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Tobacco promotion must go: Health unit
Trevor WilhelmWindsor Star

Monday, November 27, 2006


Soubhi Assi said he's put up with a lot over the last few months, but when the health unit started messing with his Indian, he drew the line.
Assi, who owns the Downtown Smoke Shop, said health unit inspectors were in his store last week and told him the life-size carved wooden Indian near the front door is illegal because it promotes tobacco use.
Assi said he's obeyed the provincial smoking ban, which outlaws signs promoting tobacco or accessories, by taking down advertisements, removing prices from cigarettes and replacing a neon "Cigar" sign with a "Coffee" sign, even though he doesn't sell coffee.
He also covered the overhead sign with his store's name on it, although it was with another sign that sarcastically declared "Don't look at this sign. It may cause cancer."
But the Indian stays, he said.
"It is a symbol of Canada, a symbol of aboriginal people," said Assi, who grew up in Kuwait.
"It has nothing to do with the smoke. It's not in the law. It doesn't say get rid of the Indian. I was nice to them in the past, now they come and harass me. With these details, it's too much."
Assi put the 300-pound (136 kilogram), $2,000 Indian statue in his store two years ago.
He also has one at his other store, Habana Cigar Club, down the street. He said inspectors haven't bothered him about that one yet.
He said he's going to write a letter to Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.
"I want to take his opinion, if they have the right to do that," Assi said.
He also covered the overhead sign with his store's name on it, although it was with another sign that sarcastically declared "Don't look at this sign. It may cause cancer."
But the Indian stays, he said.
"It is a symbol of Canada, a symbol of aboriginal people," said Assi, who grew up in Kuwait. "It has nothing to do with the smoke. It's not in the law. It doesn't say get rid of the Indian. I was nice to them in the past, now they come and harass me. With these details, it's too much."
Assi put the 300-pound (136 kilogram), $2,000 Indian statue in his store two years ago. He also has one at his other store, Habana Cigar Club, down the street. He said inspectors haven't bothered him about that one yet.
He said he's going to write a letter to Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice.
"I want to take his opinion, if they have the right to do that," Assi said. "If they want, they can pay me and take it. I don't know what their problem is with him. He doesn't smoke."
Neil MacKenzie, the health unit's tobacco program manager, wasn't so sure.
He said the Indian looks like he's holding a bundle of cigars in one arm, and is therefore a promotional item.
"That's what it appears to be," he said.
MacKenzie said items not for sale that are promoting tobacco, such as an ashtray with a cigar logo, a photo of Al Capone puffing on a stogie and giant wooden Indians, are forbidden. But Assi could have those same objects in his store if they were tagged for sale, MacKenzie said. "We're not trying to interfere with his ability to sell items associated with his business," he said.
Assi said that's a drum the wooden fellow has in his left arm, not tobacco.
If they're not cigars, Assi should make that more clear, MacKenzie said.
"He could paint them to look more like whatever he's saying it is," he said.
MacKenzie said a similar issue came up with another cigar shop owner, who just covered that wooden Indian's cigars with a flag.
Among other complaints, Assi said he was also warned about two long floor mats in his store with Cohiba cigar logos on the them, because they are also considered promotional items. He said he has a five-year contract with the company that makes the mats, which obligates him to keep them there.
Contract or not, said MacKenzie, the mats must go.
"The mats are definitely considered promotional items. It either needs to be turned over if feasible, or removed or disguised. We're not privy to his contractual obligations. We just know the legislation does not allow it. That's something he has to discuss with his supplier."


The Windsor Star 2006