Saturday, April 26, 2014

Smoking Challenges China's Prosperity

   Industrial smog isn’t the only health hazard threatening the future of China. Tobacco smoke is killing an estimated one million Chinese every year and smoking related disease is straining the country’s health care system.
   There are 365 million tobacco smokers in China consuming close to 40 per cent of the world’s cigarettes. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey has shown that 52.9 per cent of Chinese men and 2.4 per cent of the women smoke.
    Getting so many millions of people to quit smoking is a gargantuan task. Compounding the task is a sad fact: Chinese governments, like Canadian governments, are addicted to tobacco revenue. Revenues from tobacco taxes and tobacco production account for fifteen per cent of the Chinese central government’s annual revenue, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The annual budgets of Chinese cities in agricultural areas are hugely dependent on tobacco revenue.
   There are millions of tobacco growers in China and the state-owned China National Tobacco Corp. produces two of every five cigarettes produced worldwide. So millions of Chinese are dependent on tobacco money.
   Reducing smoking to save lives and reduce health costs means flirting with economic disaster. That’s why Chinese tobacco policies have been so contradictory.
   Anti-tobacco crusaders outside China have suggested replacing tobacco crops with food crops. The idea is that as tobacco crops dwindle, the state tobacco company will have to pay higher prices to alternative tobacco sources. Paying more for tobacco leaf will mean having to raise consumer tobacco prices. Higher retail prices are touted as a means of getting people to quit smoking.
   Canada has tried that. And, Canada has a continuing contraband tobacco problem.
   Canada also tried crop replacement in 2008, forcing a majority of tobacco farmers out of business. However, since then the Canadian tobacco growing business is growing again with production up 140 per cent by some estimates.
Smoke Shack in SOntario - Ron Poling
   Much of that new growth has been in southern Ontario where Grand River Enterprises on the Six Nations Reserve has developed into a major cigarette producer. It has a contract to supply 12 million pounds of tobacco to China.

   Higher taxes and more law enforcement are not the most effective ways to reduce smoking rates. The most effective tool in getting people to stop smoking is education. It’s a long and slow and difficult process but it works. 
   The good news from China is that the country is making a start in that direction.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Starving Writer Story

   Except for a small literary elite, Canadian writers are starving. More Canadians are being published than ever before, but very few are earning enough to keep themselves fed. Dozens of first-time authors appear daily because of the relative ease and small expense of self-publishing, but few even recover their costs. 
   Publishers Weekly reports the number of self-published titles in the U.S. jumped from 133,036 in 2010 to 211,269 in 2011. There are no provable figures for Canada.
   Traditional book publishers continue to struggle meanwhile, with authors suffering smaller advances, smaller royalties and smaller promotional efforts. For most writers it is impossible to earn even a basic living writing books.
    One place where it is easier is Norway. In that country of five million people the Arts Council of Norway buys 1,000 copies of every new book published and distributes them to libraries. The authors receive royalties on those copies. More than one-half of the Norwegian population aged nine to 79 uses a public library and the Norwegian literacy rate is said to be about 100 per cent.
    Also helpful: books are not subject to Value Added Taxes and there generally is no charge for anyone to attend a public university. Norway, like some other European countries also bans deep discounting of books.
    In Canada, books are subject to taxes, deep discounting is rampant and the Supreme Court has allowed educators to photocopy books without compensating the authors.
    Hundreds of thousands of words could be written on how a combination of neglect and bad policy is killing the Canadian writer.
    However, one fact taken from 2011 Statistics Canada data clearly illustrates the problem: There now are 4.1 public relations professionals for every journalist in Canada. So, the number of people being paid to tell you what their companies want you to hear is rising against a declining number of people who try to get you the unvarnished facts.
   More and more people who set out to be writers are becoming public relations professionals because being a journalist or an independent writer has become a hard way to keep food on the table.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Missing Middle Ground

   It is an increasingly polarized world in which we live. The search for middle ground through intelligent debate has gone missing. One example:
   Dick Metcalf, one of North America’s best known gun journalists, has been shunned and banished. He was fired from Guns and Ammo magazine where he was the back page columnist. His TV show on firearms was cancelled.
   Metcalf became a pariah in the sporting arms community because he wrote a column last December titled Let’s Talk Limits. It raised the argument that some gun regulation is not an infringement of the U.S. Second Amendment granting the right to bear arms.
   “The fact is all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be,” he wrote.
   Guns and Ammo fired him after hearing from readers and a gun industry that  will not tolerate discussion of gun regulation. Metcalf received death threats.
   He isn’t the first gun journalist banished for trying to broaden the discussion on regulating guns. Jim Zumbo, one of the more famous names in sport shooting and hunting, was banished after he posted in 2007 an Outdoor Life blog saying that military style weapons are terrorist weapons best avoided by hunters.
   The Canadian gun control debate has followed the other extreme: regulate every aspect of guns in an effort to make all guns disappear. Fortunately, debate has been allowed and has resulted in some sanity being restored to gun control. The federal government has dismantled the stupidly bureaucratic and costly gun registry while maintaining licensing of gun owners and rules for training and safe storage.
   More changes are needed in Canada to create a system that is fairer for legitimate sporting arms owners while ensuring public safety. One change needed is to remove gun control decisions from the RCMP and give it to a competent civilian authority. 
    Meanwhile, how Americans deal with their gun issues is their business and they will work them out in their own way.  The shame is that any discussion of gun control is smothered even when it comes from gun enthusiasts and Second Amendment defenders like Metcalf and Zumbo.