This thank you letter was sent to John Yakabuski, Bill Murdoch, Frank Klees, Ernie Hardeman, Tim Hudak, Toby Barrett and John Tory to thank them for their courage in voting against the very popular and presumably vote-grabbing Bill 164.
Dear Freedom of Choice members of the Ontario Legislature JAN. 18/06
I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you so courageously voted against Bill 164(smoke-free)
Politicians know that 80% of the public don’t smoke and they also know that is where the votes are.
Politicians would rather be popular than ‘right.’
If the public was honestly and truthfully informed about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke, there would be fewer no-smoking laws in this country. Smoke from a handful of crushed leaves and some paper that is mixed with the air of a decently ventilated venue is harmful to your health?? If anybody believes that, then I have some ocean-front property in Saskatchewan I would like to sell them.
There has never been a single study showing that exposure to the low levels of smoke found in bars and restaurants with decent modern ventilation and filtration systems kills or harms anyone.
As to the annoyance of smoking, a compromise between smokers and non-smokers can be reached, through setting a quality standard and the use of modern ventilation technology.
Air ventilation can easily create a comfortable environment that removes not just passive smoke, but also and especially the potentially serious contaminants that are independent from smoking.
Thunder Bay, Ont.
The following was sent directly to Mr. Couillard's office, and a French translation (available in the French section of our website) was sent to La Presse. Mr. Couillard's office acknowledged receipt of the letter, but La Presse did not have the courage to publish it. We were very pleased and honoured when it was selected for publication in its French version in the inaugural issue of Barricades, the Journal of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal, Vol.1 No.1, 2005.
The media coverage and public debate surrounding Health Minister Philippe Couillard’s proposed 100% smoking ban in Quebec has been somewhat one-sided in favour of the ban. I am therefore submitting to you an open letter I have written to the minister, which contains a comprehensive anti-ban perspective. It is my hope that you will publish this letter in its entirety, thereby advancing the quality of the public debate on the issue and performing one of the media’s most sacred duties – questioning the policies of government.
President, Citizens Against Government Encroachment (CAGE)
An open letter to Quebec health minister Philippe Couillard
Dear Minister Couillard,
On January 11, 2005, you announced your intentions to impose a 100% smoking ban in all restaurants, bars, and cafés in Quebec. You said there would be a period of public consultation on this issue, for which your government would accept submissions until February 25. In the same breath, however, you said that the ban would be imposed no matter what. Since it seems clear that your "consultations" are intended only to provide a cover of legitimacy to a policy you have already decided on, I am writing this submission as an open letter to you. I am writing you this letter in a non-smoking café in Montreal, at the end of a week of smog alerts throughout the city.
We at CAGE (Citizens Against Government Encroachment) question your priorities, your agenda, and your justifications for this ban. While we can choose to enter (or work in) a bar, café or restaurant that permits or does not permit smoking, current smog alerts warn us to avoid venturing outdoors. Has your ministry done anything to discourage the ever-rising popularity of gas guzzling SUVs in Quebec, wood burning stoves, or highly polluting heavy industries? As you draw up plans to hire a small army of "smoke police" to enforce your upcoming smoking bylaw, have you forgotten that Quebec has an insufficient number of inspectors monitoring pollution from large industries, or that farmers could use assistance finding alternatives to extremely toxic pesticides running off into our water supply?
Since an increasing number of establishments in Quebec are already becoming smoke-free on their own (around half of cafés in Quebec already are), shouldn’t we just let this natural process continue on its own? When one of the founders of CAGE asked you this question on January 28, 2005, you replied that "nature is too slow." We would like to tell you what many Quebeckers think is too slow: the time it takes to see a doctor or nurse in Quebec is too slow. The government’s response to problems of outdoor air pollution is too slow. Fixing the potholes in our streets is too slow. Funding for anti-poverty programs is too slow. These are priorities that should fall well ahead of a costly, controversial 100% smoking ban in bars, cafés and restaurants, especially when these establishments are increasingly moving on their own to provide more and more well-ventilated or non-smoking choices to their customers.
