Friday, 26 October 2007

Tobacco & Health, v1: Tax Policy

As some of you know I am involved with a course run through the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. Discussions in this class cover a pretty decent snapshot of the tobacco cessation debate from genetics, farming, engineering, pharmacology, policy, marketing, and organized crime. While it is an elective for me, I am enjoying the class and am learning new things every week. In this Tobacco & Health series of notes, I'll be putting out random statements on different elements of the debate which I've found particuarely interesting.

Would love to hear any thoughts or experiences ya'll might have on the subject!
Now to the subject matter at hand ...

In the past decade we have seen gradual increases to cigarette taxes, which is a trend that will likely continue for some time. Increases in the purchase price of cigarettes in Ontario has been fundamental to recent tobacco control efforts, as well as a key factor in preventing more and more young people from developing smoking habits in the first place. But while the benefits of such policies have been widespread for the general public, certain marginalized subsets of the population have been adversely affected.

One such group of individuals are those with mental health comorbidities - that is, people living with a mental health illness who are also addicted to cigarettes. While price increases have lead to reductions in the amount purchased by the average smoker, it has been documented that this has not only not been the case with mental health consumers - but that many of them are willing to spend higher and higher percentages of their incomes on cigarette purchases. The resulting effect is that higher cigarette taxes without additional supports puts far too many of these individuals deeper into poverty and leads to greater dependence on the system.

In public policy, there is no perfect legislation. Even the best policies that benefit the most will still work against the interests of some. In the tobacco context, while I am strongly in favour of raising the price tag on cigarettes to as high a level as we can go - I wouldn't think of doing it on its own without it happening alongside effective harm reduction programs that are easily accessible and appropriately targets those who will be most adversely affected by it.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Last week's news ...

There was a big news day this past week that I've been meaning to comment on - but it's taken me a few days to find enough procrastination time to write about it! Wednesday 17 October, 2007 was the date, where three stories in particular peaked my interest - and no, I'm not even touching the ridiculousness of the Federal Throne speech and the Opposition responses to it=)

So from Health, to Foreign Affairs, to Jobs, here we go ...


Researchers from the University of British Columbia reported the results of a large Epidemiological study indicating that while the daily consumption of Aspirin, a popular blood thinner, can reduce the risk of heart attack in men by a substantial 25%, it confers virtually no benefit to women. While I haven't personally reviewed the study - if follow up research confirm their findings, it will have major implications for Canadian women as millions of people across the country from both sexes currently take Aspirin as a way to prevent the onset of a heart attack. It is difficult to say why the practice started in the first place if the evidence wasn't there to support it - but it has been a widely held belief for many years that a daily dose of Aspirin can prevent heart complications. Perhaps there was solid evidence in the past, but those studies only looked at male subjects. Perhaps there was a clever marketing effort by the makers of Aspirin that caught on and gave people hope. Whatever the case, unless these findings are promoted in a better way, millions of women will continue to spend their money on a product that might not be doing them any good.


For the first time in over 25 years, the US has announced a major shift in its Naval strategy, with a key priority now being humanitarian missions around the world and how this can help improve international cooperation with affected countries. This is welcome news for myself and some old colleagues. After the Indian Ocean Tsunami, the logistical expertise of military actors in South Asia were critical to so many relief operations in helping reach tens of thousands of people boxed in from the outside world by the destruction and debris caused by The Wave. In this regard, the US Navy proved incredibly valuable, and in particular, the resources provided by the USS Mercy Hospital and the USS Abraham Lincoln Aircraft Carrier enabled a type of humanitarian relief programming that had not been possible in previous post disaster environments. During these times, we'd often engage in debate over how the world's powers had struggled with what to do with such massive militaries after the Cold War, and just how well matched they are suited for working through the many logistical and security dilemmas present in complex humanitarian emergencies. The general reality with all of this, unfortunately, is that providing humanitarian relief is not what they have been designed for! In now seeing that they have learned, however, the potential diplomatic benefits involved with helping others manage a crises, perhaps a new chapter is indeed being written and we will hopefully see more of it.


There is a new proposal being debated in the manufacturing sector that would tie the salaries of workers to the rise and fall of the Canadian dollar. The seemingly endless rise in strength of the "Loonie" this past year has presented a host of new constraints on exporters who do most of their business in the reciprocally weak US currency. So what's the proposal? Well details remain vague, but they are trying to develop a system that would allow employee wages to increase or decrease should further changes in the dollar significantly impact on sales/profits. As most middle class Canadians depend on a consistent income to plan their lives around - a change in how their salaries' are determined such as this probably wouldn't do too much for the long term stability they are looking for!! This is especially so seeing as the strength or weakness of the dollar is generally far out of the influence of any one person or employer.

COOL RUNNINGS, v4: Toronto

It's been a week now since the Toronto International Half Marathon and the legs are still in recovery mode. The good news is that I hit my time goal with a 1hr 39min 11sec chip time (1hr 40min 10sec gun time) for a 387th place showing (of 3494 finishers). It wasn't just me though - I don't know if it was the layout of the route, later start time, or general atmosphere, but everybody I knew who ran this race seemed to have done really well and were happy with their efforts. Even a last minute entry that I knew from someone who not only hadn't trained for it, but ran with a partially injured foot, put up an impressively strong performance. It was simply an all 'round good day.

