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Friday, 21 March 2008

TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION

Although smokers dish out 75% on taxes on every pack of cigarettes they purchase, they are invited to stay out of any decisions taken on their behalf -- decisions that affect their daily life, their health, their wallet and their future. It is certainly a case of taxation without representation.

Mychoice.ca, the Canadian smokers’ rights organization, had issued a press release to this effect on June 17, 2005 that summarized quite eloquently how smokers are consistently and deliberately left out of the discussions:

Excerpts of the press release:

June 17, 2005 - The National Conference on Tobacco or Health being held in Ottawa June 19-22 is a triumph of ideology and propaganda over logic and accurate information as the basis for laws against smokers in Canada. “The publicly funded conference is an abuse of tax dollars as it uses them to establish laws against a minority while denying that minority a place at the table,” Nancy Daigneault, president of Canada’s largest smokers’ rights group, mychoice.ca, said today. ………….

“If the government really wants smokers to quit and to promote health, then why wouldn’t they at least invite smokers to the table? Smokers have a vested interest in the formulation of policies that directly affect them. To deny them an opportunity to be at the table indicates the contempt policy makers have for smokers, ” said Ms. Daigneault.

Mr. Simon Clark, director of the European smokers’ rights group Forest, recently attempted to sit at the table of one such meetings. The account on how he was treated, that we linked to below, is an eye-opener that raises more questions than it answers.

If you feel that smokers should participate in discussions affecting all spheres of their life and that what they have to say is just as, if not more, important than what Pfizer, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline and some other self-serving participants, then please write to your MP’s and MPP’s and demand that a group or several groups representing smokers, be not only invited but welcomed. You can find their addresses here:

Excerpts from: Smoking bans and open government? EU couldn't make it up

Hilarious! That’s the only word for it (although I can think of a few others). I don’t, as a rule, use blogs to report private meetings and conversations, but here’s what happened when I attended a meeting in Brussels yesterday of “EU experts, civil society and social partners to support the Commission’s Impact Assessment on the forthcoming initiative on smoke-free environments”:

I sensed, as soon as I entered the room and introduced myself (“Hello, I’m Simon Clark – from the smokers’ lobby group Forest”), that there could be trouble. The guy from Pfizer (yes, the pharmaceutical company) didn’t look pleased, and there were mutterings from some of the other delegates. (There were around 20 in all.)

No surprise then, when, as soon as the meeting began, and we had all formally identified ourselves, two or three hands shot up. As I suspected, some of my fellow delegates were none too happy that a representative of Forest was in the room. If I didn’t leave, said one, she would. Others nodded their heads in agreement.

The facilitator (chairwoman) looked at me. “Sorry,” I said, “I’m not trying to be difficult because I know some of you have come a long way for this meeting, but Forest represents adults who choose to smoke and tolerant non-smokers like me. The consumer is entitled to be represented in the political process. So, on a point of principle, I’m not going to leave.”

Compromise

And that was how it stood until the facilitator suggested a compromise – of sorts. I could stay for the presentation and return to have my say at the end of the meeting. For the duration of the “facilitated discussion”, however, I would have to leave the room. (For some reason the other delegates didn’t want me to hear what they had to say. So much for transparent, open government! What do these people have to hide?)
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And so, at the end of the meeting, after the other delegates had left, I was invited back in and given 15 minutes to answer questions and make our views abundantly clear. Amusingly, even this session didn’t go entirely smoothly. At one point, having pointed out the flaws in the “evidence” on passive smoking, I was asked to apologise (seriously!) by a woman who said she was an epidemiologist with a degree at Harvard. (So what? as Ed Balls might say.) Apparently my comments had upset her, poor soul. (Don’t worry, I didn’t apologise.)
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Participants

Pfizer, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline (all pharmaceutical companies), Eurofound (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions), InwatEurope (International Network of Women against Tobacco), International Health and Social Affairs Office, NHS Health Scotland, Business Europe, EUN, HOTREC (representing hotels, restaurants and cafes in Europe), AESGP (Association of the European Self-Medication Industry), SFP (Smoke-Free Partnership) and EHN (European Heart Network).

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