So why the focus on and diversion of public funds to the smoking ban issue? Most of the bar, café and restaurant workers you’re claiming to protect are smokers anyhow, and for every 1 that the media puts on television claiming they want the ban, CAGE can find 10 who are against it, who fear they will lose their jobs or a lot of their income as a result of it. The high turnover rate for bar, restaurant and café jobs also means that these employees enjoy an increasing amount of choice as to where they work, including well-ventilated, segregated, or smoke free establishments.
We suspect that your real agenda relates to the campaign of "denormalization of smoking" that health militants have embarked on. This is what worries us at CAGE. "Denormalization" is a euphemism for continual harassment of people who smoke. You and your friends want to deny smokers any indoor public place to go. How will public health be served when these people therefore go and smoke at home, in the presence of their spouses and children (or do you plan to have your smoke police searching homes as well?). While we are happy that the days of smoking in airplanes, trains, and other public places that people must frequent are gone, it is increasingly easier today to find restaurants, cafés and even bars that are either non-smoking or so well ventilated or segregated as to offer no inconvenience at all. Today’s campaign to harass smokers in fact feels a little too much like revenge for the days when we were all bothered by smoke everywhere we went. Times have changed, however, and we should refrain going too far. Smokers pay taxes (extra taxes, in fact), vote and obey the law just as other citizens do. Forcing a 70-year old World War Two veteran into -20 degree cold to have a cigarette with his coffee is not a mark of civilization or modernity – it’s a symptom of intolerance and vindictiveness. Today, if we don’t like the little independent café that allows someone like him to smoke, we can go to the 100% smokefree Starbucks, Second Cup, Tim Hortons, or elsewhere...
You have also said that you thought "we need to follow the example of our neighbours in Ontario." Since when must we follow the example of Ontario? Is this the point of being "masters in our own home?" In Ottawa, signs forbid people from smoking within 9 meters of buildings, at the same time that cars drive up to within 2 meters of the same buildings. In smog-filled California, the government in its wisdom bans smoking on beaches and in parks. Some American anti-smoking organizations have suggested that employers refrain from hiring people who smoke, even if they only smoke away from the workplace. Since this obviously can’t be justified in terms of protecting non-smokers’ health, how is it not harassment? Do you plan on taking us further along this path?
We would also caution anyone supporting such harassment – intolerance is contagious. To use the prior examples, anyone who drives an SUV or owns a wood stove should avoid feeling too indignant about smokers. Asthma rates in north America have in fact steadily increased during the last 30 years, at the same time that smoking rates have decreased. Those of us who enjoy the other "sins" of junk food, alcohol, or doing sports without a helmet should also pay careful attention to the campaign against smoking, as the tactics employed there are already beginning to spread. So, Minister Couillard, since you are so in love with Ontario’s approach to health, will you also bring us Ontario-style laws limiting alcohol and wine purchases to the SAQ? Segregated beer drinking areas at outdoor concerts? Mandatory helmet laws for cyclists and other sport enthusiasts? Bans on certain breeds of dogs? You should say so now if that’s your plan, as we don’t recall you mentioning the 100% smoking ban during the last election campaign. Many Quebeckers wouldn’t have voted for your party if you had mentioned it, since they count smoking with their coffee or occasional glass of wine as one of the "little pleasures" in life. We simply can’t sit silent as you try to shame and harass them for this.
