Cigarette Vendors: “Please Regulate Our Product More Tightly”

I’ve blogged before about the complex relationship between business and regulation. Most people assume business hates government interference, but it’s not uniformly true. Sometimes regulations make for a more level competitive playing-field, and in some cases clear regs make a business’s legal footing clear enough to permit investment.

Sometimes, an industry’s plea for regulation is less clearly benign. Check this piece by Emily Burke, writing for Maclean’s: “This isn’t illegal.”

The battle to keep kids from smoking just keeps getting stranger. A new study shows that making it illegal for kids to smoke can help to reduce youth smoking rates. But oddly, Canada’s convenience stores, which make a considerable chunk of their profits from selling cigarettes, support the study’s recommendation to ban youth smoking—while anti-smoking groups, such as Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, oppose it.

It’s worth making a distinction, here: what the industry is proposing is a limitation on someone else’s behaviour, namely that of consumers. But still, it’s a change that stands to lower demand for a profitable product.

Why does the physicians’ group oppose the move?

…Cynthia Callard, executive director of the anti-smoking advocacy group Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, says the very fact that the CCSA supports such a ban is evidence that it won’t work. “I can’t overstate how relevant it is that the only people who are pushing for youth possession laws are tobacco companies and tobacco retailers,” she says. “That should give anyone pause.”

Actually, it’s not evidence that it won’t work. Callard’s implication: Why would an industry promote a legal change that would reduce demand for its product? Well, as long as the law is enforced uniformly, no store will be at a comparative disadvantage, and perhaps they expect to make up the difference with sales of other products. And it’s at least possible that, under the current rules, there are store operators who would rather not sell so many cigarettes (or sell them at all), but who know that they’d be at a huge competitive disadvantage if they unilaterally stopped selling them.

But in the end, even if vendors want this legal change for the wrong reasons, is that enough reason to oppose a regulation that could save lives?

6 comments so far

  1. Anonymous on

    To me, one of the most important elements in any discussion of ethics is POWER: it is always a complex relation and without looking at who holds what kinds of power ina given situation we are really talking about morals rather than ethics. Being a non-moral very ethical person, I find the ethic in the struggle to understand the complexity of a relation.In this case, I can’t help but bring up that if this law goes through perhaps it will save a few lives but it will make many more a lot worse; the people with the most to lose from a further decline or crackdown of contraban tobacco are the already completely colonized and oppressed First Peoples of this land [seeing as that and casinos are the biggest employers of natives], can we talk about big money White Corporate Power for a second?Hurray for the anti-smoking advocacy physicians for trying to point out a corporate smoke-screen when they see it.

  2. Anonymous on

    A poster here wrote: “Being a non-moral very ethical person, I find the ethic in the struggle to understand the complexity of a relation.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`Huh? What does that mean? If you are ethical you are also moral because they are synonymous. I also find the second clause in that sentence to be completely nonsensical, not to mention highly ungrammatical. Just what kind of “non-moral” person are you: immoral or amoral?Everyone who lives by any ethical code is also living by a moral code. Mores are the ways societies or groups do things. Don’t tell me you think morals are only for religious people and atheists and agnostics adhere to “ethics” alone to know how to behave. That post was an illogical rant filled with generalizations of First Nations people, white people, corporations and simplistic portrayals of “heroic” anti-smoking doctors (many of whom have puritanical and authoritarian streaks that you overlook – the anti-tobacco Nazis etc.)– Kevin G. McDonald, Halifax

  3. Chris MacDonald on

    Kevin:A simple invitation to clarify might have sufficed.Also, a charitable reader would add “al” to “ethic” in that 2nd clause, and turn it into something that makes a good deal of sense.And a careful reader would see that there’s no “portrayal” of doctors at all, let along a heroic one. There’s merely an expression of approval for the position taken by the doctors I cited.Chris.

  4. Anonymous on

    He expresses approval for those doctors who I say sometimes go too far, hence the comment about them being anti-smoking nazis and authoritarian Puritans (of the coming nanny-state). And I suppose I could have asked him to clarify, but even as a typo missing a suffix its a strange clause — he finds “the ethical” “…in the struggle to understand the complexity of the relation”?That is still not clear and especially so after the contradictory first clause. I don’t get what that poster meant. Why ask for a clarification without pointing what I see as ungrammatical or contradictory and illogical? -Kevin G. McDonald

  5. Suresh Kumar G on

    Isn’t it common knowledge that the more you try to stop people from doing something the more they try to do it? And isn’t this especially true in the case of kids? In that vein I would think that such regulations could have the opposite and the most undesirable effect. Wouldn’t it suffice to have more awareness programmes regarding the hazards of smoking?

  6. Chris MacDonald on

    Suresh:That might be true in some cases, but usually making something illegal really does reduce its frequency. It’s just a question of costs, and whether that’s the most effective method available to cut youth smoking.Chris.

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