By JOHN WILDGUST, The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, September 17, 2002, Print Edition, Page A17
To hear the stories told by the antitobacco lobbyists, you would think that Canadian tobacco companies were run by greedy, immoral criminals, deceitfully encouraging everyone to take up the smoking habit.
What I see as a member of the senior management team at JTI-Macdonald Corp. is the opposite: We actively implement a code of responsible and ethical business conduct. We support providing consumers with information about health risks associated with smoking. But the fact remains that tobacco is a legal product, manufactured and distributed by arguably one of Canada's most tightly regulated industries.
With more than five million Canadian smokers (and $10-billion a year in direct government revenues, 18 times the total annual profits of all the Canadian tobacco companies), prohibition of tobacco would be as unsuccessful as the ill-fated U.S. prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s.
Faced with the reality that tobacco continues to be part of our society, there is only one rational option: Its manufacture and distribution should be performed under reasonable regulatory control by companies with a commitment to handling these products in the most responsible way possible. What's the alternative? Bootleg cigarettes that avoid taxes, health warnings and other regulatory controls, sold from the back of a truck on a roadside?
Yet since graphic health warnings, high taxation and banning smoking in many locations have not produced the results the antitobacco lobbyists desire, they now urge Ottawa to adopt a strategy of "denormalization." This would have government-sponsored ads portraying tobacco manufacturers as unethical businesses, which should be pilloried for selling tobacco to children.
Now that obesity has been identified as a leading cause of illness and health-care costs in the U.S., should government "denormalize" fast food restaurants and embark on a campaign of vilification? What about booze, gambling and cars that can exceed the speed limits and pollute?
To set the record straight, JTI-Macdonald Corp. never undertakes any activity that would encourage anyone to take up smoking. Yes, we do compete for brand share among current adult smokers. But we do not market to children, period.
Tobacco product advertising to consumers is not permitted in Canada, yet antitobacco lobbyists rail against advertising as though it were happening here (it's still legal in the U.S.).
Canadian tobacco manufacturers support a program to help retailers prevent cigarette sales to minors. Independent inspectors use underage "shoppers" to test stores' compliance with the law; the Operation ID program provides, among other services, signs in retail stores reminding consumers of the legal age to buy tobacco.
Yet antitobacco lobbyists misrepresent the facts -- while enjoying generous taxpayer funding for initiatives such "Sluts Against Butts" (check the Web site, http://www.slutsagainstbutts.com, to see how your tax dollars are being used).
Rather than diverting government funding to attack Canadian tobacco manufacturers, resources would be better invested in research into what triggers children to experiment with tobacco. This could lead us to a solution for drug and alcohol abuse, and other risky behaviour by children.
Until there is a better solution, the only realistic approach is reasonable regulation of legitimate businesses such as JTI-Macdonald Corp. that manufacture and distribute these legal products in a responsible way.
John Wildgust is the director of corporate affairs for JTI-Macdonald Corp.