There’s one last thing that needs mentioning, Mr. Couillard. You and your friends’ arguments for the 100% smoking ban lack credibility. You would have us believe that proper ventilation does not offer a "safe" alternative to smoking bans. Ontario government health offices even claim that it would take "a tornado" to remove the health risk of second hand smoke. Oh really? Are we to believe that while underground parking garages can be ventilated sufficiently to protect the health of attendants, tobacco smoke is some kind of magical substance impervious to ventilation? Apparently this is the logic in Ontario, since they banned smoking in parking garages. Need we remind you that inhaling the exhaust of a car is generally fatal within 5 minutes, while it takes a smoker who is continuously exposed to both primary and second-hand tobacco smoke 40 years to possibly develop a smoking- related illness? The fact is, in 1999 anti-smoking activists asked the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers to remove their classification that specified what level of ventilation could remove tobacco smoke from indoor establishments. They did this so that they can now go around saying "there is no known safe level of ventilation for tobacco smoke." The fact is, with proper ventilation, the air quality inside a bar that permits smoking is better than outside, even when the city isn’t covered with smog.
You would also have us believe that the bans don’t have much of an economic impact on bars, restaurants and cafés, while the owners of these businesses overwhelmingly believe that many of them will be either hurt or put out of business. I tend to believe the business owners, who have no agenda apart from their businesses, rather than you and various health activists. If you want to see the business owners’ agenda-free statistics regarding the smoking bans, go to the web sites of groups such as the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CFRA). Try even listening to statements of some bar owners – such as the 60 who went out of business in Ottawa when they started the smoking ban there (in New York, bar closings were ascribed to 9/11 rather than the smoking ban...). Someone should remind you that bars, restaurants and cafés are also privately-owned establishments, open to the public should they wish to enter. The owners put a lot of their life savings, time and energy into these places. Will you pay their mortgages and send their children to school when your ban puts some of them out of business? Or will you follow the usual practice of finding the ones who weren’t so hurt by the ban and putting them on television as if they represent the whole industry?
Any economist could also tell you that a free market which caters to everyone’s preferences attracts more business than one that suffers from bans or other forms of intervention. In Montreal, CAGE has even met many tourists from Ontario and the United States who tell us that one of the reasons they like to come here is because they can no longer smoke in any restaurants, cafés or bars where they live. Imagine if we forced cinemas to show only "wholesome family movies" – just about everyone would continue going to the cinema, but people who prefer films with sex and violence would certainly not go to the movies as often as before. The same is true for smoking. But as more and more people express a preference for non-smoking or well-ventilated establishments (or very hypothetically, wholesome family films...), businesses respond and provide this. If you had decided to stay with the Quebec government’s promise of 1998, which was to wait until 2008 before proclaiming a new public smoking law, you would have seen this even more clearly.
So here are our suggestions, Mr. Couillard, if you’re still reading at this point:
1) Continue informing people of the dangers of smoking (the warnings on tobacco products are more than sufficient for this, however, especially since everyone on planet earth seems to have already gotten the message that smoking is unhealthy – so perhaps you could move a few million dollars from your advertising budget or the anti-smoking groups you fund to some of the other priorities I mentioned above).
2) Stop insulting our intelligence by exaggerating the risks of second hand smoke, and when you calculate the societal cost of treating smokers who get sick and die, compare the resulting numbers to the cost of treating non-smokers who get sick and die one day, rather than to a base of zero. If manipulated enough, statistics can prove or justify anything. While it is obvious why health activists would want to exaggerate a problem with statistics, the tactic creates ethical problems and distracts us from other serious issues.
3) Keep helping all those who want to quit smoking, and prevent youth from buying tobacco products.
4) If you want to speed up the natural process by which more and more restaurants, cafés and bars become non-smoking or very well ventilated, offer them the "carrot" of a tax break for doing so, instead of the costly "stick" of a ban and your "smoking police." Or just save our tax dollars for things like more athletic programs in schools (less obese kids who are less likely to smoke!).
5) Keep Quebec a province known for its tolerance, acceptance of different lifestyle choices, and joix de vivre. The silent majority just wants you to leave them alone (and if you want us to design an opinion poll question in a way that will confirm this, we will...).
6) Above all, spare us the wasteful, distracting North American craze of banning everything to protect people from themselves, and maybe you’ll have time to think about the smog problem outside.
President, Citizens Against Government Encroachment