I don’t smoke and aside from trying and hating it a couple of times in high school, I never have and never will. I think it’s gross, smells awful and it’s bad for you. The thing is, the latter point is something everyone who smokes knows as well. I think it’s safe to say if you took 1,000 smokers and asked them if they knew whether cigarettes were bad for them, 999 would answer yes and the one that didn’t probably did so just to be an obstructionist. If you did the same thing with non-smokers with an IQ greater than their shoe size, you’d get the same results. I’ve always been of the belief that there are many things in the world that are bad for you and what you choose to partake in is really no one’s business, especially the government’s.
The concept of how smoking bans are applied is a whole other post’s worth of content. What’s irking me this time is the warning labels the government has mandated that cigarette manufacturers put on their packaging. Many governments do this now but Canada was among the first to implement such a policy. These depict the most graphic potential side effects of a long-term smoking habit and are required to take up half of the packaging on all brands sold in Canada. Today the Government of Canada unveiled a new series of labels, some of which depict late-in-life images of Barb Tarbox.
Barb Tarbox was a woman who voluntarily smoked her whole life but then became a mouthpiece for the anti-smoking movement after contracting cancer which took her life in 2003. If that last sentence sounds a bit cold, it’s because it is. I’m sorry she and her family had to suffer, I really am but I have a hard time feeling sympathy beyond that for someone who made a stupid choice and then feels it’s her responsibility to champion against everyone else’s right to make that choice for themselves. Smoking is a dumb choice but freedom means we have the right to make our own mistakes. Would Mrs. Tarbox have had her realisation had she not first contracted cancer? We’ll never know but the way in which she pursued her cause and used her afflication to rally supporters to her side strikes me as arrogant and emotionally manipulative.
These new cigarette labels are hypocritical of the government for two reasons. Firstly, many of them depict imagery of such a graphic nature that it would never be permitted for use on packaging for other products. If a video game, movie or music CD had images of a diseased lung or a cancerous mouth and tongue on the packaging, there would be a massive outcry and the products would likely be forcefully removed from shelves or at least, hidden from view. This rule apparently doesn’t apply when it’s something the government approves of. It takes otherwise inoffensive packaging that usually has little more than a logo on it and turns it into something purpose-built to shock and offend. It’s a double standard, it’s unfair and it shouldn’t be permitted.
Secondly and more importantly, it’s hypocritical because tobacco is the most highly taxed industry in this country and in fact, we have the highest cigarette taxes in the world. The government regularly increases these taxes under the false premise that smokers cost far more in health care expenses than they put in, something I’ve yet to see conclusive proof of. There’s no doubt that smokers do put a higher burden on the system and I think cigarettes should have special taxes on them, though the current rate is ridiculous. However, few things fit the definition of hypocrisy more than heavily taxing a 100% legal industry and then assuming the right to call its customers bad people and make them use their own packaging to do it.
Adding insult to injury, the very article I linked to which covered the announcement of the new labels has a link in its sidebar to another story that talks about how the labels have had no real impact and that smokers largely ignore them. Since the government also banned cigarettes from being publicly visible in stores, the labels have no impact on non-smokers either because they never see them! To boot, the rate of smoking in Canada has been on steady decline for years anyway. Seriously, am I the only one who thinks this is utterly ridiculous and purely theater instead of a real solution to a health problem?
It’s not and never has been the government’s mandate to tell people how to live and especially not to spend their money to do it. This is a role government has usurped and it drives me nuts how far it’s gotten away with it. They can’t have it both ways. If they were truly concerned about the real health concerns that come with smoking, they would ban tobacco. Sure, they’d piss a lot of people off (as if they haven’t already) but the problem would be solved. You remove the product, you remove the problem, full stop. This will of course lead to a massive black market economy as it does with other drugs that are illegal and shouldn’t be but at least then, they would have drawn a line in the sand. The current method of taking money with one hand and slapping the giver with the other is the government having their cake and eating it too. It’s not supposed to work like that.