Saw a smoker on the street the other day. He was trying to hide his cigarette behind a pornographic magazine, but the hacking cough gave him away.
As you might expect, a mob quickly formed. We chased him through the streets — we would have brandished flaming torches, but none of us had matches — until he collapsed, winded, about half a block from where he started.
He tried to argue that smoking is still legal, but that was nonsense, of course. We bundled him onto a boat and banished him to the old leper colony on Bentinck Island, off Metchosin.
It has been a tough couple of weeks for smokers. On Tuesday, they learned B.C. plans to increase tobacco taxes by $2 on Oct. 1, bringing the province’s take on a carton of cigarettes to $44.60. (I once bought an entire pickup truck for $300.)
When asked about the increase, Finance Minister Mike de Jong just shrugged, suggesting those who don’t like it could take advantage of a program that provides quit-smoking drugs, patches and nicotine gum at taxpayer expense.
We also heard the Canadian Cancer Society urge that smoking be banned from parks, playgrounds, beaches and other outdoor areas where kids are found. Second-hand smoke is dangerous within seven metres of the smoker, the argument goes.
Now, just in time for today’s Academy Awards, a group is pushing for a Restricted rating for movies in which the actors light up a lot.
“Heavy-smoking movies, rated R in the United States, are tagged 14A and PG when studios bring them over the Canada-U.S. border and market them in B.C.,” said a statement from the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance, which represents a broad range of health and community groups. Seventeen movies that portray smoking are up for major Academy Awards this year, and all but one are kid-rated in this province, the statement said.
The alliance cited a U.S. surgeon-general’s report that concluded on-screen smoking actually causes young people to pick up cigarettes. Studies prove young people ape movie behaviour.
Not only does the alliance want R-ratings, it is prodding government to deny tax breaks and subsidies to film and television productions featuring tobacco. (Cheer up, Hollywood, we’re sure the National Rifle Association will pay you to include gunfire.)
The R-rating idea would actually fit with the B.C. government’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind rationale for a 2008 law that forced retailers to hide tobacco products where minors can’t see them (it’s why smoke shops paper over their windows à la Red Hot Video).
The law has, in fact, been pushing puffers further and further into the margins for a quarter century. Canada stubbed out smoking on domestic flights in 1989. In the capital region, a ban on smoking in indoor public spaces and workplaces was extended to bars and restaurants in the late 1990s, followed by pub patios in 2007. A year later, B.C. brought in rules saying you can’t smoke in bus shelters or near doorways or open windows, or by bank machines. (Wait, no, that last one only applies if you’re panhandling.)
Then came a law saying no lighting up with kids in the car (I think you’re still allowed to backhand them, though).
What’s next? Maybe B.C., the last province in Canada to allow the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies, will finally end the practice. A couple of years ago, the cancer society canvassed 77 Victoria-area drugstores and retailers that contain pharmacies. It found half — mostly mega-grocers and chains that rely on a broad range of products — still sell cigarettes. That’s considered morally incompatible, like selling souvenir shot glasses at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or Blackhawks sweaters at a Canucks game.
Maybe the stores won’t need a legislative shove to stop selling cigarettes. It’s not like there are that many smokers left anyway. In the mid-1960s, half of all Canadian adults lit up. Now, in B.C., it’s down to one in seven, the lowest rate in the land. It might be difficult to quit, but it’s also becoming harder to start.
Is smoking still legal? Yes, but only on Bentinck Island.
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