Calling the kettle black..

This just in: press release (full text here) on Canada’s moves toward a tobacco settlement similar to the American one.

EDMONTON, Nov. 19 /CNW/ – A coalition of prominent health organizations is applauding the Alberta government for passing a bill that will hold tobacco companies accountable for their tremendous impact on the healthcare system.

Bill 48, the Crown’s Right of Recovery Act, allows the Alberta government to sue tobacco companies to recover the portion of healthcare costs resulting from the tobacco industry’s deceptive marketing practices.

“We are delighted that the Alberta government has joined with other provinces to hold the tobacco industry accountable for the healthcare impact of its deceptive marketing practices,” said Tony Hudson of The Lung Association. “The tobacco industry has an unparalleled track record of deceit, denial, and public harm resulting from decades of marketing the leading avoidable cause of premature death. This bill is a significant achievement for public health, justice and tobacco industry accountability.”

Leaving aside the question of whether the industry should be liable to the suggested degree (and there might be some very good arguments for that) or whether the settlement payments would be used to better purpose than funding anti-smoking groups rather than actually going to health costs (or perhaps some other social good), this truly is a case of glass house residents throwing stones.

In the case of Alberta, this action likely stems from frantic reactions to budgetary shortfalls resulting from incompetent handling of what could easily been sufficient oil revenues. However, the central hypocrisy revolves around the fact that the agency (and the health groups supporting this action) calling foul is the same agency that not only sanctioned the sales but also impeded any efforts to reduce the health costs of tobacco use.

Its as if a parent keeps large quantities of sugar snacks around the house and then is upset because their kids eat them to excess. Instead of removing the snacks, or encouraging the children to eat healthier snacks such as fruit, they refuse to bring the food into the house (after all it is sweet, and it could very well be the gateway to the sugar snacks; in fact, the fruit is probably made by the sugar snack people just to get people hooked on sugar, and fruit flavours in general). They continue to bring in the sugar snacks, though they do put them in the cupboards instead of on the counter where they used to be, and continue to harangue the kids about eating the snacks.

And becoming upset at the increasing girth of their once slim offspring, they go to the store and complain to the store about the sugar snacks. And while they are there buy more snacks to bring home.

This might not be the best analogy, and none will be perfect but the point is that this is purely a money grab and if there were any honesty in government they would admit to the fact. If they cared at all about health effects they would either ban the product altogether or at least encourage tobacco and nicotine use with lower health costs.

(Not to mention that 1. there are indications that smokers over the long run might be cheaper than nonsmokers 2. if this goes through, would that mean that all tobacco users be treated free of charge for the same things that non users would have to pay for? 3. that smokers would see cigarette prices drop since the reason for those taxes have now been satisfied? 4. could the industry sue the government for creating the conditions that lead to this liability (you can’t sue the government but…) 5. what if the industry actually became unprofitable which would lead to probably some drop in consumption but would greatly grow the black market, maintain still relatively high health costs but lose the tax revenue, and create a new criminal class which itself is very expensive, and 6. who’s next..alcohol, auto industry?)

-PLB

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