Tobacco money's not worth it

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There is no magic formula to save Montreal Grand Prix: Tobacco money's not worth it

By Roy MacGregor
The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, September 2, 2003 - Page A2

Surely this one is long past any point of debate.

Six years ago, the Tobacco Act became the law of the land, giving cigarette makers a generous five years to phase out their various sponsorships of sporting and cultural events -- and yet they are still acting as though the legislation is merely on its way to committee for further discussion.

The manufacturers tried to have the law declared unconstitutional, and when that failed late last year in Quebec Superior Court, they launched an appeal that is still under way.

Then came the Montreal Grand Prix, with organizers first threatening to cancel next year's race unless the event was given a permanent exemption from the ban on cigarette advertising, which it was not. Last week it was announced the Formula One event is headed for Bahrain, a tiny Persian Gulf kingdom with no such irritating laws.

Now we have a new poll out of Montreal that claims six out of every 10 Canadians want Ottawa to put off its Oct. 1, 2003, deadline until 2005, thereby opening the gate for at least two more Grand Prix races.

Perhaps I should state my ridiculous prejudices here. I have not smoked since I threw up in Boyd Galbraith's '57 Ford Fairlane after splitting a pack of Export A's with several friends. And I have also long considered that the only connection the automobile has to sport is to get you to the game and back. But my personal absurdities are not the issue here.

The Leger Marketing survey of 1,501 people, which was released to The Canadian Press this weekend, might suggest that Canadians are having second thoughts about this law, given that 57 per cent of respondents want a delay while only 37 per cent want to stick to the Oct. 1 deadline. The remainder either didn't know or did not care to respond.

The question asked is most curious in that it says, "The European Union member countries have agreed to postpone the enforcement of the antitobacco law until 2005. According to you, should the Canadian government do as the Europeans and extend its moratorium on the antitobacco law until 2005?"

Some might contend the question has as much to do with the Canadian desire to stay in step and not be noticed as it has to do with actual feelings on tobacco advertising. It's pretty hard to argue with Francis Thompson of the Non-Smokers Rights Association, who told CP that if the question had read " 'Would you be willing to accept some tobacco advertising to keep the Grand Prix alive even if it meant your teenager started to smoke? ' you would get an overwhelmingly different answer."

Personally, I would prefer a far more straightforward question than either of these and have always been intrigued by the one James Naismith put to his grandchildren back in the Great Depression, when money counted for rather more than it does today.

Naismith, of course, was the Canadian who invented basketball, a sport that is today far more significant in North America than Formula One racing will ever be.

Naismith, who had long since moved from his Almonte, Ont., roots to live permanently in the United States, where he became an American citizen, was highly regarded as a man of admirably high principle. He had dedicated his life to education and had never bothered to cash in on the magnificent game he had invented that was then growing, literally and figuratively, by leaps and bounds. Time magazine had even openly chided him for his financial foolishness.

One of the American tobacco giants saw great opportunity in this, and set out to connect its product to the great sportsman with a deal that would pay Naismith $500,000 over the next decade.

The money worries that had long troubled him would be over. He was rapidly aging -- he would die at age 78 in 1939 in Lawrence, Kan., -- and this money would also ensure the long-term well-being of his family.

Naismith determined, therefore, to leave the decision to those who would benefit most: his grandchildren.

He gathered them around and talked to the children about his own feelings about smoking and its appeal to young people and what he believed to be the long-term effects of smoking on a person's health. And then he asked them to vote.

They turned the tobacco money down flat.

Canadians honour Naismith for inventing one of the world's great games, but they might also take inspiration from his principles. Let the Europeans place a two-year moratorium on their antitobacco rules, but let Canada press ahead, no matter how many Formula One races, equestrian meets, tennis tournaments or jazz festivals are lost.

If the events are worth keeping, others, surely, will step in.

And as for posing accurate and fair questions, surely the only one ever worth asking was, "Do you think the promotion of smoking is a good idea? "

That, we would humbly suggest, has already been answered.

