The National Post published this piece by Benjamin Kemball, President and CEO of Imperial Tobacco Canada (actually British American Tobacco): What's stopping cigarette crackdown?. It's an unpaid ad from the tobacco industry, and contains the following: "We have asked for a national task force to co-ordinate government strategies and law enforcement agencies to effectively attack this multifaceted crime that profoundly affects so many different Canadian communities. In particular, we urge the government to involve the First Nations' leadership to find sustainable solutions for all.

"We believe this trade must be stopped and we have offered our full resources to government to help in this fight."

Thanks, but no thanks for the offer of your "full resources", Mr. Kemball. Here's a response from Stan Shatenstein, which the National Post did not get around to publishing:

Benjamin Kemball, president and CEO of Imperial Tobacco Canada (ITC) would have us believe that concern over smuggling has his company "on the same side of an issue" as the tobacco control community. Hardly! Both sides want the smuggling to end, yes, but the tobacco control community cares about public health while ITC's interest is its own bottom line.

The tobacco industry may not be the driving force behind the current wave of illicit sales, but let's not forget that barely a decade ago, Kemball's predecessor as Imperial CEO, Don Brown, stated on record that, since smuggling was occurring anyway, ITC would profit from it. He said in a memo, "until the smuggling issue is resolved, an increasing volume of our domestic sales in Canada will be exported, then smuggled back for sale here." And executives from rival firm JTI-Macdonald were found guilty of active participation in smuggling.

Kemball repeats the weary industry canard that tobacco products are "heavily regulated." If toasters killed some 40,000 Canadians every year, we wouldn't just stick warning labels on them. They'd be off the market. There are other ways to get golden brown bagels. But we can't ban products to which five million Canadians are sadly addicted. The current level of regulation is entirely inadequate given the monumental task at hand. We need heavily-taxed cigarettes in plain packages and a robust denormalization programme from the federal and provincial governments.

The tobacco industry can be part of the solution when it comes to the smuggling issue but, when thinking of the health of Canadians in totality, ITC, JTI and Rothmans Benson & Hedges are far more the source of the problem than anything else. How and where products are sold is important, but the critical issue is the deadliness of the product itself. Whither Mr. Kemball's concern about that? Why does he battle the tobacco control community on this more central concern? What does he really care about?

Stan Shatenstein
Contributing Editor,
Tobacco Control