Behavior

Smoke if you must—but not here!

WILLIAM DAMPIER June 28 1976
Behavior

Smoke if you must—but not here!

WILLIAM DAMPIER June 28 1976

Smoke if you must—but not here!

Behavior

After decades of suffering in silence, non-smokers in Canada, like their counterparts elsewhere, have turned suddenly militant, banding into groups and demanding the right to breathe smoke-free air. They are using the courts, parliament, slogans, cold stares and even hot words to force Canada’s seven million smokers to butt out in public places. Supported by the medical profession and various government officials, including Health Minister Marc Lalonde, the nonsmokers have embarked on a campaign aimed at imposing a new tobacco etiquette on the diminishing percentage of Canadians addicted to cigarettes. By all evidence, the campaign is making progress. Signs barring smoking are popping up everywhere, like mushrooms after a summer rain. Bumper stickers and lapel buttons — those ubiquitous messageboards-in-motion of modern society—aggressively assert nonsmokers’ feelings (KISSING A SMOKER IS LIKE LICKING AN ASHTRAY says one bumper sticker; YES! I MIND IF YOU SMOKE! snaps a button). The House of Commons is on the verge of passing a private member’s bill (a parliamentary rarity in Canada) severely resecting smoking in public places. There are growing demands from groups such as the Ottawa-based Canadian Council on Smoking and Health for further restrictions on the promotion and sale of tobacco products. And smokers are trying everything from acupuncture to hypnosis to kick the habit (see box, page44).

“We don’t want to push anyone around,” says Gar Mahood, executive director of the Toronto-based Nonsmokers’ Rights Association, which has attracted 2,000 members, “but nonsmokers have the right to pure air just as smokers have the right to smoke in areas where they don’t bother anyone else.” Mahood’s organization and others such as GASP (the Group Against Smokers’ Pollution—1,000 members) and STOP (Society to Overcome Pollution—500 members, mostly in Montreal) not only want the right to pure air but are striving to make smoking “socially unacceptable” to Canadians. They are prepared to be a little pushy, if they have to. For example, Mahood’s group conducts “assertiveness training” sessions to teach nonsmokers how to ask people not to smoke. “You could call it a kind of consciousness training,” he says. “We want to help people come out of the closet and speak out.”

The new militancy among nonsmokers reflects the fact that they are now in the clear majority of Canadians over 15 years

of age. From the Second World War, when women began smoking in substantial numbers, until about 1970, according to Statistics Canada, the population aged 15 and up was split 50:50 between smokers and nonsmokers. By 1975, though, the percentage had become 55:45 in favor of nonsmokers, even though per capita con-

sumption of cigarettes continues to rise. The anomaly of fewer people smoking more (in 1968 per capita consumption was 2,558 cigarettes a year; in 1975 it was 2,827) is explained simply enough: those who could quit, and wanted to, have done so while those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, are hooked worse than ever. “Maybe people

are just getting smarter,” says Dr. William Rickert, who is doing federally funded research on smoking at the University of Waterloo. The only age/sex group where smokers are increasing in percentage rather than absolute terms: teen-age girls. Statistics Canada reports that a decade ago, 18% of girls aged 15 to 19 smoked; today the figure is 28%.

If fewer Canadians are taking up smoking and more are struggling to give it up, the reasons appear twofold: cigarettes are increasingly expensive as taxes on them continue to rise (total taxes in Canada last year were one billion dollars, and that figure will climb by at least $125 million this year) and more people are worried about health hazards. Since 1964, when the thenU.S. Surgeon General issued his now famous report linking cigarettes to cancer, cardiovascular disease and emphysema, the public has been bombarded with information about the hazards of smoking. Researchers have blamed cigarettes for everything from premature baldness to diminished sex drive among men. But if the medical profession has long since been persuaded that smoking is unhealthy—Toronto’s Dr. R. A. Mustard once told a government committee that anyone who doubted the existence of a link between cigarettes and sickness was “a likely candidate for membership in the Flat Earth Society”—the tobacco industry insists that it is unconvinced. “There has not yet been a scientific study that establishes a direct causal relationship between smoking and health,” says Norman McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers’ Council, a body representing the two-billion-dollar-a-year industry in Canada.

Convinced or not, the manufacturers have been on the defensive for a decade and seem likely to stay that way, as long as the nonsmokers’ movement maintains its momentum. Since the avalanche of negative publicity about smoking began a decade ago, the industry—although continuing to prosper (Standard and Poor’s, the Wall Street analysts, recently informed clients that tobacco stocks had “considerable appeal” as investments)—has made a series of concessions to medical and public opinion. Canadian smokers are told on every cigarette package: “Warning:

Health and Welfare Canada advises that danger to health increases with amount smoked. Avoid inhaling.” In 1971, the industry voluntarily discontinued advertising on radio and television. And last January it announced it would hold its $40million-a-year advertising and promotion budget to the level spent in 1971, with adjustments for inflation.

The whole question of cigarette advertising is contentious. The manufacturers insist they are not trying to induce nonsmokers to start but are simply competing with one another for larger shares of a market that already exists. “Cigarettes are still a legal product,” says Bob Gibb an Impe-

rial Tobacco executive who is head of the technical committee of the manufacturers’ council. “There’s no earthly reason why they shouldn’t be advertised so long as they are legal.”

A total ban on cigarette advertising was recommended in a smoking-and-health study commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Health. The ministry shelved the report for a year, until it was leaked to Mahood’s Nonsmokers’ Rights Association which promptly turned it over to the press this spring. An even tougher line is advocated by the Canadian Council on Smoking and Health, a new umbrella group representing the Canadian Medical Association, the Cancer Society, the Heart Foundation and the Public Health Association. It called earlier this month for a total ban on cigarette advertising and promotion as well as stricter control of vending machines and other sales outlets. It also de-

manded government legislation sharply reducing the level of tar and nicotine generally available now and an even stronger warning on cigarette packages. The umbrella group’s director, Kurt Baumgartner, says a major objective is to deter young people from starting to smoke. “The battle is won or lost by grade seven or eight,” Baumgartner says. “By high school it is probably too late to affect their later smoking habits. Adults who are heavy smokers are pretty much a lost cause.”

The anti-smoking forces in Canada, active as they are, are lagging behind their counterparts in other countries. No fewer than 30 American states have legislated controls on where cigarettes may be smoked. Banned areas include elevators, sports arenas, hospitals and doctors’ offices. Arizona’s legislation—regarded as the model by anti-smoking lobby—goes so far as to ban smoking in all public places

unless exemptions are granted and signs are posted saying smoking is allowed. Fines of from $10 to $100 are provided for in the law. Italy has had a total ban on cigarette advertising since 1962. Sweden, which already has one of the world’s lowest cigarette-consumption rates, has embarked on an ambitious program to raise an entire generation of nonsmokers, conditioning children from the cradle up to avoid the habit.

The newly militant nonsmokers of Canada have begun going to court. A group of commuters in Montreal successfully sued Canadian National to require it to enforce its own no-smoking policy on commuter trains; a Toronto law student has brought a case against Gray Coach Lines, triggered by a passenger in the supposedly smokeless area who refused to stub out her cigarette, which is now before the Ontario Supreme Court.

WILLIAM DAMPIER