Saturday, February 19, 2011

National Contrasts

China must surely be one of the few countries of the world that encourages its citizens to smoke. The national revenues acquired through taxation of tobacco and the fact that the government itself is inextricably involved in tobacco production as a revenue-retrieving renewable crop seems to be paramount. Incentives are given generously to farmers who grow tobacco. Farmers are able, in China, to make a better living growing food crops than tobacco, but they are encouraged to grow tobacco crops by government agencies.

At times of drought, precious water for irrigation of tobacco leaf growth will be made available through government auspices for tobacco growers, but will be withheld from farmers growing food crops. China is the largest tobacco producer in the world, producing approximately one-third of world output. Most of which is processed into cigarettes meant strictly for domestic consumption. Of a population of roughly 1.3-billion, it is estimated that over 320-million Chinese are smokers, and another half-billion suffer from second-hand effects as 'passive smokers'.

All the dreaded health hazards associated with smoking are visited upon Chinese smokers no less than elsewhere in the world. Elsewhere in the world, however, national governments, in recognition of the deadly effects of tobacco on human health, have taken strenuous efforts to warn their populations of the cumulative and deadly morbidity rates in long-term smoking. Whereas in China that national conscience has yet to emerge.

Reason: representing less than 1% of sown agricultural land, tobacco growing and manufacturing processes, generated about 95 billion in tax and profit a decade ago for the government. Contrasted with less than half that, at 40 billion to tax revenues through the entire agricultural sector. Taxes and profit from tobacco production result in 15% of net income for the government.
Compelling reason for the state to hold back on warning consumers of deleterious health effects.

And in Canada, the government has launched through Health Canada, a new set of impressively graphic health warnings to be printed both on the exterior and interior of cigarette packages. "Canada is the only country in the world that actually takes over the inside of the package as well as the outside", explained Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. "This is really innovative."

Under the draft legislation Tobacco companies will be compelled to use four toxic emission messages to be included on the side panels of cigarette packages, along with a choice of 12 new images meant to cover 75% of the outside panels of packages. To be effective and in place by year's end. And the eight new health messages which will be appearing, in full colour,on the inside of packages.

Effectively resulting in Canada's newest efforts to emphatically get the damaged-health message across to the smoking public. To take full effect at the distributor and retail levels by 2012.

In Canada, taxes on tobacco sales were increased years ago, in an effort to make smoking less affordable, to encourage smokers to reduce their smoking habit. And to encourage adolescents to understand that this is an expensive habit, one that will hit their disposable income as well as their future health. Because of the politics involved in dealing with illegal production and sale of unauthorized contraband cigarettes in the aboriginal community, Canada has a severe hiccough in its meaningful attacks on cigarette consumption.

Aboriginal, First Nations communities that advertise themselves as 'sovereign', under their own laws and recognizance, oppose federal government interference in their production and sale of illicit tobacco. The new packaging rules will not, as a result, apply to contraband cigarettes produced on aboriginal reserves, despite their accounting for 20% of the Canadian market. And aimed in large part, at consumption by young people for whom the far lower cost is critical.

The First Nations reserves, in other words, acting in moral compliance and ethical agreement with the Government of China - intent on enhancing their incomes - considering as irrelevant to their larger purpose the impact on peoples' health, well enough recognized through scientific enquiry and medical research.

Impartial, non-subjective values. Submission to the overriding concern of revenue enhancement. Responsible governance. Seen otherwise: people do have the privilege of invoking personal choice, responsibility, pride in the useful virtue of intelligent choices.

Labels: , , , ,

Follow @rheytah Tweet