sense for this (the sex trade) to continue without the city capitalizing on the tax revenue from it . . . “ Uh-huh.

Prostit . . . er, sex trade workers, like smokers, drinkers, gamblers, the overweight and the couch potatoes also need saving apparently.

And, if the government can make a few bucks from regulating the "industry", and creating a safe working environment for the girls (and boys) peddling their as . . . er, services, then why not?

After all, they do it for the smokers, drinkers, gamblers, the overweight and the couch potatoes. (Sometimes I wonder if anybody but we sinners are paying to keep the fucking government afloat.)

At any rate, it seems there's a lot of money to be made saving sinners these days.