A failed astroturf effort by the tobacco industry

The web site mychoice.ca went online in September, 2004 with the claim to represent Canada's five million adult smokers.

Actually, mychoice.ca represented the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council. They put up $2.5 million to get it started, and paid the salaries of the president and its other employees for the duration of its existence. (Two of the CTMC's members later withdrew financial support, and British American Tobacco paid the full cost.)

Mychoice.ca was run by Deacey Public Affairs Consultants Inc. of Ottawa. The initial president, hired by the CTMC, was Nancy Daigneault. She was later replaced by Arminda Mota. Mychoice.ca never held any sort of election, and there was no involvement by the membership in the running of the organization.

Daigneault claimed that mychoice.ca had 40,000 members. This didn't fool anyone. There were no dues, and no membership cards. There was a forum on the site that had about 20 active participants, and a rally organized in Niagara Falls drew six participants.

Mychoice.ca was PR for the tobacco industry, and it wasn't successful. The tobacco industry discontinued financial support for it in December, 2008, and in the absence of any financial support from the membership, the web site shut down shortly after.

Why mychoice.ca didn't work

Mychoice.ca was set up so that Daigneault and Mota could send out press releases claiming to speak for smokers, and lobby government officials, primarily in Ontario. To its credit, the press had no trouble figuring out that mychoice.ca was an obvious tobacco industry front, and didn't give it very much coverage. (CBC News did run a story on The National once.) As for government officials, you don't win them over to your point of view by calling them names and threatening them, and there was a lot of this going on in the mychoice.ca forum. The RCMP was alerted several times to threats made on the forum. One of them was a “star of death” awarded to a female employee of Ontario Ministry of Health.

Is smoking really "my choice"?

Finally, there is the point that the tobacco industry was trying to sell: taking up smoking and continuing to smoke is a personal choice that people make. This in itself is debatable; is obesity also a personal choice? What the tobacco industry never tells you is that owning an automobile is a personal choice. Automobiles are expensive, and heavily taxed. Owners need to pass a test and get a licence in order to drive one. They are required to buy insurance. When they are driving, they are required to obey speed limits, stop for red lights and pedestrian crossings, and use turn signals. These rules are enforced by police, and violators can be fined, or even sent to jail. Drivers are also prohibited from driving on other people's lawns, and from rolling down the window and tossing out trash or lighted matches. In this context, is it unreasonable that the sale of cigarettes is taxed and regulated? And that there are restrictions on where cigarettes can be consumed?

This historical record brought to you by Airspace Action on Smoking and Health

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