In Nelson, Ontario, a row recently kicked off over some tobacco plants being grown in an office window, but which health authorities ordered removed under the argument they were "promoting tobacco and smoking to children."
According to The Province, Michael Chesney, owner and publisher of the Comment Canada magazine received a letter from the Interior Health Authority threatening fines of $575 if he didn't cease and desist displaying the tobacco plants within 48 hours.
To further complicate matters, it seems that there was some confusion over whether tobacco plants themselves were the problem, or whether the real issue was a handwritten sign saying "Tobacco For President" that accompanied them:
Jennifer Jacobsen, a team leader with Interior Health, said the plants were not really the problem.
“We received a complaint that there was signage in the business promoting tobacco use, which would be a contravention of the [Tobacco Control] Act,” she said. Jacobsen didn’t know what the sign said, but acknowledged all Chesney had to do was remove it, not the plants.
“In retrospect, we could have done a better job explaining our obligations under the act and our concerns to the business owner,” she said.
This is hardly a clear cut case. The environmental and social impacts of smoking are well known, and there are few who would argue against sensible regulation of such a widely used and harmful drug. Whether one reads this as necessary enforcement of safeguards against nicotine addiction, or a simple case of government overreach, will be a matter of much debate.
Chesney (who apparently denies knowledge of who made the sign) was hardly unaware of the controversy his plants could ignite. While not a smoker himself, he is a proponent of freedom of choice and says that he would one day like to develop his own tobacco product that is less harmful than conventional cigarettes. He also pointed out that his plants were an ancient variety of tobacco which is held as sacred by some Native American tribes.
"I made my point," he told The Province.