 

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Contrast the above story from the Globe and Mail with the following from the National Post:

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In the name of the tobacco jihad

Colby Cosh
National Post
Tuesday, September 02, 2003

A Leger Marketing survey taken two weeks ago has revealed that 57% of Canadians favour delaying the introduction of the federal tobacco-advertising legislation that has put the 2004 Canadian Grand Prix in limbo. Probably about the same number of Canadians would tell pollsters that eating your cake and having it too sounds like a damn fine idea. Canadian legislators at all three levels of government have lately been possessed by a fever for tobacco laws that are almost explicit in their cruelty. Since popular resistance to this holy war has been muted at best, our apparent desire to delay the introduction of the new advertising rules is almost comic in its naiveté. "Wait a minute -- you mean banning tobacco-company support for sport and culture might harm sport and culture? No one told us!"

It is a little hard to interpret Leger's reported result. The question posed read thus: "The European Union member countries have agreed to postpone the enforcement of [their similar] anti-tobacco law until 2005. According to you, should the Canadian government do as the Europeans and extend its moratorium on the anti-tobacco law until 2005?" Anti-smoking bullies could legitimately complain about the common but dubious polling technique of buttering up the respondent by presenting a particular piece of information -- in this case, an example that is irresistible by virtue of coming from the chic, dirigiste Europeans. But one would like to know, on the other hand, how many Canadians support scrapping the new law outright.

Why is the federal government so determined to abandon the system whereby tobacco companies can soft-sell their brands without the explicit mention of cigarettes? You might have noticed that that groovy jazz festival in your downtown was not sponsored by Du Maurier cigarettes, but by the "Du Maurier Arts Council," whose logo is an oddly familiar red colour. The positive good done for Canadian culture under this regime has been overwhelming -- and the harm, if any harm has been done, has been voluntarily accepted by those who choose to buy cigarettes. Smokers, in effect, have been given the chance to advance the causes of art and sport at a certain cost to themselves. I cannot quite see what is objectionable about this. Since the government also uses tobacco revenue to accomplish its work, perhaps it's simply jealous.

The threat to our annual Formula One race will be only the first of the new law's effects. Players Racing, for instance, will drop out of CART at the end of the season, and the series itself may not survive. The euthanasia of Players Racing threatens three annual Canadian race dates and imperils funding that has fostered the careers of successful Canadian drivers such as Jacques Villeneuve, Greg Moore and Paul Tracy. Twenty years from now, no doubt, some clever sportswriter will look back and wonder what happened to the heritage of Canadian open-wheel racing. I'd like it put on record in case the cigarettes kill me before then -- that it succumbed to a festival of cultural desecration, a Bonfire of the Vanities in the name of health.

Its effects are not confined to racing. Edmontonians learned on the Labour Day weekend that the Canadian Legion hall in Old Strathcona, a handsome old amulet of remembrance in the city's bosom, is for sale. Edmonton's new ban on smoking in dining establishments is said to have driven Legion revenues down 30% across the city. The ban may, of course, allow some veteran or other to live to be 88 instead of 87; but I'm sure our old soldiers are unpleasantly surprised all the same. Once, they and their comrades laid down their lives for freedom. Somewhere along the line, our leaders decided that things are now to work the other way around.

Even on a purely actuarial basis, some of the decisions taken in the name of the tobacco jihad are puzzling. Last month, bylaw enforcement officers visited Keep It Simple, a booze-free private club for recovering alcoholics on Edmonton's north side, and found that the 12-steppers therein were smoking heavily. Since only establishments with a full liquor licence can permit smoking, the witless officers actually instructed the club to either go apply for one or drive its smokers off the premises (and, presumably, into licensed bars). The owners went for a licence, but when they admitted they had no intention of actually selling booze, their application was rejected. "They weren't looking for a liquor licence, they were looking for a smoking licence," sneered a liquor commission spokesman.

Keep It Simple has since been granted a temporary reprieve, but will have to go smoke-free in 2005, when the ban on smoking in public places is extended to cover bars and all other establishments. Again, the public seems not to have anticipated what has been done in its name. It is dumbfounded at discovering that banning public smoking serves to exile smokers from society, and that real suffering may result. It's the eternal law of life -- people are never so mean to each other as when they suppose they are doing good.

© Copyright  2003 National Post

 

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