Government regulations are great, because some people are awful

This is in response to the previously published article “Canada, stop nannying your people.”


The world is in a rocky place right now. We have a bloody war being fought in the Middle East, rapidly spreading viral outbreaks, and a cartoonishly expensive housing market. No, I’m not even going to touch what’s happening in the United States.

But what I think should be somewhere in the bottom third of our concerns right now is how our government is regulating food and tobacco.

While I agree that the government does influence many, if not all, facets of our lives, there’s substantial evidence that we need to regulate some things to prevent average people from being screwed over.

An early-ish example of this is the absolutely terrible, and sometimes fatal, working conditions of the Industrial Revolution. Factories often fined their workers for doing the smallest thing wrong, and forced them to work with horrific chemicals without protective gear. Potential side-effects of working in a match factory included having your jawbones dissolve. It took unions to push for safe working conditions, and even today, plenty of people are still exploited in this way.

Let that sink in for a second: it took innumerable deaths and a political movement to get some employers to (partially) stop being assholes.

But wait; there’s more, even in 2017. When an industry stands to make a lot of money, they tend to push back against pesky things like research that shows their product is making their customers sick. Paper after paper has examined the tobacco industry’s interference with science that showed irrevocably that smoking causes lung cancer and a host of other diseases.

People at some level knew that they were selling something harmful, and they tried to cover it up so people would keep buying it. I know, this sounds like the cliché-ridden plot of a left-leaning Saturday morning cartoon, but it actually happened.

Even now, the industry is pushing back against planned plain packaging legislation that will take effect in Canada in 2017. Tobacco companies are saying that the law, which will replace the remaining part of the cigarette pack label with plain text, is misguided and irrelevant.

But in their internal communications, they’re still reportedly making decisions on branding because sales show that the packaging does matter. Despite what they claim, they care so much that one tobacco manufacturer, JTI-Macdonald Corp, has set up a website and social media campaign called “Both Sides of the Argument” in order to rally opposition against the plain packaging law.

They’ve even done a survey that they say shows broad Canadian opposition to the law, but the company that they hired to do the survey has been criticized for sketchy methods in the past, including cherry-picking the same phone numbers to call repeatedly, leading to an inflation of the same sorts of responses.

When a company is prepared to spend huge amounts of money to keep their skeletons in the closet and generate grassroots style support, I don’t think that everyone will be able to see their product for what it really is.

Obviously, I get that some companies are actually trying to do the right thing. I’m also not saying that everyone who smokes has been ‘duped.’  It’s just that there is a long history of people treating each other like absolute trash. We’ve needed government-level regulations to help protect people from industries in the past, and I really doubt that we’ll stop needing them any time soon.