|Montreal, March 6, 2004 / No 139|
by Harry Valentine
Governments worldwide have repeatedly proven that when they create new policies to regulate various sectors of the market, they invariably achieve something other that what was originally intended, usually the opposite. One recent such debacle involves government initiatives aimed at curtailing the rising rate of teenage smoking, by enforcing harsh regulations on retailers to prohibit them from selling tobacco products to minors.
gets in their eyes
In Ontario, minors are teenagers who are under the age of 19, or who appear to be under this age. Retail sales clerks are required to instantly judge the ages of tobacco customers, requesting identification for proof of age for any customer appearing to be under age 30. Failure to do so results in swift and harsh penalties. Tobacco laws are written so as to be "fluid," that is, open to a wide range of interpretation. This allows tobacco inspectors to more easily lay charges and almost consistently ensures successful prosecutions in court.
Tobacco inspectors regularly monitor stores for compliance to the tobacco control act, by sending in teenage "test" customers to purchase tobacco. If the "test" customer manages to purchase tobacco, the sales clerk is fined $180. The store owners are fined up to $2000 each even if they were not physically present in the store during the time of the errant sale. After a second errant tobacco sale within a 5-year period, the store owners forfeit their tobacco license. Tobacco sales account for some 80% of the earnings of small convenience stores. Several small towns have already lost their only convenience and grocery store as a result of a tobacco infraction. The inconvenience caused to senior citizens living in small rural villages seems to be of little consequence to overzealous health officials determined to curtail teenage smoking.
A small percentage of minors may actually purchase tobacco from unsuspecting retailers, often using a variety of innovative and ingenious methods. They may even use the strategies of the tobacco inspectors' teenage "test" customers, making themselves appear much older than they really are except they may produce the identification of an older, but identical looking sibling. Two independent American studies done over the past decade estimated that 80% of under-aged teens actually acquire tobacco from friends, older siblings and sometimes even parents. Despite the fact that only a small minority of minors actually try to buy tobacco from retailers, store owners are regularly being scrutinized and monitored by tobacco inspectors. Tobacco inspectors have even been known to keep teenagers from smoking near school premises, under surveillance during school lunch hours.
Studies into the psychology of modern teenagers have indicated that getting status, acceptance, approval, recognition, and acknowledgement from other teens, that is, popularity amongst peers, is very important to them. Sharing cigarettes and smoking with other teens is one way of gaining this popularity. This is a legitimate emotional need that has been made more urgent due to the adverse effects that a range of misguided state policies have directly and indirectly had on teenagers' lives. A previous article entitled "The State and Rising Youth Gang Violence" (le QL, no 107) showed how such misguided state policies have undermined and broken down the integrity of traditional families, compelling teenagers to turn to peers, including substitute gang "families,” for the acceptance, guidance, approval, re-assurance, acknowledgement and emotional security that they would otherwise have received in the traditional family environment. Indirectly, state policies have created an environment that actually encourages more teenagers to smoke.
The article entitled "State Behaviour Makes the Case for Homeschooling" (le QL, no 126) showed that compelling teenagers to attend boring, irrelevant classes in which they had no interest, has little to do with education. It is intended to develop conformity and submission to state authority by teenagers, using the state curriculum to subtly exert control over their developing minds. State labour laws restrict employment opportunities for teenagers, denying them the option to earn money doing constructive and productive work, activity that could raise the self-worth of many a teenager. By denying teens such opportunities, state action has increased teenage boredom and the resulting problems that go along with it. The article entitled "Ontario's Compulsory 'Volunteer' Community Service" (le QL, no 125) showed that Ontario teens can neither receive academic credit nor a high school diploma without first having fulfilled the terms of what once was a sentence handed down by a judge in a criminal trial. This is the state's approach to giving meaning and purpose to teenagers' lives.
Shortsighted policies and regulations
Teenagers have already been detained in their classrooms during 2-hour lock-downs, during which time school buildings were secured so that police assisted by police dogs, could conduct raids inside school buildings. Such practices may do more to teach teenagers about submission to state authority than respect for the state's shortsighted tobacco or drug laws. Educators, who arrange for teenagers to experience police raids while in school may be preparing them to live in a future police state where few rights and freedoms exist. The rising percentage of teenagers smoking with peers outside school buildings during lunch breaks are the result of direct and indirect state control of and intrusion into teenagers' minds and lives.
Shortsighted policies and regulations that consistently fail have made smoking a meaningful act for teenagers. It is a means by which to connect with their peers and assert some control and ownership over their minds and bodies. This is a statement they are making in increasing numbers including under the watchful eyes of state tobacco inspectors, blatantly illustrating the failure of the tobacco control laws, the failure of anti-smoking initiatives aimed at teenagers, as well as the failure of a multitude of other state youth related programs. Some teenagers have even turned to smoking marijuana, which they can obtain despite its supply being restricted by anti-drug laws.
State action aimed at curtailing the supply of marijuana during a time of high demand, triggered a market mechanism that caused its price to rise. By so doing, the state handed the marijuana trade to the black-market, while the higher prices attracted a violent criminal element into the trade. Selective plant breeding techniques raised its euphoria producing THC content, allowing higher potency (and addictiveness) to be concentrated into smaller packages for easier transport and to reduce the risk of detection. Modern genetic methods can isolate marijuana's single THC producing gene, even transplant it into other plant species. Tobacco plants can also be selectively bred to increase the addictive nicotine levels, while modern genetic techniques can also isolate the nicotine producing genes and transplant them into other plant species. Tobacco and marijuana plants can also be grown in suitable, specialised indoor environments.
State action aimed at restricting tobacco sales during a time of high or increasing demand would cause its price to rise along with its addictive nicotine content. Potentially lucrative opportunities in a black market tobacco trade would result. Several municipalities have banned smoking in local bars, nightclubs and restaurants, businesses which have seen their monthly revenues reduced by up to several thousands of dollars. Their staffing and staff work hours were reduced. Other businesses, including a few convenience stores that ran afoul of tobacco laws, have closed their doors. Municipalities enforcing anti-smoking bylaws are now collecting less in total business tax and commercial property tax revenues. Faced with serious budgetary shortfalls, some municipalities are now looking into selling off assets, cutting services, privatizing some services, raising property taxes and even appealing to higher levels of government for fiscal help.
Despite the mainstream news media having recently reported increases in teenage smoking, public health officials and state-sponsored anti-smoking crusaders are claiming success in their efforts to curtail teenaged smoking. Their pamphlets even cite statistics indicating reduced tobacco sales by retailers to minors. But minors have other means to obtain cigarettes, a fact that state regulators seem to have missed.
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