Friday, November 23, 2007

Stupid tobacco laws

I noticed something that I think is pretty stupid at the grocery store today, related to tobacco sales laws, and to tell you about it (if you're one of my non-Canadian readers) I might as well start from the beginning with what it's like in Canada, and PEI in particular.

Some years ago, the government started cracking down on tobacco sales to try to prevent people from starting to smoke and to encourage those who do smoke to quit. The same as most Western countries, I presume. Cigarettes are taxed and taxes got raised to try to discourage people from buying them. Then taxes would be lowered because it would become profitable to smuggle in less-taxed cigarettes from the United States and sell them here. Then taxes would be raised again once the smuggling had died down. Then repeat. I'm not sure what the story on smuggling is now, as I haven't heard much about it recently - with the Canadian dollar being so high, it might be profitable again, I don't know. But then the border is more tightly controlled now then it was years ago.

Another thing the government has done to discourage smoking is to put warning labels on all packages of cigarettes. If I recall correctly, these started out much smaller than they are now. At present, the labels have to cover one-half of the cigarette package. Unlike the UK, the warnings have pictures as well - of diseased hearts, of pregnant women, of children, etc. My favourite is pictured below. It's the only one that is remotely funny.

At the start of 2006, laws were passed to prevent pharmacies (i.e. chemists) from selling tobacco, and from any supermarkets that have pharmacies within them. Tobacco could only be sold on these premises from shops that were attached to the buildings, but had a separate entrance. Now, the supermarkets on PEI that had pharmacies (Sobeys, Atlantic Superstore) already had separate smoke shops (that also sell lottery tickets), closed off from the supermarket, but the entrance was just inside the main doors to the building. So they moved their doors to the outside, and all was well. As for the pharmacies, I don't know of any on the Island that built separate tobacco shops; they just stopped selling tobacco products.

Apparently that wasn't far enough. The problem now was that tobacco was still on display in convenience stores (i.e. newsagents), in supermarkets without pharmacies, and apparently children seeing these displays would want to start smoking from the sight of them. So the so-called "shower-curtain laws" were passed in several provinces, including PEI, that required retailers to keep tobacco hidden from sight. The picture below depicts what convenience stores now look like - the cigarettes are behind all those beige screens.

I find that law pretty silly. But the thing that I really find stupid, and that I mentioned in the start of this post, is that the special, dedicated, smoke shops at the supermarkets that I mentioned - the ones with separate entrances, that sell nothing but tobacco products and lottery tickets - the ones that kids aren't allowed to enter on their own, because the products are age-restricted - well, those stores are required to hide their cigarettes out of sight as well. Who exactly are they protecting? The people who go into that store are there to buy tobacco, or lottery tickets, and they're all legal adults who can make the choice about whether to smoke or not. It's like if you went to the liquor store (all alcohol is sold from government-owned shops in PEI) and they had all the bottles hidden behind screens - kids aren't allowed in the store unless they're with their parents, so they can't be influenced by the sight of the products unless their parents allow them to come in. Like anyone ever started smoking because they saw some cigarettes on a shelf. They smoke because their friends do, or their parents do, or both.

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