Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, Or Not: Nova Scotia Retailer Fights Tobacco Law

9 Sep

Well, another long weekend has come and gone, and I’m well and thoroughly tapped. Adam Grant of Two Assholes Talking About Nerd Stuff is getting married next month, and being as I’m the best man in his wedding, it fell to me to organize and run a bachelor party this weekend, which essentially turned into three days of shenanigans. Good times had by all, but now it’s back to the grind here at State of Affairs. It’s a daunting thing to get back into the groove after a few days off – man, I could use a smoke.

Speaking of which.

Let me start this post by giving my requisite disclaimer I use whenever I talk about potentially controversial topics. Dear readers, I think it’s fair for us to agree right here and now that smoking is BAD. There’s a laundry list of evidence that smoking leads to cancer, emphysema, heart attacks, smelly breath, and in some cases, looking like a douchebag.

ugly smoker

emo smoker

Anybody who chooses to smoke in this day and age does so with the full knowledge and acceptance of the risks involved. And yes, I’m aware that children are susceptible to all manner of stupid stuff because they’re children and therefore not equipped to deal with the adult world, but I’m going to come back to that in a minute. First, State of Affairs and its affiliates do not in any way, shape or form, condone the use of tobacco products by anyone, anywhere, for any reason, so get off my shit.

That said.

Tobacco and alcohol, both legal substances according to Canadian law as long as you’re of legal age, are drugs. Marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, ecstasy and everything else, are also drugs, but they’re illegal. All of these drugs can have negative effects on those who use them and on those around the users, and yet there’s a bright, thick line between our social perception of beer versus cocaine.

drunk guy throwing up

It’s a question of cultural bias. Leaving aside parenting for a moment, we’re raised in a community that castigates so-called “drug users” (i.e. people who snort their lunch or inject their dinner) on the one hand, and glorifies / romanticizes the use of legal substances on the other. I won’t deny – despite the efforts of MADD and anti-tobacco lobbyists, booze and smokes are still made out to be the province of cool, edgy and dangerous folk. It’s what we like to call a “double standard”.

Think about it in terms of this image: a father speaking to his children about the evils of marijuana and crack while lighting up a Camel and downing the last of his third Jim Beam on the rocks. “Weed is bad for you, kids. I never touched the stuff, and look at me! * burp * hack-hack-cough * I’m the picture of health, all because I never went in for those evil, evil drugs!”

fat guy drinking smokingSo why the double standard? Simply put, it’s a question of money. The fact is the majority of the price you’re paying on that bottle of gin and pack of Players is mostly tax – it does not cost twenty-five dollars to distill, package and ship a 26 oz. bottle of spirits, nor does it cost ten or twelve dollars to make and ship a pack of cigarettes. According to the website for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, they made a net profit of $4.27 billion last year, with a total of $849 million sent to the government in the way of taxes. That’s twenty percent of their gross. That’s a lot of money. It’s the same thing with smokes, except those companies have the additional costs associated with reminding everyone how deadly their products are (because there are still people out there who don’t know, apparently).

smoker lungs

Why do I bring this up?

As I said, I’m a life-long smoker. (Yeah yeah, insert your collective “eew” and finger-shaking and sermon-delivering here) I started very young – not because I thought it was cool or glamorous, but because I wanted to try it. Turns out I liked it. Unlike a lot of people I knew who started smoking because all their friends did, none of my friends smoked – in fact, I had to hide my habit from them as well as my parents in the early years. I mention this because, even as a kid, I made an informed decision to take up a habit I knew was dangerous and unhealthy – I had all the backing I could want to stay away from it – and I still became a smoker. I didn’t do it because Clint Eastwood smokes in the movies and he makes it look awesome; I didn’t do it because my parents or friends pressured me (either overtly or by example – quite the opposite, they were totally against the idea); I sure as hell didn’t do it because some advertisement convinced me it would be a good idea. I did it because I wanted to.

I know there are kids out there more inclined to follow the leader, whether that leader is a cartoon moose or their favourite movie star or musician. Like I said before, kids are stupid. That’s why it’s up to their parents to teach them the difference between right and wrong, reality and fiction. I hate to beat the dead horse on this point, but maybe if more people would actually be parents, we wouldn’t have to have the same kind of idiot restrictions put on our day-to-day lives to shore up their deficiencies.

Let me explain what I mean.

If you live in Ontario, you’ll remember a few years ago when the government started implementing anti-smoking legislation hand over fist. It started when they told businesses you couldn’t smoke in restaurants anymore, but they qualified that by telling them “if you install a separate, glassed-in smoking section with its own ventilation, people can smoke in there.” A year or so after that they rescinded and made it illegal to smoke inside any public area. As a result, a ton of bars went out of business, the entertainment industry suffered (because musicians, DJ’s and other professionals couldn’t get bar work), and guess what? Non-smokers still didn’t come out to bars!

bar closed

Now, I’m not trying to shit on non-smokers. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I know smoking is bad, and if you don’t want to be around it, I don’t blame you. But business owners shouldn’t have to suffer for something that is – admittedly – a legal practice.

