Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Smoking and the Illusion of Concern

I took the kids to the beach on Sunday, and there's new signage everywhere about the problems with using the sand as an ashtray.  In hopes for a "butt-free beach," they included information on wildlife concerns, toxins, costs to taxpayers, and the level of pollution:  cigarette butts are the most common type of litter found on beaches.  But the signs didn't seem to affect anybody's behaviour because they didn't come with people actually patrolling the beach to offer friendly reminders much less tickets or anything more punitive.  Nor did they offer other options - like empty cups from the garbage half-full of sand for people use as ashtrays, then throw back in the garbage.  Nothing.

So people all around us buried their butts in the sand.  And it seemed like about 70% of all the groups claiming bits of land with a patchwork of towels included a few smokers.  It was impossible to avoid the smell of cigarettes - even in the water.  It officially overtook coconut as the primary beach scent this year.  I have to remind myself that Grand Bend isn't a place one goes to dwell in nature.  It was vile.

Alas, the kids love it there - far more than the bit of isolated land we have way up north right on a lake.  Go figure.  There's no hotdog stand nor Dairy Queen in the middle of the woods.

Then Monbiot wrote a bit on the obscene power of big tobacco companies in yesterday's Guardian.  Lobbying groups convinced the UK government not to make cigarettes come in plain packages.  Demanding that they use plain packaging is seen as "bullying."  And, of course, a chunk of money from tobacco giants ends up in the right hands as necessary.  How is this different from mafia tactics?

And the pretend concern is young people taking up smoking (or advertising as one MP said in a Freudian moment).  Here in Canada, if we care about young people smoking, really, we could just make it illegal.  Imagine!  But instead we have a law about not selling or even giving cigarettes to anyone under 18 - or 19 in Ontario, BC, and the Maritimes.  In Ontario, the fine for a first offence is $4,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a store then up to $150,000 for repeat offenders.  It's also illegal to smoke on school property anywhere in Ontario, and don't get caught with any unmarked tobacco products (from reservations) because they want all the taxes from it they can get.  BUT it's not illegal for kids to smoke.  At any age.

At my school we have a smoking area in a church lane-way right next to our parking lot.  It's not technically on school property, but it's the same thing. Students and staff have to walk through billowing smoke on the way into the building.  We're following the letter of the law, not the spirit. So 14-year-olds can smoke between classes, and there's nothing we can legally do about it unless we see one person pass a cigarette to another.  Lovely.  And I've never heard of anyone getting a $4,000 fine for that even though it must happen all the time.  Our kids are pretty poor; who has the heart to do that to them?

If smoking and possession of cigarettes by anyone under 19 were illegal though, cops could drop by schools and confiscate all cigarettes every day until the kids gave up trying to smoke.  Easy peasy.  But the lobby groups are too powerful to allow that kind of law to pass.  Or the politicians too weak.  They need kids to get addicted before they're smart enough to realize how stupid smoking is.

From Ontario's Ministry of Finance,
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Ontario, killing 13,000 people a year. That's three times the combined deaths caused by alcohol, drugs, suicide, homicide and car crashes.
This is one of the most blatantly obvious cases of profits over people.  We know what's right, but it ain't gonna happen.  We could save health care costs, save kids money that could be used for lunch, and keep kids from jonesing for a smoke in the last ten minutes of every class.  And I'll keep writing letters to my MPP, the Minister of Finance, and the Minister of Health, but I won't hold my breath.  Except when I'm walking into my school. 


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