Health Canada takes on the anti-tobacco industry

At a strongly attended press conference today, Health Canada unveiled the new warning labels to be posted in the foyers of all anti-tobacco organizations and the requirements that these labels be prominently posted in all their advertisements and websites.

The new Minister of Health, Shauna Whyte, took this high-profile step to signal a break with previous government tobacco policies which had been criticized as being too cozy with organizations that are intent on keeping Canadians smoking. She declared that these new regulations would be the first of a series of such policies that would turn the emphasis of Health Canada tobacco policies back onto health. “We’ve been allowing powerful special interests to dictate our policies long enough; it’s time to really think about how these policies affect the people we are supposed to be serving”.

As the Minister noted, recent consultations indicated that all the elements for radically reducing tobacco-related disease were already in place, and the only impediments were those coming from certain prominent activist groups. “The only proven method for reducing smoking prevalence much below one fifth of the population is for smokers to switch to low-risk alternative products like smokeless tobacco and other smoke-free alternatives.” This strategy, known as harm reduction, is embraced by the public health community in areas ranging from sexual behavior to transportation, and is particularly effective in the case of smoking since switching to alternative products has basically the same health benefit as quitting entirely.

The government decided to move on this now because some of the more active opponents of public health had moved beyond these organizations to gain government and other public service appointments. “Ironically, the appropriate metaphor is cancer, and we have to stop the cancer before it gets into the tobacco companies where most of the real research on safer nicotine products is being conducted. If they breach those walls, they will shut down all research resulting in a world with only one tobacco product and the most dangerous one at that.”

“These organizations try to portray their deadly message as glamorous and healthy, and many of their marketing efforts are clearly directed at children. Their actions run counter to the public interest, so we need to take these steps before things get even worse.”


This new legislation which would educate donors as to the harmful effects of their donations, and the new tax levied on the donors would help offset the social costs resulting from the donations, was felt necessary because “most people don’t seem to know where their money is going, and while we don’t want to interfere with their rights to donate, we want to be sure that they are fully aware of the results of their actions. Many of these people are or know smokers and may not know that their donation could contribute to the premature death of a loved one.”

Among the organizations to be affected by this ruling were the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, and Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada. And while Health Canada cannot affix the warnings to non-Canadian groups, any Canadians donating to foreign anti-health groups such as the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids or Action on Smoking and Health would still be subject to the new levy.

When questioned about her own government’s banning of electronic cigarettes, another alternative that was believed to be as low in risk as smokeless tobacco, the Minister replied “the responsible individuals no longer work in this department and the first order of business will be removing that ban”.

In a hastily called press conference, the spokesman from a coalition of anti-smoking and anti-tobacco groups, Samuel Webber, protested that they were engaged in legal activities and that the move would result in job losses. “Our donors are adults who are making a lifestyle choice to contribute. They understand the health risks caused by our political action, and we have never attempted to conceal those risks. Opposing harm reduction is an important industry. It pays salaries that are higher than our employees could make in other fields, and so this policy will hurt families and community services.” Mr. Webber concluded with the impassioned plea, “won’t somebody think of the children?” Proponents of the new policy responded by citing studies about additional government health care expenditures caused by these donations, which the taxes will help offset , and argued that the children would be better off growing up in a world where they are free to reduce their risk.

The Minister finished with “we know there will be some opposition to this. The groups we are up against are quite powerful and are not used to playing by the rules. They are entrenched and have come to expect the free ride and the big paycheques to continue forever. But sometimes you can’t just do what is easy, you have to do what is right”.

(We trust that it is obvious that this is a parody. We will explicitly state it because in this area truth so often loses the battle with fiction that sometimes it is hard to tell. It was written by Paul L Bergen with Carl V. Phillips providing valuable contributions.)

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Comments

  • James Walker  On June 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    Brilliant, wish it were true and not a parody. You missed the part about the initiative to lower taxes on ST and reduce taxes on snus imports.

  • Paul  On June 7, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Thanks James, but we couldn’t fit everything in….had to lose a few angles. Hope to do more of these in the future.

  • Elaine Keller  On June 7, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    Paul: This is positively brilliant. Can I quote this in my blog?

  • Paul Wylie  On June 8, 2010 at 10:24 am

    When questioned about her own government’s banning of electronic cigarettes, another alternative that was believed to be as low in risk as smokeless tobacco, the Minister replied “the responsible individuals no longer work in this department and the first order of business will be removing that ban”.

