Canada’s health experts don’t mind lying to the public

Two items this week once again make me think twice about self-identifying as Canadian. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that one’s country and one’s identity is something quite different from what occurs in the corridors of power, or whenever prohibitionism rears its mishapen head.

The first item, brought to my attention via Velvet Glove, and reported in the Huffington Post, is about a spate of tainted ecstacy related deaths in Western Canada. What is crucial in the report is that the coroner, Lisa Lapointe, had pinpointed the unique look of the bad batch but did not make this information available to potential victims because “We don’t want to give the impression that these are the tablets that are risky, and other tablets are safe”.

While we might not be certain that the other ones are safe, we do know that the ones she found were poisonous, and in the interests of a political and not a health-related aim, she left the public at the same level of risk as before. Her job, as I understand it, is to find out what is causing harm and then taking the steps to reduce the likelihood of it recurring.

What is also remarkable about this is that the most prominent Canadian reports on this ceased to mention that the unique design had been uncovered and that that information was being deliberately withheld from the public.

How provincial are we getting when we need another country’s news agency to report on the most information in a domestic story, and the locally relevant life and death ramifications.

As far as I know, this dereliction of duty has not imperiled Lapointe’s appointment; how do you suppose we would treat a transport commissioner who did not label dangerous roads because that might give the false impression that all the other roads were safe?

The second story did get good local coverage but reported verbatim misinformation (lies to be perfectly accurate about it) from physicians who claimed to be concerned about public health. The story was a bit of a press release/ activism trying to raise support for the banning of shisha (flavoured tobacco used in hookahs).

The “good” doctors don’t seem to have much of a problem with unflavoured tobaccos but just tart up the product a bit and suddenly it is more dangerous.

They start with the old loophole complaint in that tobacco companies responded to the banning of flavoured small cigars by making them bigger and thus not subject to the regulation. What they seem to ignore is the ban was motivated by the belief that kids liked small cigars (which is why they did not target regular cigars in the first place). So if the company, which is well aware that there were plenty of adults who liked small flavoured cigars, sought to deliver a second-best choice to their stranded adult customers, how is that a loophole?
But I digress.

The passage I found such exception to was

Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada wants all flavoured tobacco products banned, including shisha, because of their appeal to young people. Shisha, flavoured chewing tobacco and other flavoured products are sold with no warning labels, or with small ones, leading the public to believe they are not as dangerous as cigarettes, the group said.

“If Health Canada required these products to carry large health warnings like those on cigarettes, kids would be more likely to understand how harmful these products are,” Kapur said.

I find it quite strange when most of us regular folks are quite concerned about tossing around anything that could be construed as lies or ignorance, that this Dr. Atul Kapur, the leader of a national organization, has no problem parading, in full view, what is certainly one or the other. Insanity or arrogance, take your pick.

As in the case with the ecstacy, health officials are deliberately withholding information from the public which could affect their future prospects. Here they wish the authoritative line to be that cigarettes are no more dangerous than smokeless tobacco.

Of course what we really should all be clamouring for are large product descriptions saying just how much safer these products are than smoking.

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Comments

  • Jonathan Bagley  On January 18, 2012 at 6:54 am

    Surely, witholding the information is a serious crime?

  • Jonathan Bagley  On January 18, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Sorry, should be “withholding”.

  • Paul  On January 18, 2012 at 10:54 am

    If only it was.

    This might be a variant on what is called “therapeutic privilege”, that is, allowing a doctor to with hold information from a patient because they believe the knowledge is not in the best interests of the patient. This used to be the rule but is now usually frowned upon (http://www.ama-assn.org/resources/doc/code-medical-ethics/8082a.pdf). Of course it still does not answer the question as why it is not illegal….there are so many instances just from the drug wars that indicate that no one is legally challenging the actions of authorities to willingly and knowingly mislead the public even when it results in horrendous costs both financial and actual.

  • CMNissen  On January 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    Reading this MacLean’s article soothed my angered brain a bit: http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/01/13/the-ecstasy-and-the-agony/

  • Paul  On January 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

    Thanks for that Catherine….great article.

  • Jasmine  On April 16, 2013 at 6:32 pm

    These health experts probably eat terribly and don’t even live what they preach.

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