Public health regulations frequently serve exclusively to prevent legal capitalistic acts between consenting adults. But the fact that prohibition’s history is a history of failure never stops the good people in the public health establishment from promoting the next ban, or the next one after that.
This brings us to the tobacco display ban, which would require shopkeepers to hide all tobacco products from sight.
Since the UK battle commenced over tobacco displays, those in favour have confidently argued that a ban here would have the same outcome as display bans in other countries, especially Canada. We continue to be promised that, critically, a display ban will reduce youth smoking.
What has the Canadian ban on tobacco retail displays done for public health in that country? Analysing the data produced by Health Canada leads me to conclude that display bans do not lead to lower rates of youth smoking. Nowhere – anywhere – in Canada is it possible to find evidence that display bans result in less youth smoking. Adult smoking is equally unaffected by display bans.
To be fair, however, I must acknowledge that display bans do have a positive impact upon youth cigarette consumption. By positive, though, I don’t mean good. By positive, I mean display bans boost the average number of cigarettes consumed daily. In the province of Nova Scotia, for example, youth consumption jumped 15% in the two years after introducing a display ban. Nationally, smoking among 11-15 years olds rose 46% and smoking among 15-18 year olds rose 16% between 2007 and 2009, according to Health Canada’s biannual survey released last month.
My statistical analysis comparing smoking prevalence before and after the implementation of display bans in the relevant provinces shows display bans are associated with increased prevalence for both young people and adults in Canada and no decline in consumption.
Any careful reading and balanced assessment of the Canadian situation can only conclude that Canada’s display bans have been harmful to her public health.
Click here to download Patrick Basham’s report, “Canada’s ruinous tobacco display ban: economic and public health lessons”.