N.S. store owner loses tobacco battle in court
A Nova Scotia tobacco store owner says he plans to close up shop after losing a constitutional challenge today.
“Today is a sad day for everybody,” says Bob Gee, who owns Mader's Tobacco Store in Kentville. “It’s not just a lost cause, it’s a loss to democracy.”
Gee was charged for failing to comply with storage and display requirements under the Tobacco Access Act in July 2009.
The Tobacco Access Act prohibits Nova Scotia's vendors from advertising and prominently displaying tobacco products behind store counters.
The government says the legislation is critical in protecting the health and safety of young people, non-smokers, and smokers who want to quit.
“In 2001, I believe we had about a 30 per cent smoking rate in the province,” says Health and Wellness Minister Dave Wilson. “We’re about 12 per cent now, a record low in our province.”
Gee argued the charges of illegally storing and displaying tobacco products violated his Charter rights and challenged the ban on displaying tobacco in court.
In August 2010, the court supported his claim that the act infringed on his right to freedom of expression.
But today a judge dismissed the challenge, saying the infringement is necessary for the public good, which delighted a coalition of health groups.
“It’s a very important victory for public health that will have benefits for Nova Scotia and an influence across Canada,” says Canadian Cancer Society spokesman Rob Cunningham. “The legislation is extremely important to reduce smoking, to protect youth, to make it easier for ex-smokers to reduce their cravings.”
The judge also said Gee’s challenge failed because there is no safe level of tobacco use.
“Tobacco’s a legal product. The government is collecting 75 per cent of the money that we handle in tax dollars and I would like to know just where they’re coming from regarding the tobacco issue,” says Gee. “If they don’t want tobacco on the market, make it illegal and get it done with.”
Gee will also be required to pay some reduced fines.
“There’s legal options but it would probably be much more costly than I would like to incur,” says Gee.
Gee says that with nearly 500 different tobacco products, he can’t operate under the rules.
His customers are disappointed in the ruling and say the legislation doesn’t make any sense.
“Everybody thinks it’s silly,” says Rick Westlake. “It’s not going to change their habits. If you want to smoke, you’re going to smoke.”
“I mean, the government makes enough money from the taxes for the cigarettes and if they want to sell them, so?” says Monica Corbin.
Gee hopes to sell the store, which has been a landmark in the community since 1929, to someone who can cope with the situation.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Ron Shaw