Protest against Tabexpo 2009or, The Thai Anti-Tobacco Movement ROCKS. BIG TIME!

Until today, the biggest anti-tobacco protest (and I mean 'protest', as opposed to convention/conference) I'd ever attended was in Washington DC about 3 years ago. Of the 5,000 attendees at the 13th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, about 200 of us marched through the streets of DC (with a large police escort) to the White House, where we demanded (that's right, we demanded, dammit!) the US take serious action against tobacco, including long overdue ratification of the FCTC (which, as far as I know, still has not been done). In any case, that whole trip -- the conference, the protest, the networking, etc. -- was incredible, BUT...

I just got 'home' from the biggest, best and most powerful anti-tobacco protest ever! And when I say 'powerful': If we're talkin' earthquakes, all previous protests (great as they've ALL been), have been 'minor tremors', barely registering on the Richter scale...and hardly noticeable by anyone, especially the tobacco industry (TI).

But this one rocked those bastards... and has triggered a tsunami that just might, with any luck at all, wipe them out!

In typical 'Errol' fashion, I was late getting to the protest site this morning. With many curious onlookers (including hotel staff), I loaded the Grim Reaper costume, the SICKARET and 3 placards into a taxi for the 5-minute drive to the convention centre (BKKCC). With the temperature in the mid to high 80s (yes, fahrenheit) and very high humidity, I'm hoping an Arctic front will blow in. No such luck.

Having scouted out the BKKCC area a couple of days earlier, I knew exactly where to go. And besides, I'd been reminded that, with 150 - 500 people protesting, I couldn't possibly miss it. Well, I missed it!

Not seeing any sign at all of a protest, I got the cabbie (who spoke virtually no English) to pull over. A security guard approached and, seeing my gear (especially the SICKARET) in the back seat, asked an unspoken question by putting his hand to his mouth in a smoking gesture. I said yes. He pointed and, in Thai, told the cabbie where to go, as it were.

A couple of blocks further and I see about 100 people (mostly highschool-aged kids) on the sidewalk... some in costumes (including less-elaborate [if I may be so bold] Grim Reapers, cigarettes, etc.), most carrying placards (in English and Thai)...and ALL wearing very cool t-shirts that say, "TOBACCO KILLS!" in big bold letters on the front and "5,400,000" (plus some other text) on the back. And there are at least 2, maybe 3 dozen helmet-wearing police officers. And I'm thinkin', "This is cool!"

Article by Charlie Smith in the Georgia Straight: Langley tenants fight in-suite strata smokers

Excerpt: "The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal has declined to dismiss a complaint by a Langley couple who object to their neighbours’ smoking. This is the second time in two years that the tribunal has refused to dismiss a complaint of this nature.

"Paul and Rose Kabatoff, who own their suite, alleged to the tribunal that Strata Corporation Plan NW 2767 discriminated against them on the basis of physical disability. According to an October 13 preliminary decision by tribunal member Marlene Tyshynski, they both suffer from respiratory illnesses and allergies that are exacerbated by secondhand smoke."

In 1992, British American Tobacco had its Canadian affiliate, Imperial Tobacco Canada, destroy internal research documents that could expose the company to liability or embarrassment.

Here's the abstract of a paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by David Hammond, Michael Chaiton, Alex Lee, and Neil Collishaw: Destroyed documents: uncovering the science that Imperial Tobacco Canada sought to conceal. The abstract contains a link to the full article.

This is about research that was funded by the tobacco industry. Two of their conclusions:

  • Second-hand smoke is, in fact, more toxic than mainstream smoke, especially for low-delivery cigarettes.
  • People smoking filtered cigarettes inhaled more smoke to get about the same amount of nicotine they'd get from unfiltered.

From Crooks and Liars: Rolling Stone Finds A Smoking Gun: Betsy McCaughey Lied About Healthcare Reform For Tobacco Lobby

Original Rolling Stone article: The Lie Machine

No British Columbia or Canadian content. It shouldn't come as any surprise that the biggest enemy of health on the planet would oppose universal access to health care in the United States.

An Airspace response to a story by Jessica Hinds in the Vancouver Sun: Too many butting out on coasts:

I have a comment, a little-known -- and rather disturbing -- fact and a couple of questions:

  • The headline implies that "butting out" is bad when, in fact, it's a good thing. Perhaps a more accurate headline would have been, "Too many smokers litter coasts." Yes, there are a couple of ways to interpret that too but...;
  • A major sponsor of the Ocean Conservancy is Philip Morris, one of the biggest tobacco companies in the world. When I called OC to express my outrage, I was told that PM recognizes that their products wind up being the leading form of litter, by far...and that PM simply wants to do its part to help with the clean up. If PM was sincere, at the very least, it would print anti-litter messages on its packages. At best, it would get out of the tobacco business entirely; and
  • - Why do bylaw enforcement officers and police turn a blind eye to smokers who litter (most often still-smoldering butts), especially during hot and dry summers? Why are our highways littered with signs warning of a $2000 fine for littering, when nobody is ever charged?

