Signage: Ceci n’est pas une pipe

In March of 2012, Laurent Martineau, owner of tobacconist shop “Tabagie Bélanger” in Plessisville, Quebec had been asked by an inspector to replace his outdoor store sign or face a 2000$ fine.

The sign in question, which is at least 50 years old, displays a tobacco leaf and a smoking briar pipe.

The inspector issued the warning under Quebec’s Tobacco Act, a law that forbids merchants from displaying tobacco related products.

The law interprets “tobacco” largely, to include accessories, such as tubes, rolling paper,  cigarette filters as well as pipes and cigarette holders. Both text and imagery are subject to these restrictions.

A more alarming incident occurred with Blatter & Blatter Tobacconist. Established in 1907, this pipe and cigar shop located in Montreal is also Quebec’s only pipe maker.

The inspector on this occasion summoned the shop owners to remove the expression “Artisan-Pipier”, french for Pipe Maker, from their display window or face a similar fine.

These in my view, are fine examples, no pun intended, of the perverse effects of this law. The legislator’s intention was to create these infractions in order reduce the number of smokers in the province. It is difficult to conceive how a historic sign displaying a pipe and tobacco leaf, or the expression “Artisan-pipier” are contributing to Quebec’s long affinity for cigarette smoking.

Dura Lex Sed Lex, latin for “The Law is Harsh, but it is the Law”, is a principle of the rule of law that suggests that even draconian laws must be followed and enforced. If one disagrees with the result, one must seek to change the law.

Let us hope someone listens to Mr. Martineau’s cry for help.


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