Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Classified information and a small act of defiance

In a palpably defensive op-ed piece in today’s Montreal Gazette, mention is made of a 2004 study by the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade which shows that the province’s smoking ban has had a negative economic effect on its hospitality industry. Strangely, the Gazette elects not to share the conclusions of the study with its readers; even more strangely, it appears that the document was never released to the public, and that a pro-smoking group had to file a Freedom of Information request to gain access to it.

My curiousity piqued, I decided to head over to the group’s website for a closer look. Although sections of the released report remain blacked out, it nevertheless projects that the public revenue shortfall in the gaming sector alone could reach half a billion dollars per year, or approximately one-third of the total provincial deficit. The report does not address financial losses in the bar, restaurant, or hotel sectors, or lost tax revenue generally.

The Gazette piece also mentions a 2004 study commissioned by the New York Nightlife Association and the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, which shows that the city’s smoking ban had by that time cost “2,650 jobs, $50 million U.S. in workers' pay, and $71 million U.S. in revenues.” However, the study is promptly dismissed as illegitimate because it was commissioned by bar and restaurant owners, who, it is claimed, are “hardly detached observers.”

Bear in mind that this is the Montreal Gazette talking, which is staunchly pro-business when it comes to landlord rights, health care funding, and labour issues, and which can scarcely keep itself from ejaculating whenever business groups lobby for tax cuts, debt reduction schemes, or the privatization of government-run corporations such as the SAQ. But now, suddenly, small business owners can’t be trusted to speak on behalf of their industries? It’s enough to make a skeptic’s head spin.

In frustration, and after much dithering, I have finally decided to join CAGE, the primary sponsors of the legal challenge to Bill 112. The group is registered as a not-for-profit organization, is fully independent of the tobacco industry, and is headed by a post-doctoral student in Political Science, which makes it the most reasonable alternative I have yet found to both government and corporate spin. Further, CAGE espouses a philosophy that is not wholly incompatible with my own:

The overarching concern must become one of protecting individual freedoms, so as to reverse the popularity of the "banning" movement and eventually roll back some of the erosions that have been made in individual freedoms. Quebec emerges as a particularly good place to launch this campaign, given its tradition of "joie de vivre" and the greater acceptance of everyday, personal "vices" in the province.

Indeed. I now implore the smokers, skeptics, and curmudgeons among you join me in this small act of defiance: all you have to do is fill out a membership form, which you will find here.


CT said...

I'm in total agreement. The smoking bans that are sweeping cities across the world are part of political agenda, not the welfare of the public. The same has happened in Chicago (of all places) and it's reach is nearly in my own home... as I talked about in a recent post. My question is, where does it end? Who decides which vices to outlaw? Good on you for doing something about it.

Vila H. said...

Thanks CT, and welcome to the blogspot army! I just checked out Transient Hotel, and I heartily second Johnny's opinion on the matter.

BTW, cute dog...

Frank said...

Sorry, I'm a bit behind on my reading.

Although I'm getting more and more sensative to cigarette smoke, I find this ban of smoking going too far. Many non-smokers are looking forward to the day when smoking will be banned, but can't there be a middle ground. Smoking and non-smoking sections don't work. Glassed in areas a la IKEA or the airport seem to make sense, but they also seem a bit separatist. I really like your idea of bars or cafes where smoking is allowed.