Errol E. Povah
President, Airspace Action on Smoking & Health

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

Story by Gerry Bellett in the Vancouver Sun: Second-hand smoke raises residents' ire. (Or click here to view a PDF of the article.)

Excerpt: "Thirteen residents of Surrey's Kiwanis Park Place in Crescent Beach have filed a human rights complaint, alleging they are being discriminated against by being exposed to second-hand smoke from other tenants.

"The residents are suing the Kiwanis Club of White Rock along with the Crescent Housing Society -- which operates the 257-suite building -- as well as BC Housing and provincial government ministries."

The president of Airspace Action on Smoking and Health is slamming the B.C. government for yet another tobacco-friendly decision.

On Friday, January 16, 2009, this report was aired on CKNW. It is available at in the Audio Vault, beginning at 8:06 a.m. (G = News anchor Bill GOOD, L = Reporter Sean LESLIE and P = MLA Mary POLLACK):

G - The Campbell government does not intend to ban tobacco sales in drug stores, despite calls from a national doctors group. Sean Leslie reports.

L - Physicians for a Smoke-free Canada says B.C. is one of only three provinces[/territories] that still allows tobacco sales in pharmacies. But Minister for Healthy Living Mary Pollack isn't worried, saying B.C.'s smoking rate is already the lowest in the country, at under 15%.

P - It isn't a matter of lining up with other provinces in terms of every item being the same. Provinces have all sorts of different strategies. We know ours has been successful...and this would be one more piece to look at, but not something we're considering in the immediate [future].

L - Pollack says the government may ask pharmacies to distribute information on quitting along with tobacco products. Sean Leslie, CKNW Newstalk 980, Victoria.

Povah said, "Pollack's response to PSC's call is disgusting but, given the B.C. Liberals' tobacco control record, not at all surprising."

A press release from the B.C. New Democratic Party:

Victoria – New Democrat health critic Adrian Dix is calling on the Campbell government to implement stricter regulation of cigarillos, including the banning of flavouring and the sale of singles.

Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada have said that cigarillos are the new cigarettes for kids,” said Dix. “Despite having similar health risks, cigarillos are not regulated in the same way. For example, cigarillos can be sold in singles and the packaging is not required to carry health warnings. It is time for that to change.

“The various flavours available, including chocolate and raspberry, make cigarillos attractive to youth,” said Dix. “They are also sold individually, making them more affordable. In fact, they are comparable in price with candy bars and soda pop.”

Dix will introduce a Private Members’ Bill in the next legislative session to make cigarillos less attractive for youth by banning flavouring agents and prohibiting them from being sold in packages of less than 20.

Dix also wants to ensure that cigarillos include the same health information, health warnings and toxic constituent information that are on cigarette packages.

According to Health Canada, young Canadians use cigarillos at three times the rate of adults. “This is clearly a youth phenomena, and the way the product is being marketed reflects that,” said Dix.

“We all know the risks associated with smoking,” said Dix. “Tobacco products should not be allowed to mask their harmfulness in tasty flavours and attractive packaging. If we are really committed to keeping youth away from smoking, then including cigarillos as a fully regulated tobacco product makes sense.”


Click here for a backgrounder from the NDP.

It's Friday, Dec 5, 2008... and Airspace Action on Smoking and Health president Errol Povah has pledged $20 to the 31st annual CKNW Orphans' Fund Pledge Day (virtually all regular programming on CKNW has been pre-empted by the fundraiser).

Povah challenges all of those good corporate citizens at the tobacco industry to meet or beat his pledge, and do something for the orphans you've created.

Despite the industry's best efforts to maintain a very low snake-in-the-grass profile, the industry does have offices in the Greater Vancouver area (Imperial Tobacco [makers of Players and du Maurier] is in Delta, while Rothmans Benson & Hedges [now owned by Philip Morris International] is in Richmond).

We all know that the tobacco industry loves kids...both teens and pre-teens. Kids are the very lifeblood of the tobacco industry; without kids, the tobacco industry would be out of business in very short order.

So come on Benjamin Kemball (pres and CEO, Imperial Tobacco)... Catherine Doyle, Karen Bodirsky, and David McCullach (Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council)... Arminda Mota (pres, smokers' rights group et al. Show the world how much you 'appreciate' kids, get your wallets out, pull out some blood-stained cash and contribute to this very worthwhile cause.