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.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Candy flavoured smokes – here's the truth

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
Albert Einstein

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, but other commitments have been demanding a great deal of my time. Things should settle back to a more regular routine in the next few weeks.

According to Canadian MP (Member of Parliament) and New Democratic Party health critic Megan Leslie. "Health experts agree that flavoured tobacco [products] are consumed by young Canadians as a stepping stone to consuming non-flavoured tobacco products . . . these things target young people." Uh-huh.

The inference, of course, is that little cigars are being marketed to children, which is a gross misrepresentation of fact. Because, whether flavoured or not, little cigars and other tobacco products are not being marketed to children. In fact, it's against the law to sell tobacco products to anyone under 19 years of age.

In most provinces in Canada, as in many other jurisdictions, 19 defines the age at which children legally become adults. And, that status allows them to sit in a bar and have a beer with friends who have also reached the age of majority. At 19, young adults can enter into legally binding contracts, serve in the Canadian Forces . . . and legally purchase tobacco products. It's quite legal for the kids of any age to lift a smoke from mom's purse and smoke it in front of the local high school.

Ms. Leslie's euphemistic use of the term “young people” to infer that little cigars are being marketed to children is disingenuous at best. Bullshit and bafflegab at its political best.

At any rate, Ms. Leslie has introduced a private member's bill to tighten the rules around the sale of flavoured little cigars.

By “tightening the the rules”, Ms. Leslie is referring to a federal ban on the sale of flavoured little cigars, passed in October, 2009 by Stephen Harper's Conservatives. The manufacturers of little cigars merely changed the product, altering the size slightly and removing the filters, to comply with the new law.

But, the facts are that the bill approved by the Harper government was based on lie. And the bill recently introduced by Ms. Leslie is being sold to the public based on the same litany of lies.

In announcing her bill, Ms. Leslie used a campaign slogan from a new anti-tobacco advocacy group, “cancer shouldn't come in candy flavours”. Catchy little shibboleth. "It's marketing to kids," she said.

But, let's look at the bill, and its intent, logically, without the emotionalism of the 'save the children' argument, to determine if the claim that these products are being marketed to children has any merit in the real world.

With few exceptions, advertising of tobacco products is almost non-existent in Canada. No cigarette (or little cigar) commercials on TV or radio. No billboards on the lawn of the junior high school proclaiming the joys of smoking cherry flavoured little cigars. No tobacco sponsors of sporting events or rock concerts.

You will, however, find lots of advertising for alcoholic beverages, especially beer, the perennial favourite of “young people” across Canada. In fact, I suspect many “young” Canadians are as familiar with some beer commercials as they are with the national anthem. There are even some young people who think a beer commercial is the national anthem.

And, there's lots of advertising for drugs, especially smoking cessation products that carry a warning to consult a doctor immediately if you should start thinking about throwing yourself in front of a fast moving train. Of course, jumping in front of a fast moving train will likely guarantee that you'll kick the smoking habit and remain smoke free for the rest of your life. The downside is that the rest of your life may be limited to a few brief minutes.

The point is, without advertising, it's pretty damn difficult to market anything to anybody.

In September, 2008, Harper promoted his bill to ban candy flavoured little cigars by holding up colourfully packaged little cigars. "These products are packaged as a candy, and this is totally unacceptable," Harper was quoted as saying. "This can't continue." Huh?

What the fuck does it matter how products are packaged? It's illegal to sell tobacco products to children, no matter how pretty a package they come in. And, children are not likely to see the pretty packages at any rate.

At the end of May, 2008, months prior to the passage of the bill banning flavoured cigars and their pretty packages, convenience stores and other retail outlets selling cigarettes and tobacco products were required to have those products hidden from view. Tobacco displays, referred to as "power walls" by anti-smoker zealots, had to be covered so that neither children nor adults are subjected to the sight of those ugly cancer sticks in the pretty packages.

So the only time the children are exposed to the pretty candy-like packages is when some politician holds them up for the TV cameras to show the public how much the pretty packages look like candy wrappers. Unless, of course, the kids are digging the pretty packages out of the garbage when adult smokers are through with them.

"Despite the ban, you can still find flavoured cigarillos on store shelves today." Leslie told the CBC. And, she's absolutely right.

But, she forgot to mention that children can't see them; it's illegal. Children can't buy them; that's also illegal. So banning little cigars because they come in pretty packing which might appeal to children is just plain stupid. Because the only people permitted to see, or buy, the pretty fucking packages are adults.

So, banning the legal sale of little cigars to adults, whether they come in pretty packages or not, will do nothing to prevent underage children from experimenting with tobacco products.

Sometimes (often), it seems that the anti-smokers zealots are overly eager to prove Einstein's observation that human stupidity is infinite.