Gunter: Alberta health minister Mandel is a meddling, busybody

If you were wondering what kind of health minister former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel would be, you didn’t have to wait long. The answer: a meddling, busybody, eat-your-peas, nanny statist.

 

In office less than two weeks, Mandel has already taken up the crusade against the demon leaf. And, no, I don’t mean marijuana. I’m talking about tobacco.

At a gathering of provincial health ministers in Banff, Mandel promised to implement a provincial ban on all flavoured tobacco (including menthol) ASAP. As quickly as he and his bureaucrats can work out the right regulations, those fiendish flavours will be barred from Alberta stores’ shelves.

And not content to eradicate only real tobacco, Mandel took up the public health cross against virtual tobacco, too. He pledged to help pressure Ottawa to regulate e-cigarettes, too.

The great American social critic, H. L. Mencken, once wrote that Puritanism was “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

Mencken was thinking mostly of the temperance movement at the time, but his description applies just as well to the modern anti-smoking activist. The tobacco-is-evil Puritan is haunted by the fear that someone, somewhere is putting a pencil-shaped object to their lips and taking a drag.

I’m a non-smoker. Can’t stand smoking. But I can’t stand sanctimonious, finger-wagging health preachers even more.

No one is in doubt anymore that smoking is a very risky behaviour. And non-smokers shouldn’t have to be exposed to it if they don’t want to be.

But if you make a personal choice to smoke, you should be free to do so even if it’s bad for you – so long as you are endangering no one else.

The personal damage you may do to your health does not exceed the damage anti-smokers would do to personal liberty.

And make no mistake, once the anti-smokers have outlawed tobacco (and anything that looks or acts like tobacco), they will not be content to sit back and admire their victory.

They are not the kind of people to leave well enough alone. Next they will go after fatty foods, a drink at dinner out and too-tall soft drinks.

The main argument anti-tobacco temperance crusaders use these days is that this or that product must be banned to keep young people from taking up the habit. Except there is not much evidence that young smokers started the habit because of catchy youth-oriented advertising or “gateway” products such as flavoured tobaccos.

A study released last year by the University of Montreal’s school of public health found three major reasons why people aged 15 to 24 began smoking: “being impulsive, using alcohol regularly, and getting poor grades in school.”

A fourth (lesser) factor was acceptability of smoking in the home. If a parent or close relative smokes and approves of smoking, there is a much greater likelihood of a young person smoking.

Notice that neither glitzy marketing nor Big Tobacco were significant contributors.

Mandel’s call for tighter regulation on “dangerous” e-cigs is doubly puzzling.

The safety or danger of e-cigs is disputed. Some quit-smoking experts contend that while the nicotine in e-cigs is addictive, that is preferable to the nicotine and all the toxins and smoke in real cigarettes.

Meanwhile, public-health killjoys maintain the unregulated vaporizers in e-cigs are a threat to burn users. Moreover, they are also adament that e-cigs will be used by evil tobacco companies to addict young people to nicotine and hook them on real cigarettes.

This makes about as much sense as suggesting that marijuana is a common gateway to heroin.

Mandel would be better off working to reduce surgical waiting lists and free up hospital beds than becoming a mouthpiece for anti-smoking zealotry.

lorne.gunter@sunmedia.com 

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