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Owner wrestled with conscience over whether to keep shop open

Michael Heslop was a smoker when he launched his local cigarette manufacturing business in 2013.

That changed three years later after he found God.

Mr Heslop told The Royal Gazette that he wrestled with his conscience about whether to carry on running The Smoke Shop.

“I have quit, thank the Lord; I quit shortly after I became a Christian,” he said.

“I really, really struggled when I became a Christian. I tried to give the business away.

“I struggled with it so much I was trying to get out of the business, to do something more humane.

“I really couldn’t give the business away, so eventually I put it in God’s hands.”

He added: “I have Christians telling me that I’m sinning by making cigarettes but we all have our own walk and hopefully, God willing, I’m not sinning.”

Mr Heslop said he launched the business because he believed chemicals contained in mass-produced cigarettes could harm health and he wanted to offer a more “natural” product to consumers on island.

He said he had no scientific evidence to back up his belief but “it was enough for me to want to manufacture a cigarette that was just tobacco”.

Asked how, as a Christian, he could justify selling a product so detrimental to health, Mr Heslop claimed: “One thing I don’t do is encourage smoking.

“A pack of cigarettes is so expensive. I don’t think anybody is going to spend that amount of money on any pack of cigarettes unless they already are a smoker.”

He added: “I’m offering an alternative [to mass-produced cigarettes].”

He confirmed that he lobbied the finance minister to give The Smoke Shop — which employs eight Bermudians — a huge discount in 2021 on the normal duty rate for importing loose-leaf tobacco and "took advantage“ of it to bring in two containers worth to keep the business going.

But he said he did not believe that decision impacted the level of smoking in the community.

Ricky Brathwaite, the chief executive of the Bermuda Health Council, said 14 per cent of the adult population in Bermuda smoked.

He said while that figure was not high “compared to many other high-income countries” it was “still a damaging statistic”.

Dr Brathwaite added: “We must continue to implement and validate robust tobacco control and policies to reduce the disproportionate health and economic burden that tobacco use imposes, especially on the poor, during a time when income disparities are widening and the cost of living can feel overwhelming.

“Anything counter to that could exacerbate the short and long-term health and economic harm for this island.”

The Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre said that smoking was the “leading cause of premature, preventable death”.

The centre’s CEO, Lynn Woolridge, told the Gazette: “In line with our mission and the efforts of our LungSmart youth programme, we do not support any programme that incentivises or makes concessions for the importation of tobacco into Bermuda.”

Ms Woolridge said tobacco and smoking were identified as focus areas for prevention in Bermuda’s National Cancer Control Plan, which aimed to reduce the prevalence of smoking by 25 per cent by 2030.

She added: “While our LungSmart programme provides information to school-age youth to encourage them not to start smoking, it is essential that the Government focus on strengthening legislation for e-cigarettes, and banning single-use and ten-pack sales, to start making a real difference.”

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Published May 11, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated May 11, 2023 at 2:00 pm)

Owner wrestled with conscience over whether to keep shop open

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