Ever since I quit smoking other people’s cigarettes over 30 years ago, I’ve been known to be dead against smoking. I think that’s why I was recently offered the job of managing the new Smoke Police Department. I accepted it. A gentleman known only as Zorba, a deputy in the office of the Honourable George Smitherman, the Ontario minister of health and long-term care, was to brief me.
The interview took place at Queen’s Park on the fifth floor in a large room where they used to censor films. Zorba, a short, volatile man, loudly told me: “We want to stop the number one preventable killer in Ontario!” I exclaimed: “You mean abortion?” He looked at me sadly: “No, I don’t mean abortion. I mean smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. It kills 16,000 people in Ontario every year.”
“Well, Zorba,” I said. “That makes it number two. Abortion kills 60,000 people every year in Ontario.”
“Alright,” Zorba said unhappily. “Make it number two then. The government of Ontario has introduced a bill that would make all workplaces and enclosed public places smoke-free by May 31, 2006. Smoking is linked to many cancers, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Patients with tobacco-related diseases eat up more than 500,000 hospital days each year. The cost to Ontario is more than $1.7 billion a year. That’s outrageous!”
“Zorba, don’t forget the outrageous cost of abortions to the taxpayers of Ontario.”
“Get off that! Your job is to see that The Smoke-Free Ontario Act is implemented.”
“Wait a minute, Zorba! The law hasn’t been passed yet.”
“Many municipalities have passed by-laws restricting smoking already, but this act is much more encompassing,” said Zorba. “There will be a debate on this act before it’s passed. In the meantime, we are widely enforcing municipal bylaws.”
“That’s good of us,” I said.
“And your department’s job is to enforce the ban that’s in effect now,” Zorba said. “We propose to ban smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places, such as restaurants, bars, casinos, private clubs and work vehicles and to eliminate designated smoking rooms. Your Smoke Police Department is to search out all by-law violators and lay charges. Show them no mercy.”
Zorba stopped and reached into his desk. He got out a long, hollow plastic tube with a syringe on the end and gave it to me.
“This is a smoking cigarette extinguisher. We have made hundreds of them. If all else fails, this is to be used on all illegal smokers.”
I said: “What science won’t think of next!”
Zorba continued: “Many consider this project an overkill, but our goal is praiseworthy. Save the lungs of millions of people, whether they want to have them saved or not. Don’t take no for an answer.”
“Well I’ll do my best,” I said unenthusiastically.
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Say, how did you get this job?”
“I came across a picture of George Smith …”
“Never mind,” Zorba interrupted me. “I can imagine. Stop pointing that thing at me. Hey! You’re getting me all wet.”
I came back three months later to report on my department.
“Well, Zorba, I’ll give you the bad news first. One of my lieutenants sprayed a roomful of cigarette smoking middle-aged bingo players with your cigarette extinguisher and if he hadn’t been a former professional long distance runner, he’d’ve been one of our department’s first martyrs.
“Do you remember the campaign we are conducting to stop tobacco companies using the term ‘light’? One of my lieutenants got in touch with the Coors beer people about the campaign and Coors was afraid that it might lead to banning Coors ‘light.’ They were prepared to spend millions of dollars fighting the province of Ontario to protect the term ‘light.’ Back off, Zorba. I warn you. Coors has more money than Prince Edward Island.
“Another of my lieutenants addressed a large gathering of tobacco farmers in Brant County recently and urged them to stop growing tobacco in the interest of the health of Ontario residents. They all agreed and he led a torch parade and burned all the tobacco crops to the ground. The farmers are now waiting for government assistance.”
Zorba screamed hysterically.
“That’s enough. What’s the good news?” Zorba asked.
“The good news is that I’ve quit and the 300 members of my department have quit too and are coming here for their severance pay.”