With this being the last competition before Jamiaca, I've been thinking more about how to mentally approach the long one. I've realized these past few weeks that I really enjoy the half marathon distance and can see myself running at this level more and more in the years to come. As for the full 42.2Km run, however, it's a much different beast, and I don't think I'll be aiming for any particular crazy time goal or anything like that. My current philosophy is to keep training hard from home to get in as best shape as possible so that I can run it comfortably and have some fun out there - to enjoy the race instead of simply surviving it! From what I've heard from last year's runners, the course they've chosen is a gorgeous one, hugging Negril's Seven Mile Beach - one of the most famed coastlines in all the Caribbean, and I plan on soaking up every minute of it to the sounds of chill reggae music with the sun shining from above.

Only six weeks to go now of training and tapering till we board that jet plane. The NCFC crew from Regina are doin their thing well too and have been running just as hard. After competing in their final tune up in Kelowna a couple weeks back, they're looking strong as we enter the final 40 days of this madness. Not that anyone's counting.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Ontario Votes ...

With the Liberals earning an even larger majority government, the New Democrats increasing their seat count, and the Green Party quadrupling their popular vote to a record 8% - it seems as if every political party except for the PC's has reason to celebrate the results of this past Wednesday. For the Conservatives, however, they got their butts kicked, and John Tory is taking a serious beating in the press for leading them to a distant second.

As his resignation seems all the more imminent - when thinking about his tenure I get reminded of an episode from The West Wing, where a political strategist tells Republican candidate for President (played by Alan Alda) that he is the best thing to have ever happened to the Democratic Party because his presence brought his party closer to the political center. With respect to Ontario politics I see Tory as having played a similar role these past three years in leading the PCs toward the center on many issues - with the Liberals, NDPs, and the province in general greatly benefiting from this during debate. But alas, like all political trends - this one will surely end before long.

What happens next with the PCs is anyone's guess. But they have broad support, a large donor base, and will no doubt return as a political force in 2011 - probably with a leader emerging once again from the far right. So for the rest of us - now is the time to go back to work and get something done so that they won't have a chance when that happens!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Voting - Must we all?

As we approach another round of provincial elections in Ontario, and as I've been joining the ranks of canvassers telling people to go out and vote - I increasingly wonder whether or not it really is something everybody should be doing. I mean, in an ideal world all of us would be civic minded, informed on the issues and motivated to vote for the candidate that's best suited to represent our needs and wants. But that really isn't the world we live in now, is it?

My thoughts on this are somewhat framed around two groups of people - those who are uninformed and uninterested in politics and don't plan on voting, and those who are highly informed/interested but plan to symbolically abstain or not vote because they are simply unhappy with all of their choices for candidates/parties.

Even though both groups have distinctly different reasons for keeping away from the ballot box, many of them will in fact follow their gut and stay away. But a good chunk of them won't be able to escape at least some inevitable promotional effort for them to hit the polls - and some of these will take the bait. Of those who do end up voting 'for the sake of voting' and check a name that they are not personally happy with - the potential consequences can be pretty darn big seeing as we've got close races at all political levels these days, and that they could inadvertently help put a government in power that could end up screwing them in return.

So I'm a little torn - part of me still feels as if we would all be better off if everybody voted, yet a growing part of me feels like a bad vote can be far worse than a non vote.

Where do ya'll stand on this one?

Saturday, 6 October 2007


So we passed the first big test with last weeks 21.1 Km Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon. I came in at 1hr42min for 593rd place of 5364 runners in this event ... I was quite pleased in being able to maintain my pace from the Midsummer's run, especially as I was slow out the blocks from not exactly doing the greatest job at pre race bathroom management! That'll definitely change for next Sunday ... we're somewhat sandwiched between two big races these days with the Toronto International approaching quickly on 14 October. They say two weeks really isn't enough time to improve much on a time - but with better race morning eating habits plus more downhill on the the course, I'll take a shot at breaking into the 1hr30's.

What was nice about the Scotia run though was that it was a relatively flat course, much like what the Reggae will be like in December. I have come to quickly respect the value of incorporating hill training into one's workouts. I've been running up quite a bit of hills this summer, and though it pisses one off how slowly it takes to finish a run with proper uphill sections - it preps you real well for those flat/paved runs so that come race day you feel like you're flying! Now that is not to say I'll be going nearly as fast come Jamaica - 42.2Km is bloody long!! I used to think that these half's would help me think of a realistic time goal for the long one, but after Sunday I'm not so sure ... a couple buds I've run with this summer who are generally much stronger than me at the 21K distance ran the full marathon and clocked in around 3hr49min. Sure it's not feasible to expect to keep the half pace over a proper 42K, but it's tough to judge just how much slower you're actually gonna be when doing it ... I've got a couple mths yet and I'm only now getting into the really longer training distances, but for the moment I think I might be shooting for 3hr45 - we'll see how that changes!