    That comment left me wondering is this going to be a complete lifting of the ban or are there to be restrictions.

    Government is always saying that it is protecting us however, historically they have hidden agendas that do us more harm than good.

  • Thad Marney  On June 9, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    This is absolutely brilliant! File this under: “It only gets serious when you realize it is a parody”

    It is my sincerest wish that a government agency like Health Canada or the United States Food & Drug Administration would take seriously their mandate to protect the interests of public health rather than protecting the marketshare of private healthcare corporations.

    Smoke-free Alternatives are just one example of products whose benefits to public health are overlooked in an attempt to protect private interests. The situation has gotten so bad that a product that offers to replace the recreational aspects of smoking with an affordable, effective, and harm reducing alternative is demonized to the point of being RESTRAINED FROM TELLING THE TRUTH about the benefits of switching to smoke-free alternatives for people who would otherwise be unwilling or unable to stop smoking (and the people who are spared from second and third-hand exposure to smoke).

    I wish it were so simple that the FDA just wanted a chance to make sure that e-cigarettes were safe before they put their little seal of approval on them. That’s unfortunately not so, because the FDA wants to treat them like medicine. Medicine? Electronic cigarettes are popular because they are as or more enjoyable than smoking, is medicine supposed to be enjoyable?? What message are we trying to send?! The sad truth is that the FDA wants smoke-free alternatives regulated as medicines so that only the companies who make medicines will have the resources to sell them. In this way, the tobacco companies can continue to be the scapegoat for all the evils of smoking, while the pharmaceutical and rest of the health care industry profit from the cycle of nicotine addiction and the government continues to get their share of the blood money from tobacco tax.

    Why are anti-tobacco organizations attacking products like the e-cigarette despite its potential to reduce the harm caused by smoking? Here’s a hint: They have a monkey on their back that is even more addictive than nicotine: Money.

  • healthylife  On June 9, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    Tobacco had very large economic potential. Smoking had very large potential risk to health. Now, what yo choose……

  • Paul  On June 9, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks Thad,

    Though I agree that money is a factor, I have the feeling that we are up against true believers. People who really do want a nicotine-free world -prohibitionists. People who think that they know better than you yourself what you should be doing with your life.
    They should not have the power to decide these things especially given that they have used the power they have to maintain ignorance and to undermine public health.

  • Elaine Keller  On June 10, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I was going to submit this to Digg, but Kate beat me to it. Digg provides a way to get important stories more attention.

    http://digg.com/world_news/Health_Canada_takes_on_the_anti_tobacco_industry

    Stories rise in their categories when they get more Digg votes and when people leave somments. You need to sign up to record your “Digg” vote, but it’s free.

    I have already voted and I’m on my way now to leave a comment. I will also Share the Digg link on my Facebook page as well as post the link on ECF.

    • Kate  On June 10, 2010 at 3:58 pm

      Cheers Elaine. I love this article, it really cheered me up to think that it’s even possible for people to see the issues clearly.

      I’m all for freedom of informed choice and personal rights and I hope one day to see them in real life.

  • DC2  On June 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Is this a tragedy or a comedy?

    Well, on first blush it appears to be a comedy.
    However, it is really a tragedy.

    The FDA is supposed to be protecting me, or something.
    I guess, right?

    Well, at this point, their desire seems to be that they would like to kill me.
    Yes, kill me… as in death… lung cancer… COPD… emphysema…

    I have been using electronic cigarettes for almost one year now.
    I no longer fear dying from inhaling burning tobacco leaves, because I no longer inhale them.

    I hate you, FDA, and all that you no longer stand for.

  • Bob  On June 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm

    Had me going there!

    I’d keep those signs handy though; they may be in high demand in the not too distant future? But only after the anti-tobacco/anti-harm reduction (pro-death) nitwits have been exposed as the phony, self-serving group that they truly are!

  • Jesper Jensen, Denmark  On June 27, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Thanks a million, for once someone in power who see thinks clearly.

  • Ives  On July 20, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    I googled this and I don’t see a “Shauna Whyte” as a Health Minister. The Minister of Health in Canada is Leona Aglukkaq. (???)

  • Paul  On July 20, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Ives,

    Google parody…

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