On June 17, 2009, Bill C-32 quietly passed through the House of Commons, amending the Tobacco Act “to provide additional protection to youth from tobacco marketing.” This followed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2008 election promise to ban “fruit or candy-flavoured cigarillos” in Canadian stores. “These products,” Harper told anyone who would listen, “are packaged as a candy, and this is totally unacceptable.”
Rationally unacceptable themselves, the amendments, which have only to pass through Senate before taking effect on the streets sometime around December, target “flavoured cigarillos” (Prime Times, for example), as well as other products “targeting youth” like flavoured rolling papers and “blunt wraps.” Bill C-32 passed through the house easily, as it would have been hard for anyone to take a public stand against “protecting youth” from the big-bad tobacco boogeyman, no matter how ineffectual the actual legislation.
This tough-talk on “protecting youth from tobacco marketing” comes from the same man who proposed, during the same campaign, that keeping “junkies in rehab and off the streets” was a valid way to combat drug addiction in Canada. In his years in office, if nothing else, Harper has consistently chosen the one-two punch of flamboyant public displays of verbal platitudes and stomach-churning photo opportunities over actual action at every opportunity. Case in point: his apology to residential school survivors at home in 2008 followed by his denial of Canada’s colonial history abroad last month.
So, what’s the big deal? A weird niche market has been eliminated by a drab piece of social conservative legislation. Surely there are bigger fish to fry. Bill C-32 is a waste of time and an insult to adults and children alike that won’t solve anything, but rather imposes social conservative values on the “free market” that fiscal conservatives value so highly.
Ask yourself, please: will banning flavoured rolling papers or cigars stop kids from smoking? Of course not. First of all, it is illegal to sell them to minors as it is. Anyone selling tobacco products in Canada is legally obliged to ask for photo ID from anyone trying to buy said products who even appears to be under the age of 25. Does this happen all the time? No. Does it happen often? Yes, it does. Will kids, if at first they don’t succeed, try again, somewhere and somehow, to achieve their devious ends?
Certainly. Kids will always do things they aren’t supposed to do, for no other reason than that they aren’t supposed to do them. Besides, if a 12-year old kid somehow gets hold of flavoured rolling papers, and can use them properly, that kid is likely dealing with far more pressing social concerns than the fact that maybe his papers taste like blueberries rather than regular old paper. Where did that kid learn how to roll, and where did he get the papers, the weed, tobacco, whatever? Where are his parents?
Regardless of what Harper would have us believe, the majority of people consuming these nearly banned products are adults, fully capable of making their own decisions, however untoward they may be to the social conservatives’ idealized Dominion under God.
Why should Harper — who appeared on TV recently to tell us how he “gets high with a little help from his friends,” though, I suppose, not with flavoured rolling papers — tell me what I can or cannot wrap my dope or tobacco, or whatever, in? Who’s to tell any adult they can’t enjoy something as insignificant as a flavoured cigar on their personal time? You?
Let’s say — hypothetically, of course — that an upstanding citizen like, say, Burton Cummings, who recently received honourary membership to the University of Manitoba Dental Alumni Association, wanted to smoke whatever it is he, as an adult, chooses to smoke wrapped up in banana flavoured rolling papers. Now, I’ve never been much on religion, but in my mind Burt stands tall, not only as an undeniable Canadian rock-god, but as a pillar of the community. If he — hypothetically — chooses to smoke banana flavoured rolling papers, who am I to tell him he can’t, because some day some kid might want to try smoking evil weeds because that kid thought, somehow, that smoke could taste like magical candy bananas?
Not me. Fuck no. I’m thinking about it now, and I’m terrified. But, the prime minister is obviously of another mind: he’s already done it.
What I, personally, would like to see is Harper’s legislative throw-down acted out in real time, in an alley behind the Albert in the earliest hours of the morning. Sirens wail in the background, steam rises from piss-soaked concrete. Harper, now, would have to physically wrestle a carton of banana flavoured rolling papers from the hands of Burton Cummings, who I imagine would croon “Charlemagne” while mercilessly trouncing poor Steve in the ensuing bloodbath. Hell, if they held it at the MTS Centre, there would be a full house, and I’d be there, front row.
I spoke recently with my friend Francis about this business. At the time, I was mildly confused by it all, and not altogether as insulted as I now feel. Francis, on the other hand, was livid.
“Where is the line drawn?” he asked, crushing an empty Bud Light Lime in his fist. “Flavoured booze? What the fuck, no more peach vodka?” Francis turned nasty at that point, muttering on about impaling and bashing elected officials. Francis was my ride home. My night was ruined.
But his question remains: “Where is the line drawn?” If adults are not allowed to make their own choices, good, bad, or in-between, but are instead legislated into following a rigid concept of optimized social behavior, then what the fuck is the point of being an adult?
That kids will think smoking, or drinking, or drugs are cool and will want to try them should be old news, by now. Making costly rules to deter them from doing what they will instinctively do — rebel — won’t solve anything. And really, isn’t there anything else our elected officials could possibly be spending time and tax dollars on at this particular moment in time? Anything? Swine flu? The economy? Afghanistan? Social inequality? The environment? Education?
Flavoured rolling papers? Really?
Sheldon Birnie cannot believe that flavoured rolling papers will be illegal, but salvia divinorum is still legally available for sale. Check it out!