Tobacco Info

From Tobacco Info No. 9 - April 2012
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Outdoor smoking bans

Smoking outdoors in Ottawa just got more restrictive. A new regulation bans smoking on bar and restaurant patios, at fruit and vegetable markets, outdoor areas around city facilities, beaches and parks run by the city, and during any festival run on city property. By spring, bylaw officers will be issuing warnings to habituate smokers to the new law, and violators may see fines of $300 by the summer. Ottawa City Council approved the regulation on February 22, 2012, after it was first proposed on January 30.

David Hammond, an associate professor and tobacco control expert at the University of Waterloo, believes outdoor smoking bans are  “As much about de-normalization as they are about health risks.”

Vancouver, Prince Edward Island, and the Quebec municipalities of L’Ancienne-Lorette and Côte Saint-Luc have also been implementing similar outdoor smoking restrictions.


Legal trouble in Alberta


A legal battle is brewing between the Alberta government and a cigarette company based in Kahnawake, an indigenous territory in Greater Montreal.


In January 2011, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) seized about 75,000 cartons of cigarettes sent from Kahnawake to the Rainbow Tobacco Warehouse on the Montana Nation reserve in Alberta. According to the AGLC, it was contraband because provincial taxes were not paid. In Alberta, taxes add $40 to the price of a carton of cigarettes, according to the latest data from the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit.


Rainbow Tobacco believes, however, that the products it manufactures do not have to be taxed provincially. “We are under federal jurisdiction. We pay the Canadian rights and only sell our products to other native reserves,” says Robbie Dickson, president and CEO of Rainbow Tobacco, which was founded in 2004 and employs twenty people. Moreover, the company claims to own the licenses required by the Canada Revenue Agency to sell tobacco products on native reserves, while all seized packets had the required federal stamps. According to Dickson, “The manufacture and sale of cigarettes is a form of economic development for our community.” In February 2011, Rainbow Tobacco filed a $1.4 million statement of claim against the AGLC for the value of the seized products.


The trial date has yet to be determined, but opponents have met several times before the court in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. According to Dickson, the meetings served primarily to postpone the trial date. The AGLC has declined to comment.



Golden Holocaust book review


Big Tobacco tried to stop it from being published, but after personally investing over $50,000 in legal fees to fight the tobacco industry, Robert Proctor’s 750-page bombshell of a book is now on the shelves.


Golden Holocaust: Origins of the Cigarette Catastrophe and the Case for Abolition took a decade to write, in large part because Proctor, a Stanford University historian, meticulously rooted through the infamous ‘secret documents’ that tobacco companies were forced to release following the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement in the United States. There are over 13 million documents (and over 70 million pages) in total created by major tobacco companies that relate to their advertising, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and scientific research.


Golden Holocaust is already receiving praise for unpacking the tobacco industry’s long history of fraud, but Proctor warns that despite greater public awareness of the lethal risks of smoking and the tobacco industry’s systematic deceit, it does not mean that the problem has been solved and that nobody smokes anymore. Globally, over six million people die from smoking-related diseases and over six trillion cigarettes are smoked every year.



Monitoring tobacco use and laws


In January, the University of Waterloo’s Propel Centre for Population Health Impact released the 2012 issue of Tobacco Use in Canada: Patterns and Trends.


A novelty of this 3rd issue is a lengthy review of existing laws and standards related to labelling, taxation, pricing,  smoke-free spaces, marketing, and points-of-sale.


In the remaining pages, using data from the Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey and the Youth Smoking Survey, Propel scientists Jessica Reid, David Hammond, Robin Burkhalter and Rashid Ahmed deliver a striking and in-depth portrait of tobacco addiction in Canada, with plenty of colourful and detailed charts and tables.


The document details the evolution of smoking prevalence from 1999 to 2010.  It also addresses cigarette consumption and the use of other tobacco products among males and females of different ages across Canada. Other sections of the report provide data about quit intentions, quit attempts and quit methods. A third section examines the phenomenon of youth smoking.



Tobacco stocks a safe investment?


On January 31, Statistics Canada released a report on “Industrial product and raw materials price indexes” for December 2011, which included tobacco products. The following day, articles appeared in the financial sections of many Canadian newspapers, calling tobacco a safe investment because stocks are doing very well, even rising. Bloomberg news stated that, “Tobacco companies handed investors the best returns in the last decade ... and that will continue as profits prove resilient amid economic turmoil.”


