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Government's Counterproductive War Against Smoking

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Tags Bureaucracy and Regulation

04/20/2019

Canada’s federal government wants cigarettes to self-extinguish when we stop smoking them, believing this will reduce incidents of death and injury from fires caused by careless smoking. Thus, since 2005 the government has mandated the use of reduced ignition propensity (RIP) materials in the manufacture of all cigarettes. However, the government’s high cigarette taxes prompt many smokers to buy non-RIP contraband cigarettes, which, as it turns out, may actually be the safer product.

RIP Cigarettes Counterproductive?

Jack Burt, acting deputy chief of the London, Ontario Fire Department said , “In the 10 years after Canada enforced the rule on self-extinguishing cigarettes, there was a 30 per cent drop in fire deaths associated with cigarette smoke.” Curiously, the same figure was touted by the World Health Organization (WHO), which tells us : “A 2013 report by the United States National Fire Protection Association suggests that the adoption of the RIP standard by US states appears to be the “principal reason for a 30% decline in smoking material fire deaths from 2003 to 2011.”

However, results of a study by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission “suggest that it is premature to conclude that use of the RIP cigarette alone will greatly reduce the threat of unintentional fires ignited by cigarettes involving mattresses or soft furnishings ...” Similarly, an analysis by Injury Prevention notes that “Technical tests show little to no difference between fire safe [RIP] or conventional cigarettes in realistic settings.”

In fact, RIP regulations may even be counterproductive due to side effects of the product, as well as how smokers use the product. In New York, where RIP laws took effect in 2004, smoking-related fire statistics show that “The frequency of a smoker’s home catching on fire has actually increased since the law went into effect.” But if RIP cigarettes increase the likelihood of a fire, why are there fewer fires? Simple. Fewer people are smoking.

From 2001 to 2015, the smoking rate in Canada dropped by 31.7% (see here and here ). Thus, the credit attributed to the government’s RIP regulation appears to be completely overstated. This is not surprising. Governments love to claim credit for events they had nothing to do with.

The Government’s Perspective

In Canada, the government apparently believes in the life saving benefits of its RIP regulation, which was enacted because the government says it “is responsible for helping the people of Canada maintain and improve their health.” But if the government is so concerned about our health, why does it impose onerous taxes on RIP cigarettes, thus pushing many smokers into the supposedly unhealthy non-RIP black market?

The stock answer from politicians and bureaucrats to such logical questions is that they are burdened by the thankless and daunting task of balancing priorities. The political rationale would go something like this: “RIP cigarettes are purchased by a majority of smokers, and high tobacco taxes are turning smokers into ex-smokers. Taxation and regulation have proven to be highly effective.” However, as with the RIP regulation, taxation also appears to be ineffective.

Tobacco Taxes do Not Achieve the Government’s Goal

The government says “Tobacco taxation is known to be one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, and to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people.” Wrong on both counts, as a Financial Post article explains :

Since the sale of contraband tobacco products is illegal, the vendors of such tobacco pay no heed to restrictions on the age of purchasers. So, unsurprisingly, contraband has become a popular source of tobacco consumption for minors.

According to Health Canada [a government agency], 35% of Canadians smoked in 1985. That fell to just over 30% by the early 1990s and has continued to fall almost every year since then regardless of the tobacco tax rate. In fact, the rate of decline in smoking in the eight years following the 1994 tax cut was greater than the decline in the eight years after taxes were raised in 2002.

The government’s own statistics refute its claim that tobacco taxation is an effective way to reduce smoking, yet the taxes remain as a smokescreen to raise revenue for the government.

Conclusion

The efficacy of RIP regulations is very much in doubt, with evidence suggesting they may even be counterproductive. Furthermore, aside from smoking-related-fires, the manner in which RIP cigarettes are manufactured and smoked may actually pose greater risks to the health of smokers as compared to non-RIP cigarettes.

Vaping products are a much healthier alternative for smokers and far less likely to be the source of unintended fires, as compared to RIP and non-RIP cigarettes. However, Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Canada’s Minister of Health, said “We're .. placing restrictions on the promotion of vaping products while allowing adults to legally access them as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes …” So, having acknowledged that cigarettes are more harmful to our health than vaping, the government somehow feels it is prudent to prevent vendors of vaping products from persuading cigarette smokers to kick the habit.

Politicians and bureaucrats appear to be more dangerous to our health than smoking.

Following a 23-year career in the Canadian financial industry, Lee Friday has spent many years studying economics, politics, and social issues. He operates a news site at www.LondonNews1.com

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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