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Cigar shop owner strips C from sign to avoid prosecution

NANAIMO / A downtown Nanaimo tobacconist has stripped the letter C from his "cigars" sign to avoid the wrath of the tobacco-advertising police on Vancouver Island.

Alex Landels of A.J. Landels Cigars made the modification after someone from the enforcement branch of the Vancouver Island Health Authority paid a visit last week to see if he's meeting the requirements of the March 31 ban on tobacco advertising to people under 19.

B.C. retailers can still post signs advertising tobacco sales, but only in black lettering no more than five centimetres tall, on a white background, without naming specific brands.

And the sign can't be larger than 25 by 25 centimetres.

Landels is waiting for a new sign to be made. In the meantime, he's advertising Cuban "Cigars."

"I might just leave that one as a protest," he said.

He already removed a sandwich board and a larger sign inside the store that to satisfy VIHA's tobacco regulation enforcement division. He sees the regulations as a form of censorship.

"The next logical step, if they have such stipulations on signage, is to eliminate any tobacco reference in any book, novel or magazine," Landels said.

He said the rules aren't being applied uniformly. "They're actually attacking the Island more than the Mainland," Landels said. "My distributor said a few merchants in the Mainland are being contacted, but all (businesses) on the Island are."

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Sarah Plank said the province trained enforcement staff in February and March to ensure the rules are enforced evenly.

"VIHA's education and enforcement practices don't appear to be any different than any of the other health authorities," Plank said.

No merchants were ticketed in April. "In May, one ticket was issued - it wasn't in VIHA - around the new provisions."

But Ken Baron, B.C. operations manager with Shefield & Sons, a national tobacco retailer with outlets in shopping malls across Canada, including Nanaimo, said his company is finding B.C.'s tobacco advertising rules to be the most confusing of any province.

"In every province, from Ontario to Alberta, it's always clearer what is to be covered," Baron said. In B.C., "some of the cigars are using their own interpretation" of the rules, something he called unfair to businesses. "If you look at compliance, what's good in some areas is not good in other areas. "They're interpreting the law their own way, as opposed to what the letter of the law is. You get different people's interpretations of the same law, unlike other provinces, where it is very clear what it is they demand. In Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta it's always clearer what is to be covered."

The law was found to be in direct conflict with Victoria's heritage bylaws last month when the Old Morris Tobacconists shop found itself facing a city fine if it covered its century-old sign, or a fine from VIHA if it didn't.

Baron said Shefield's Nanaimo North Town Centre store hasn't heard a peep, even though the mall sign on the outside of the shop remains uncovered. Though Baron said he would prefer not to comment on it for fear of attracting attention from enforcement staff, he said so far, so good.

"We haven't had any problems with that. It's part of our actual legal name and it's been like that since 1971," he said.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Source: Vancouver Sun

Cigar shop owner strips C from sign to avoid prosecution