22 July 2014

Tobacco companies—the biggest, baddest drug dealers pursue our kids

If we conjure up an image of drug cartel bosses, we might imagine swarthy men with gold chains hanging around their necks and voluptuous babes hanging off each arm. This would be well off the mark for the drug dealers who present the greatest threat to our young people. They are, on the contrary, law-abiding citizens, loving spouses and parents and friendly neighbours. At least in their personal lives. But when they don their dark suits and pick up their briefcases, these respectable family men, or women, metamorphose into commerce people, the CEOs of Imperial Tobacco, JTI-MacDonald and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges, dealers in nicotine, an addictive recreational drug that kills 40,000 Canadians a year.

They may not hang around high schools, but they are nonetheless setting their sights on addicting Canadian youth. Their latest gimmick is flavoured products—fruit, vanilla, mint, chocolate, maple syrup and menthol-flavoured cigarillos, cigars and thin cigarettes that look like a lipstick.

Loaded with kid-friendly appeal, they work. Over half of young smokers use a flavoured product. According to University of Waterloo public health professor David Hammond, "What we have is a very effective recruitment tool for kids to start smoking." Menthol (a favourite of mine those many years ago) is particularly insidious in that it not only imparts an icy flavour but also anesthetizes the throat making it easier to inhale.

The time to hook people on drugs is, of course, when they are young. The tobacco companies are quite aware that 70 per cent of future smokers start before their 18th birthday. The corporate CEOs present themselves as respectable citizens, and we accept them as respectable citizens, even as they, with premeditation, addict young people in a habit that will kill half of them if they don't manage to quit. It's a sordid business, and the tobacco barons should be treated with the contempt they deserve.

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