The same thing happened a couple of years ago when the Canadian government instituted a bylaw forcing tobacco distributors to cover their wares, like they used to do in bars back in the ’40s. Apparently the idea is to hide cigarettes from young patrons, because – out of sight, out of mind, or something. In the meantime, people like me who have to buy discounted smokes are forced to point and guess at prices, because they’re not allowed to show that anymore either. It’s getting to the point where I feel like I’m buying illegal porn; slinking into the store wearing a fake mustache and glasses, muttering under my breath to the store owner, stuffing my nasty cancer sticks into my trench coat, and then vanishing into the inky night.

disguise

I can’t imagine the owners feel much better about this exchange.

Turns out I’m right.

In Kentville, Nova Scotia, lives a man called Bob Gee. Yes, his name really is Bob Gee. He is the owner and proprietor of local convenience store Maders Tobacco, and he’s refusing to put up the cigarette covers. When they asked him to jack prices, he did. When they told him to take down his advertisements and replace them with no fewer than ten public service announcements about the evils of tobacco, he did that too. But he drew the line at actually hiding his product. The Nova Scotia government is taking him to court over the matter, and he’s fixing to win.

bob gee

Here’s why I have a certain amount of respect for this guy.

Like I said already, cigarettes are legal and the only reason they stay that way is because the government makes money hand-over-fist thanks to taxing the shit out of them. Yes, they’re bad for you – yes, they can kill you. But as long as there’s money to be made, the government absolutely will not outlaw cigarettes, so in the meantime they should be sold like any other restricted product. It’s patently absurd to have stores dedicated to the sale of alcohol (when you consider the effects of alcohol are actually intoxicating and can do a lot more damage to the people around an alcoholic – don’t believe me? Live with a smoker and then live with an alcoholic and tell me otherwise), and at the same time legislating hiding cigarettes from paying customers.

Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth, Bob Gee himself:

“I find it troubling that government is coming into my business and telling me what I can and can’t do selling a legal product…[i]t’s to the point we can’t show the product. If they don’t want it, they should make it illegal.”

shuttered cigarettes

How likely do you think it is that a kid considering smoking is going to get pushed over the edge by seeing a rack of cigarette packages? I’m no child psychologist, but on some level the ridiculous push to make smoking an R-ratable offense in movies would do more to prevent teen smoking than squirreling away the Belmonts.

squirrel with cigarette

I’m going to keep tabs on this story as it progresses, because I think it could turn into an interesting question of morality versus fiscal considerations if it keeps going this way. In the meantime I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a smoke.

* cough *

5 Responses to “Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, Or Not: Nova Scotia Retailer Fights Tobacco Law”

  1. Brent Chittenden September 9, 2009 at 3:21 PM #

    Being a non-smoker and watching my parents try over and over again to quit, it may be a little weird to say this, but I agree with Bob.

    Cigs are maybe a little worse then booze on the health care system but definitely not on the criminal courts. It should either be one or the other.

    They should either be allowed the same rights as alcohol in terms of promotion and advertising or just make cigarettes illegal.

    Of course I also believe that pot should be legalized, put into stores and have the shit taxed out of it!

    Vote for me next election!

  2. Meaghan September 9, 2009 at 7:33 PM #

    I’ll question how smoking is “easier” on the healthcare system. Sure, lung cancer costs lots of money. But car accidents caused by drunk drivers, organ failure, and liver cancer (linked to alcoholism) are also pretty hard on the healthcare system.

    That said, I smoke, and I think the law it patently stupid. For a very simple reason…..hiding it adds the the “mystique” of smoking. It makes it even more exciting to be doing it. Just like drinking underage and buying porn underage. Everyone thinks you are “awesome” for gaining access to something you shouldn’t have. Sure, that attitude existed before we started covering the damn packages up, but it only makes it worse to hide the product.

  3. Sean September 14, 2009 at 11:03 AM #

    You know… …if smoking was ever made to be illegal, there would be a military takeover, and we’d be a dictatorship run by the National Curling Party.

  4. uninspired October 20, 2010 at 8:20 PM #

    Good stuff. Here in the good ol’ USA I question the taxes because they make the same claim — it’s ’cause of the strain and costs associated with my getting ill. However, you’d think then (since we have to provide our own healthcare) that someone with health insurance would get a pass on the added taxes. That is, since I have insurance, it won’t cost the government a dime when I get emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease, and, um, hangnail.

    Interesting to note that since so many of the taxes are local (as opposed to federal), the prices fluctuate madly from county to county. I live in Chicago and smokes run around $9-10 here. However, the moment you leave Cook county (the county in which Chicago is located) the cigarettes cost around half. As a result, Cook county has lost tax money because most regular smokers now get cartons from friends/coworkers that live in the suburbs (outside of Cook county). Aside from the stupidity of Chicago government for shooting themselves in the foot, I’d like to know the reason for the tax discrepancy — is it more costly for a smoker in Chicago to get the black lung than one in Arlington Heights? (Chicago suburb)

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  1. Link Me When September Ends: SOA Monthly Recap « State of Affairs - September 30, 2009

    […] Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em […]

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