A letter to the editor from Airspace Director Robert Broughton in response to a column by Lawrence Martin published in February, 1999.

February 3, 1999

Editor, Vancouver Sun;

In "A cautionary note to the health Nazis" (Feb. 2), Lawrence Martin never got around to identifying any "health Nazis" by name.

I will try to be of assistance. Under the National Socialist regime that governed Germany during the 1930's and part of the 1940's, there was no tolerance for political dissent. This is an arrangement that Imperial Tobacco, and their parent company Imasco, would be comfortable with.

Prior to the du Maurier Jazz Festival in Vancouver in June, 1996, an Imperial Tobacco manager instructed security guards to deny protesters access to Water Street, and confiscate any literature that they might attempt to distribute. The fact that Water Street is public property didn't matter.

During the du Maurier Open Tennis tournament in Toronto in July, 1996, security guards hired by Imperial Tobacco confiscated literature from a group of York University students who were protesting Imperial Tobacco's involvement in an athletic event. The students were not even on National Tennis Centre property; They were in the street.

On August 31, 1996, I and several other people protesting against tobacco promotion during the Molson Indy were removed from Terry Fox Plaza by security guards. It didn't matter that Terry Fox devoted the last years of his life to raising cancer awareness.

Imasco's war on free speech extends even to the Internet. Dr. Terry Polevoy of Kitchener, ON runs a Web site that is fiercely critical of Imasco, Imperial Tobacco, and another Imasco subsidiary, Shoppers Drug Mart. Until recently, this Web site was located at http://healthwatch.org. Imasco was able to get healthwatch.org delisted, claiming that they own the word "healthwatch". Polevoy, fortunately, has re-christened his site www.healthwatcher.net.

Another defining characteristic of Nazi Germany was that people with the appropriate political connections were able to commit crimes such as assault, vandalism, extortion, arson, and murder with no fear of prosecution. RJR Macdonald seems to have similar privileges in Canada. Although employees of this business have been convicted in the United States for smuggling cigarets into Canada, only one mid-level RJR Macdonald employee has been charged in Canada for the same activity.

Besides the Holocaust, the thing that Nazi Germany is best known for was their ability to create myths. For example, the myth of the Aryan race. The myth that World War II started with a Polish invasion of Germany. Goebbels, however, would respect, if not envy, the tobacco industry's myth-making ability. We have the myth that cigarets couldn't be as bad for you as the scientists claim. (Or, even if they are that bad, second-hand smoke couldn't possibly hurt anybody.) The myth that tobacco marketing doesn't cause people to start smoking. The myth that tobacco companies sponsor cultural events because of their generosity, not to encourage people to smoke. The sub-myth that the money spent on sponsorships comes from the pockets of the tobacco companies, rather than the pockets of their customers. The myth that there is such a thing as the Canadian tobacco industry, when, in reality, the tobacco companies that do business in Canada are mostly foreign-owned.

A subset of myth creation is the ability to create scapegoats. The Nazis created the myths that Germany lost World War I because of "the enemy within", and that Germany's post-WW I economic problems were caused by Jewish financiers. The tobacco industry has created the myth (spread by tobacco-friendly journalists such as Martin and Terence Corcoran) that the tobacco-control community is the enemy of smokers. The reality is that the biggest enemy of smokers is the tobacco industry. The industry takes $25,000 out of the average smoker's pocket during his or her reduced lifetime. When this loyal customer dies, the tobacco industry doesn't even send a wreath to the funeral.

So, if Lawrence Martin wants to write about "health Nazis", he should write about Don Brown, President of Imperial Tobacco; Brian Levitt, CEO of Imasco; and Povl van Deurs Jensen, CEO of RJR Macdonald.

Martin closed his column with the words "Maybe the health Nazis ought to quit while they're ahead." Thanks for the suggestion, Lawrence, but we will make our own decisions on our future strategy. After all, that's what political freedom is all about.

Robert Broughton, President
AIRSPACE Action on Smoking and Health