THE UNBALANCED TOBACCO WAR

There have been a few recent developments with our government’s fixation with the big tobacco companies. In Quebec, judges ruled few parts of the federal government’s 1997 Tobacco Act unconstitutional. The act, for the most part, will stay as it is. The tobacco companies had claimed that the act contravened their freedom of expression by not allowing them to advertise at sporting and cultural events. Accordingly, the three presiding judges agreed. The companies may now display their corporate names, such as Imperial Tobacco, but may not display the names of brands, such as Du Maurier, a fine smelling tobacco if I may add.

The Supreme Court of Canada is expected to rule today on a landmark decision on whether or not our provincial governments can go after the tobacco companies to recoup health care expenditures that they feel were caused mostly by the habits of people smoking. American states did the same, and will reap $245 billion in settlements over the next 25 years.

While on the surface these sound like positive developments, we have to think of the consequences of these decisions and where they can lead. We have all heard of the woman who sued McDonald’s because her coffee was hot enough to burn, and we all rolled our eyes at the stupidity of it. It set a precedent, allowing other such frivolous lawsuits to be heard, thus adding to the cost and reducing the effectiveness of our court system.

When one thinks of tobacco, thanks to many years of negative campaigning, one thinks of a killer. To be sure, the tobacco companies have brought much of this on themselves through their lies and deception about what they knew about their product, and how is was targetted and marketed towards a young demographic in the hopes of having a customer for life. However, the one factor that we must remember is that this is a totally legal product. We have heard of the damage that it causes. Indeed, I myself smoked for 22 years, and it caused me countless bounts with pneumonia and bronchitis. It probably has shortened my own life. Thank God, I quit 2 and a half years ago, so I know much about this product. I am also not promoting the habit. Again, however, we must bear to mind that this is a totally legal product.

If tobacco poses such a staggering health risk, why is it that it is still legal, and why is it that our government finds it palatable to extract such a huge financial gain from the sale of it? I am not calling for the eradication of tobacco, I am merely trying to play devil’s advocate. Could our tobacco farmers not be helped to switch their crops to something healthier? Would it not pay in the long run through savings in health costs? As long as this product is legal, the government should be made to leave it alone, or at least as much as other industries.

Who is the next target? I have a few hair-brained suggestions that, no doubt, some lawyer will read and mull over. I would ask that if he or she succeeds, they send me 1% of the proceeds. (Smiling, now.) We have the auto industry, responsible for tons of carbon dioxide emissions, thus adding to pollution and health costs, as well as death. There is the fertilizer industry, poisoning water supplies and endangering the environment. Makers of candy are causing our children to become obese through their ‘tantalizing’ commercials, entrapping our poor youth in oversized bodies, thus increasing health care costs. They know this, but are hiding the proof. Petroleum producers, again hurting the environment through pollution that they are aware their products cause. I call for the ban of all advertising by our oil companies immediately.

We could do this all day. I expect to see some of these lawsuits actually come to fruition. (For those of you in college, that means they will happen.) Meanwhile, the fight against tobacco continues, all the while, the media seems to be behind our Pot Prince in B.C. as he awaits his fate. The legalization of marijuana and all who promote this cause find that they receive beneficial news coverage whenever the issue comes up. I suppose legalizing pot is okay because those nasty right-wingers are against it. Forget the health risks, we have to show them who’s boss!

So, the right of people to smoke is being curtailed because of the health risks to those who smoke and to those around them. The health care costs are enormous. The same crowd on the left cries out for the legalization of pot, on the basis that we should have the freedom to choose. This is so dumb I can’t think of the word for it. It kind of makes you wonder if this is just another attack on big business. Kind of makes me stop and have to shake my head.