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Ruling rightly blames adults for teen addictions, says Linda McQuaig

The Toronto Star, LINDA MCQUAIG, Oct. 9, 2005

The tobacco industry and its supporters have long insisted that smoking is simply a matter of "individual choice."

They note that the dangers of smoking are well-known, and yet people choose to smoke anyway — just like people choose to drive cars even though they realize many die in car accidents, and people eat junk food even though they know that can cause heart problems.

But cigarettes are in a class by themselves when it comes to their sheer killing power. Fully half the people who take up smoking on a long-term basis will die from it. That can't be said of driving cars or eating potato chips.

FurtherRead More it meaningful to talk of "individual choice" with a product notorious for its addictiveness?

Many a child made the "choice" to become a lifelong smoker at the age of 13 or even younger, when offered a cigarette in a schoolyard or hanging out at a mall, long before he or she could possibly appreciate the consequences to be faced 30 or 40 years later.

A recent Canadian study showed more than 90 per cent of adult smokers say they regret their decision to start smoking.

Getting young people hooked on smoking has long been the bread and butter of the tobacco industry.

Companies have gone to great lengths to present smoking as the symbol of coolness and rebellion — something highly seductive to teenagers. When governments have blocked marketing and selling to teenagers, the industry has figured out other ways to get their logos in front of young eyes; like sponsoring music and sports events.

Internal tobacco company documents have shown that targeting teens has been a key industry strategy.

So the notion of "individual choice" in becoming a lifelong cigarette addict is dubious.

Even Read More ..bious is the notion of "individual choice" when it comes to paying the $4 billion health-care bill of smoking-related diseases, which kill 47,000 Canadians a year.

Clearly this financial burden isn't shouldered just by individual smokers, but by all Canadians, whose taxes pay for our public health-care system.

So it's encouraging that the Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously upheld a B.C. law allowing the province to sue cigarette makers to recover smoking-related health care costs. The court saw evidence showing that for decades the tobacco industry actively covered up its own research showing how lethal smoking is.

The ruling could direct some badly needed cash into our health-care system.

Read More ..portantly, it could pave the way for far-reaching reforms that would make it difficult for cigarette manufacturers to profit from hooking young smokers. One option urged by Non-Smokers' Rights Association would be to penalize tobacco companies based on the number of customers under the age of 19.

Ultimately, the court ruling clarifies that the blame for the nation's overflowing cancer wards belongs not on uninformed 13-year-olds, but on the well-informed adults mapping out marketing strategies in the boardrooms of the tobacco industry.

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator