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.