Like all good "snake-in-the-grass" tobacco executives, the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council seems to have gone into (hopefully permanent) hiding; their last press release was in August, 2007.

The last known mouthpiece for the rogue industry front group was vice-president Dave Laundy who, virtually every time he opened his mouth, described governments (provincial and federal) as "the tobacco industry's senior partner." That remark is based on the fact that most of the price of a package of cigarettes is taxes... the clear implication being that governments are making more money from the sale of tobacco than the industry itself. However, Laundy very conveniently overlooked one minor detail: Those same governments -- or, more specifically, you, I and every other taxpayer -- are stuck with the horrendous health-care costs directly attributable to smoking... costs which far outweigh the above-mentioned tax revenues.

In any case, my patent response to Laundy's "senior partner" comment has always been, "I'm no big fan of any government (certainly not in terms of tobacco control), but to call any or all of them the tobacco industry's 'senior partner(s)' is ludicrous!"

But then came the news last week that kids -- of absolutely any age -- can now claim duty-free cigarettes after they've been outside of Canada for 48 hours!

After 30 years of (all-volunteer) anti-tobacco work, I have to say that nothing could have prepared me for that development... and nothing has ever screamed, "The government is, indeed, the tobacco industry's senior partner!" louder! I can hear the champagne corks popping in CTMC office now!

One can only assume that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, federal Health Minister Tony Clement, Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day and dozens of other Members of Parliament (dare I suggest, perhaps even crossing all party lines???) have been smoking something a little stronger (albeit less deadly) than tobacco. Or was this just some genius's idea as to how to resolve the extremely serious tobacco smuggling problem?

Or -- and this is my best guess -- maybe this is, ultimately, the best way for the "in-crisis" domestic tobacco industry to, with a little help from a (criminally?) negligent federal government, recruit younger kids and drive the (outrageously high) average age for smoking initiation from about 12 down to 6, 5 or even 4! Hell, if a woman is showing a little "baby bump", we should allow the fetus to bring in a carton of Player's Light!

On second thought, why wait until a possibly misdiagnosed baby bump shows? A woman's pediatrician/gynecologist could, upon confirming that conception has occurred, issue her a "Free smokes for the fetus" certificate!

Former Prime Minister Paul Martin is a (former?) tobacco executive; what are Harper's links to the tobacco industry?

Harper needs to come to his senses, personally intervene in this matter and restore some sanity to this and many other aspects of tobacco control! After shutting down the "Butts for Babies' program, maybe he could start acting like the leader of a country that is one of the longest-standing parties to a World Health Organization treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Who knows, if he actually starts getting serious about the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and premature death in this country, Canada may actually return to it's once-proud status as a world leader in tobacco control.

Given the Harper government's track record on tobacco control, I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

Errol E. Povah