David Sweanor, a law professor at Ottawa University and long-time tobacco control advocate says, “Nothing seems to negatively affect cigarette companies’ ability to keep generating more and more money.” Even raising taxes on cigarettes has no impact on cigarette companies. Their immense profit earnings make it easy to simply increase the price of their product, thus creating a safe and stable investment where most companies would crumble. It’s called a market failure, “When markets don’t work in the way they’re supposed to,” said Sweanor. “It puts a big barrier on what anti-tobacco advocates try to do. We need to understand that to learn how to change the rules.”


To help the tobacco control community move forward on this idea, Sweanor co-authored the article “The case for OFSMOKE”, outlining the ways tobacco companies could be regulated by redirecting a portion of their profits to the government treasury to encourage an alternative motivation for selling their product.



Less smoking in U.S. films


In the United States, incidents of on-screen tobacco use in youth-rated, top-grossing movies decreased notably between 2005 and 2010, according to a study commissioned by the federal health agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This downward trend was particularly noticeable in films produced by Time Warner, Comcast Universal and Disney, who have policies that minimize unnecessary smoking scenes. This is the lowest number of recorded smoking scenes since first measured in 1990.


A 2008 document by the National Cancer Institute identified a causal relationship between the frequency of exposure to smoking scenes on-screen and youth smoking. The CDC report cautiously suggests that the decrease in smoking scenes may have contributed to the decline in teen smoking.


The report also raises the question of tax credits, subsidies and grants for film production offered by nearly every state. These incentives are often more generous than those granted to tobacco control programs. The report recommends that public authorities be more consistent by limiting eligibility to “tobacco-free movies.”



Tobacco affordability


In Alberta, a pack of 25 cigarettes costs $11.32, thanks, in part, to the hefty provincial sales tax imposed on tobacco products. This may give the impression that Alberta is an expensive place to smoke, but that would be false, according to Les Hagen of the Edmonton-based Action on Smoking & Health. Hagen expressed his views at the 7th National Conference on Tobacco or Health held in Toronto last November.


Comparing New Brunswick with Alberta, the average price for a pack of cigarettes is practically the same in both provinces, but the average salary is higher in Alberta, meaning that the average worker would only have to work 27 minutes to be able to afford 25 cigarettes, whereas a worker in New Brunswick would have to work 8.4 minutes longer to afford the same.


Les Hagen and Susan Canning of Alberta Health Services have even calculated the number of hours it takes to buy a pack of 25 cigarettes for workers aged 15 to 24, for whom the average wage is generally lower than that of the overall workforce. The time it takes for a young worker to earn a pack of 25 cigarettes is 43.5 minutes in Alberta, 56.7 minutes in New Brunswick and 70.7 minutes in Prince Edward Island.


In the end, there is only one Canadian province where cigarettes are more affordable for workers aged 15 to 24, and that is Quebec. Whereas a young Albertan must work 43.5 minutes to earn enough to buy 25 cigarettes, a young Quebecer, in spite of being paid on average a much lower wage, only needs to work 42.1 minutes.


Les Hagen reminds us that the World Bank considers raising tobacco taxes as the single most effective measure for reducing tobacco use, in adults as well as teens.



World No Tobacco Day


The theme for 2012’s World No Tobacco Day will be “tobacco industry interference.” The campaign, led by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Tobacco Free Initiative, is held annually on May 31. The goal of this year’s anti-tobacco movement is to educate policy-makers and the public at-large about the tobacco industry’s reprehensible tactics in promoting the use of tobacco, and their increasingly aggressive attempts to undermine the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) with opposition to smoke-free outdoor spaces and advertising bans.


Throughout the year, the WHO will be urging countries to meet their FCTC obligations, stand firm against industry interference, and expose it at every opportunity. Health organizations and tobacco control groups will organize marches, advertising and educational campaigns, and other activities to highlight the day.



Nunavut anti-tobacco campaign


Tobacco Has No Place Here is a public awareness campaign Nunavut launched in January during the 2012 National Non-Smoking Week. Larissa Coser, coordinator of the campaign, says “The goal is to de-normalize tobacco use and it’s really changing the way people are thinking.”


Nunavut has a smoking rate of 54 per cent, which means that smoking is widely viewed as normal. The campaign has built a website with real-life testimonials, YouTube videos, and a Facebook fan page. The aim, according to Coser, is to “Promote discussion about the social, cultural, and health consequences of tobacco use in the territory.”


The campaign is one of the first steps in Nunavut’s five-year tobacco action plan announced in October 2011. The next step came in Nunavut’s 2012 budget, when Minister of Health and Social Services Keith Peterson announced a $1 tax increase on the price of a pack of 25 cigarettes. Peterson also announced that the government will earmark some of the $3 million in expected revenue from this tax increase to fund anti-smoking programs.


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