Montréal, le 11 septembre 1999
Numéro 45
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          This quote from Kipling came to mind a few weeks ago when I saw an item in a US newspaper to the effect that the US Federal Trade Commission now requires warning labels on cigars. The warning had nothing to do with the alternate uses of cigars recently publicised by the president of that country, but was simply another shot in their endless anti-tobacco war.  
          One of the warnings suggested by the FTC was to the effect that « Cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes ». A statement which Jacob Sullum, of Reason magazine, characterized as yet another illustration of « the artful evasiveness of public health officials who seek to shape people’s behaviour rather than inform them ». The FTC statement bypasses the question of the true risk of smoking cigars. 
That disturbing habit of yours 
          This FTC statement is an exact repeat of a statement made in 1998 by the Director of the National Cancer Institute, Richard Klausner, when he called the rising trend in cigar smoking « disturbing » and « alarming ». Klausner was introducing an NCI monograph on cigars. Next day, headlines in newspapers read « Cancer Institute’s Warning on Cigars: Just as Bad As Cigarettes ». And another paper said the report was « intended to equate dangers posed by the two products ». 
          The NCI report said, among other things, that overall, daily cigar smokers get esophageal and oral cancers almost as often as cigarette smokers. It also said that the risks for lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coronary heart disease are much lower. In a 1985 American Cancer Society study, referred to in the NCI monograph, men who smoked a cigar or two a day were only 2% more likely to die during a 12-year period than were non-smokers; statistically insignificant. That same Cancer Society study said that the mortality rate for men who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day was 69% higher.  
          The negative news for cigar lovers was that the risk from smoking cigars increases with the number of cigars smoked and the degree of inhalation. Those who inhale deeply being at higher risk for heart disease and emphysema (though still lower than the risks faced by cigarette smokers) and that the risk for a cigar smoker approached the risk for a pack a day cigarette smoker if he or she smoked five cigars a day. They added that « the majority of cigar smokers do not inhale » and that as many as three quarters of cigar smokers do so only occasionally. More significantly they added that since the available data applied only to people who smoke at least one cigar a day, « the health risks of occasional cigar smokers ... are not known. » 
 « Perhaps there should be warning labels
on products such as broccoli, beans and
other causes of flatulence accompanied by
bans on their consumption in restaurants. »
          In June of this year the New England Journal of Medicine clearly stated the difference in risk between cigar and cigarette smoking; a fact which was noted by some journalists and accurately reported. One paper, carried the headline, « Cigars’ Dangers Relatively Low – Moderate Users Face Only Slightly More Health Risks Than Nonsmokers ». Others though, still seem unable to suppress their prejudices and continue to refuse to report the facts; employing such statements as « New findings give more weight to warnings that cigars can be at least as hazardous as cigarettes ». The Surgeon-General David Satcher says that the absence of federal warning labels implies that cigars are different and don’t carry the same risk. 
          In recent times we have seen cigar lounges springing up all over the place, replacing the bagel shops and yoghurt stores, making cigar smoking a status symbol almost as widespread as the cellular telephone is today. California, which is in the lead when it comes to imposing its will on its residents, already insists on warning labels on cigars to the effect that the dangers of cigars are « known to the state of California ». The state also forbids smoking in restaurants and bars as well as its public buildings and claims that the taxes on its cigarettes are devoted to children’s education and welfare. If all this taxation and regulation were to result in a complete cessation of smoking among the population of California then presumably they would have to find some way of replacing these monies. Strange behaviour for part of a country which claims to believe in « life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness ». 
Living can kill you 
          Many of the anti-smoking health fascists claim that not only does the so-called « second hand smoke » affect their health, they don’t like the smell of burning tobacco either. Others may be offended personally by perfume or the aromas of flatulence (largely methane). Perhaps there should be warning labels on products such as broccoli, beans and other causes of flatulence accompanied by bans on their consumption in restaurants.  
          If we are to believe in the health fascist’s desire that we all be healthy then we should also be labelling bacon, sausage and other fatty foods like ice cream, warning of their propensity for causing obesity and circulatory diseases. The costs of caring for stroke survivors can be very high, as many stroke victims live for decades after the event. The facile argument used by most, if not all, US states and by some provinces in Canada, is that since smoking allegedly results in higher health care costs then the tobacco producers should be paying for it. If this false economic argument is accepted at face value then the same argument can be made presumably against the manufacturers of the fatty foods we eat and against those who dispense them in raw or prepared form. Should we be making the same arguments about risky sexual behaviour leading to AIDS?  The costs for treatment of this disease are also very high indeed. Where should the line be drawn between acceptable risky behaviour and risky behaviour which is considered unacceptable?  
          How much consideration is being given to the undoubtedly carcinogenic contents of diesel and gasoline exhausts, to say nothing of the large amounts of carbon monoxide and other emissions? I have yet to see any comparative studies of those who drive down the Decarie Expressway each day versus those who don’t; it would certainly be informative. 
          Our health fascists wish us to stop smoking but they seem to have very little to say about many of the other things which may affect our health. Things such as the genetic modification of food. The advantages of genetic modification are clear, increased nutritional content and improved insect resistance at a minimum. The question which doesn’t seem to be getting answered is do the risks offset these advantages?  
          Monsanto has pleaded guilty to breaking the law in England by admitting that it released modified oil-seed rape into the environment. A study, as yet unpublished, links gene engineering practices to the development of immune system problems in rats. There is much concern in Europe about all this, yet in North America we are consuming such produce without knowing if it has any deleterious effects on our health. In fact, we are consuming such products without even knowing if they have been modified. The Americans (and Canadians) mix genetically modified (GM) products with non-GM products either on purpose or by accident, so it is impossible to know if you are consuming GM foodstuffs. There are no warning labels, probably because nobody knows if a given product has been modified or not. One might ask why the health fascists who seem to be so concerned about our health are not taking up this particular cause. Of course it may all be quite harmless, but we don’t know this either. If GM products are deleterious to the health of Canadians then the ensuing 30 million strong class action lawsuit will make the present lawsuits against the tobacco companies look like very small change indeed.   
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