The notice of the government logic in raising the liquor prices reminded me of a column I wrote several years ago when I was on the Community Editorial Board at The Record.
I’m a pariah, a social outcast, a smoker. I have been sucking on the insidious things for 35 years.I know I shouldn’t smoke and I want to quit. I’m not alone. Health Canada reported that in 2006, 18 per cent, or 4.5 million Canadians over age 15 were smokers. They also say that 85 per cent of smokers want to quit. Of those, five per cent will succeed.
I hope to be among those lucky ones.
It’s not enough that it is illegal for me to smoke anywhere but a self-enclosed bubble that’s vented into outer space (or at a government-run casino, where outdoor smoking rooms are still legal). Along with 37 per cent of my nicotine addicted brethren, I’m also a criminal.
Tobacco taxes were hiked years ago “in an effort to dissuade people from smoking,” and it has opened a Pandora’s box that the government cannot control. In raising tobacco taxes, the government has created the biggest bootleg industry since the American Prohibition where the Kennedy clan and Al Capone both made their fortunes.
It’s a well-known secret that anyone can purchase a freezer bag of 200 cigarettes from the native reserves for as little as $6 to $8, as opposed to $60 to $80 at a retail store for premium brands.
Of course these bagged cigarettes are missing many of the 4,000 chemicals that the big companies put in, and the charming warning labels. My favourite is the label telling me that my cigarettes could suffer from erectile dysfunction if I continue to smoke. Limp cigarettes are hard to light.
According to a study released last October, conducted between January 2005 and June 2006 for the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, 37 per cent of Ontario smokers avoided paying tobacco taxes by buying cigarettes from reserves, while 26 per cent had done so in the last six months The practice cost the province $72.3 million and Ottawa nearly $50 million in lost taxes over the 18-month period.
I am one of them. I’m a starving artist who makes little more than minimum wage. Eight dollars or $80 for a week? No decision.
Stephen Harper and Dalton McGuinty, I don’t feel the least bit guilty about depriving you of my tax dollars. To put it into perspective for non-smokers, if you could get tax-free gas for 10 cents per litre, would you buy it?
Like Prohibition times, there is little the government can do to stop the people from getting what they want. Booze then, cheap smokes now.
Letters to the finance department written by tobacco companies accuse Ottawa of turning a blind eye to the issue in order to avoid a confrontation with natives.
“Given the tensions that exist between native communities and various levels of government — and native insistence that all activities taking place on-reserve represent their right to self-determination, there is little political appetite for sending enforcement officials onto reserves for any purpose,” states a paper from Rothmans, Benson & Hedges, released by the finance department.
Native people are not going to give up their newfound affluence easily. Any attempts to dethrone the newly crowned tobacco kings are sure to be met with actions that would make the Oka and Caledonia standoffs look like Santa Claus parades. Cheap smokes aren’t going anywhere soon.
As I light up another one, I promise myself again that I’ll quit. Someday.
In the meantime I’ll smoke cheap cigarettes. John F. Kennedy became president due, in part, to the fortune his family made in bootlegging.
Who knows, my habit could be financing our next prime minister.
Scot Ferguson is a freelance writer living in Cambridge.Tags: GOVERNMENT