Serious tobacco plan should start with illegal cigarettes

Cigarette-Smuggling It’s fascinating to watch the political dance around tobacco.

Politicians tell us all about the evils of smoking tobacco and offer very public displays to curb people of the habit.

But at the same time, they sit back and rake in the taxes drawn from people buying the legal product.

In recent years, we have seen greater restrictions on where people can smoke and how vendors can display and sell tobacco products.

The latest is the unveiling of new warning labels on menthol cigarette packages that will take up 75% of the pack with more graphic pictures and updated information.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq also reiterated the government’s commitment to better use social media in its anti-tobacco crusade.

That’s fine, as far as it goes.

We have a responsibility as a society to create healthy communities, and eradicating smoking is a big part of that.

It’s a dangerous habit, not only for those indulging but also for those in close proximity to smokers. The dangers are well documented, from heart disease to cancer to emphysema to the esthetics of brown teeth and yellow fingers.

But none of this is news.

Government needs to do better than new cigarette labels and the odd message on Facebook.

It’s reminiscent of comedian Denis Leary on his 1992 live album No Cure for Cancer: “You could have cigarettes that were called ‘the warnings.’ You could have cigarettes that come in a black pack, with a skull and a cross bones on the front, called ‘tumours,’ and smokers would be lined up around the block …”

Tobacco is a product that minors can’t purchase, but they are free to consume it if they so choose. Why is that? Treat it like alcohol and levy fines for underage smoking.

But if government really wanted to get serious about tobacco, it would start with making a real, concerted effort at stopping the contraband trade of cigarettes. The black market doesn’t follow the rules set by government, including restrictions on sales to minors and what is displayed on the package.

The sale of illegal cigarettes is the elephant in the room whenever the government talks about anti-smoking measures.

And the bonus, for government anyway, is that the more it does to stop the tobacco black market, the more it will see its tax revenues rise from the sale of legal tobacco products.


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