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Obama, the ex-smoker, encounters much love and one cigarette protest in Canada

President Obama arrives in Canada February 19, 2009

It was a tumultuous welcome.

As he arrived on Parliament Hill on his whirlwind visit to Ottawa today, President Obama received a rock star greeting from about a thousand well-wishers. While they waited they sang Bob Marley's reggae classic "One Love." When the popular American president arrived they chanted, "Yes We Can," and one admirer held up a sign that said, "Yes We CANada."

Oh, and he also encountered one big protest sign that said: "Please STOP cigarette smuggling from the U.S. to Canada."

Obama, whose wife, Michelle, made him promise to quit smoking at the start of the presidential campaign, might be forgiven if he thought for a moment that she'd caught him sneaking a smoke.

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But, no, this is a trade issue, one on the table between the two countries. It seems there about 10 illegal unlicensed factories on the U.S. side of the border that ship contraband cigarettes into Canada, undermining the Canadian government's attempts to tax smokers like crazy to encourage them to give up the smelly habit.

And advocates of the Stop Smuggling movement thought Obama, who earlier this month signed a child health insurance bill that will be paid for by hiking U.S. cigarette taxes, might have reason to shut down the illegal trade too.

In fact, the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control said in a news release, "Unless action is taken, it is inevitable that the illegal factories will start sending illegal cigarettes throughout the U.S. instead of just to Canada."

As for that other trade issue, Obama apparently told the Canadians that the United States would abide by treaty obligations as always -- this despite campaign rhetoric saying he would renegotiate NAFTA to improve environmental and labor provisions.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photos: Associated Press

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Smuggled smokes are a result of government's overtaxing. The only way to stop them is to cut taxes.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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