Huff and puff laws

Like the oft-quoted Shakespearian line (“… by any other name …”), current smoking legislation, whether at the provincial level or bylaws at the county and municipal level, is discrimination – plain and simple.

It’s discrimination based on choice of lifestyle, one which is considered only partly illegal, depending on location. What the heck is that all about?

Apparently having smokers huddled under the canopy of a recreation centre in the dead of winter is no longer good enough. Wellington County’s bylaw wants them standing five metres away from public buildings [nine metres at the Wellington Terrace] – including away from the protection of a sheltered canopy.

The county recently passed a restrictive bylaw, supported by at least four local councils. If public agencies are intent on improving the health of its citizens, forcing them out into the cold or rain for a smoke is not likely going to do the trick. And, if smoking is as bad as the publicized claims, then why has the Canadian government not simply made the product illegal – instead of just making a select group of citizens feel like criminals? The locked display cabinets at variety and grocery stores are a joke – as if hiding cigarettes will make the problem go away. It seems that according to many health officials, tobacco is inherently evil and locking it away will somehow reduce temptation.

Yet at the same time, magazines of all persuasions can be displayed with impunity – although out of the reach of children. The same holds true at the local LCBO stores, where, unlike cigarette sales, alcohol is proudly set on shelves for all to see – complete with the special discount sales and promotions of the week or month. You can even ask a sales representative to tell you about the store’s pick of the month.

See what happens if you ask about what the best brand of cigarette is. Chances are the smoke police will be there in a flash to admonish the customer on the health impact of smoking and to admonish the cashier for letting the customer ask the question. But, police reports never seem to list a rash of accidents caused as a result of smoking and driving. If accidents and deaths were justification to ban a product – alcohol would be it.

In a country where so many fought for the freedom of its people, Royal Canadian Legion members were stripped of their right to smoke in a place of their own. And that, too, is shameful. In any other situation, discrimination based on a lifestyle choice would cause an uproar. Isn’t it ironic, or sad, that people can drink alcohol to their heart’s content within specified parts of public buildings, but Lord help them if they light up a cigarette.

Clearly a decision needs to be made. Is tobacco use legal or not? A half-hearted approach will not work, and at its worst, will drag the issue over decades.

If smoking tobacco products is legally considered harmful to those around them – then smoking should be under the Criminal Code in a category similar to aggravated assault.

If it is not – then leave them be.

(Mike Robinson is a lifetime non-smoker by choice – not legislation)