The Politics of Smoke Rings

Image of skeleton smoking cigarette and blowing smoke rings One need not dig too deep to uncover some pretty staggering facts about tobacco products or their use. For instance, according to Health Canada, more than 37,000 Canadians will die this year as a consequence of smoking. To put this number into perspective, it's equivalent to the sum of all murders, alcohol-related deaths, car accidents and suicides in Canada each year.

There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 70 of which cause, initiate or promote cancer. It seems absurd that any rational person would knowingly ingest benzopyrene, a known cancer causing carcinogen, on a daily basis until they meet their demise. Yet, despite the incontrovertible evidence, smokers continue to kill themselves, and those around them, with a tenacity that can only be rivalled by lemmings jumping off a cliff.

Of course the purpose of this missive is not to engage in tautological prolixities on the dangers of smoking. Suffice it to say that placing the muzzle of a loaded large-calibre pistol against one's temple and squeezing the trigger is merely a more expeditious method of achieve the same objective. Given that you're able to find morons dumb enough to juggle chainsaws (some while riding unicycles), and other thrill-seekers who think it's cool to car surf, it should not be surprising that the sale of manufactured tobacco products continues to thrive in Canada. What is astounding, however, is the chickenshit position recalcitrant legislators take when it comes to the sale and distribution of this toxic product.

Image of firecrackers In the not too distant past, firecrackers were readily available to Canadian consumers at most retailers throughout the country. Firecrackers were a perennial commodity that found their way onto store shelves every May, just before Victoria Day or, as it was known in the vernacular of most children, Firecracker Day. On September 27, 1972, in response to sensational widespread media reports that two children were killed and three others severely burned from playing with firecrackers, legislators responded by unilaterally banning their importation and sale in Canada. Of course it was subsequently revealed that the children had, in fact, been smoking inside the tent in which they were playing and had concocted the firecrackers story to avoid reprisals from their parents.

So then, if fireworks are as dangerous as our politicians believe them to be, what do the statistics reveal? Well, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada's May 1998 report entitled Injuries Associated with Fireworks, there were a total of 175 injuries that year with zero deaths. Perhaps more staggering numbers are those published by the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs who estimate that approximately 70 deaths and 300 injuries are caused every year by smoking-related fires. If you're at all sceptical about the inference I'm making that smoking is far more dangerous than firecrackers, consider this: When was the last time you heard a news anchor reporting deaths or injuries in a house fire caused by someone falling asleep with a lit firecracker?

The assertion that tobacco is a more dangerous product than fireworks does mean that fireworks are a safe product. Whereas tobacco products are always dangerous when used as intended, the dangers posed by fireworks really only become apparent, and increase exponentially, when used or stored improperly. Moreover, because the limits of human stupidity are unpredictable and Roman candles don't generally include warning inserts which read "Do not stick this product in your ass before lighting", injuries are an inevitable consequence when irresponsible gits think it's cool to show children precisely how NOT to use them.

The sale of lawn darts, a product ranked second on the "WTF Were They Thinking" toy list, was banned in Canada in 1989. Although my recollection of the '80's is somewhat sullied by copious amounts of beer and a little weed, I certainly don't recall legions of lawn dart objectors taking to the streets carrying huge placards that read "JARTS! Toys? Or Weapons of Vengeance?". I scoured the antiquities in an effort to uncover the carnage resulting from the sale of these perilous projectiles, however the only empirical data I could find revealed that zero deaths and somewhere between 10 and 60 injuries could be attributed to lawn darts. There is a general misconception that owning lawn darts is illegal; a misconception which lends credence to a satirical story which claimed Liberal leader Justin Trudeau had been arrested for lawn dart possession following an unsuccessful search of his home for marijuana. Canadian law does not prohibit owning lawn darts; it prohibits the sale, importation and distribution of products that do not meet the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act guidelines. And this subtle distinction is precisely why the folks at Crown Darts are able to ship individual parts to anyone who may actually wish to acquire a set of lawn darts one piece at a time. Given the low risk posed by lawn darts in the first place, this rarely used circumvention is likely irrelevant.

Legislators seem keen to demonstrate knee-jerk reactionism whenever non-issues can be guised behind a veil of public interest. I can state, unequivocally, that I do not know a single person ever killed or injured from using firecrackers or lawn darts. On the other hand, I know, and have known, several who have suffered immeasurably from exposure to, and use of, tobacco products. I've never heard anyone say "I often wake up in the middle of the night and light up a firecracker" or "I've cut back to ten lawn darts a day." Given that I've never seen signs which read "No firecrackers within 9 metres" or "This is a lawn dart free zone", I can't help but wonder how much money has been wasted on signage regulating where tobacco can and cannot be consumed.

Image of cigarettes and dollar sign In a rational world, the sale of manufactured tobacco products would be banned entirely. Or, at a bare minium, their distribution would be regulated by prescription and their sale limited to pharmacies. That, of course, is in a rational world where public policy actually represents public interest. Unfortunately Canada's system operates in a climate where legislators make policy which represents the interests of their party first, their political future second and the electorate third so regulations with respect to tobacco tend to favour the interests of the industry, not the public. Rob Cunningham, in an informed work entitled Smoke & Mirrors: The Canadian Tobacco War, comments on the industry's contributions to the Canadian political process. Accordingly, he asserts that "in Canada, the industry's contributions to political parties are substantial and seem to be surpassed only by those from the major banks". With that much money trading hands, I'm surprised legislators don't come right out and say "A pack a day keeps the doctor away!. The statement would, in effect, be truthful given that trips to the doctor stop once you're dead.

Bottom line in my less than humble opinion.... legislators are chickenshit weasels unwilling to take a rational, public interest position on tobacco because such a position is contrary to their vested interests.

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 31 August 2014