Government not doing enough on tobacco reduction, coalition says

by Morinville News Staff

The Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, a coalition of health organizations, gave Alberta government a C-minus for its overall effort to reduce tobacco use in an annual report card Wednesday, the second consecutive year the province has received the failing grade.

While the provincial government received top marks for banning flavoured tobacco and pursuing legal action against Big Tobacco, the group says Alberta continues to underperform in some key areas, including tobacco affordability, restricting youth access, providing uniform protection from secondhand smoke, and for not reinvesting tobacco taxes in tobacco reduction efforts.

But not only is the coalition concerned about tobacco reduction, they have expressed concern about the potential re-normalization of public smoking that may result from cannabis legalization.

“We were hoping to see meaningful progress on these critical health policies over the last year but tobacco legislation continues to languish while cannabis legalization has been given top priority,” said Angeline Webb of the Canadian Cancer Society. “Tobacco kills 45 times more Canadians than cannabis and tobacco legislation should not take a back seat to cannabis legalization. From a public health perspective, it is impossible to justify stalling the implementation of tobacco legislation while accelerating the implementation of cannabis laws. One Cabinet meeting could make a world of difference to thousands of Alberta youth who will start using tobacco while this life-saving legislation remains largely unimplemented.”

The coalition says large sections of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act remain unproclaimed and unimplemented despite originally being passed in 2013.

The group says not enough has been done to take measures to reduce youth access to tobacco products, and to protect all workers and the public from secondhand smoke exposure in workplaces and public places.

At Wednesday’s news conference at the Alberta Legislature, the coalition unrolled a 50-foot scroll of tobacco control measures that were taken by the PC government between 2012 and 2015 and unrolled a one-foot scroll representing all of the tobacco control measures taken by the current government since taking office in 2015.

“The current government started off very strongly on tobacco reduction with the implementation of the menthol tobacco ban,” said Kate Chidester of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “However policy progress has virtually stalled since 2015 and Alberta is now lagging behind other provinces in a number of key areas. The government needs to fully implement the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act in order to prevent the tobacco industry from recruiting more kids with its predatory marketing strategies. One of every two youths who continues to smoke as an adult will die of tobacco-related diseases.”

Alberta received an F for failing to protect Alberta youth from the depiction of smoking in youth-rated movies and a D for not implementing and enforcing approved legislation to prohibit tobacco sales to minors. The government also got a D for maintaining the most affordable cigarettes in Canada through suppressed tobacco taxes. Alberta took an additional D for not reinvesting tobacco taxes in tobacco reduction and for its failure to properly finance and implement the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy.

“Alberta still has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada and we are due for another major tobacco tax increase,” said Les Hagen of Action on Smoking & Health (ASH). “Cigarettes in Alberta are just as affordable today as they were 10 years ago because tax increases have barely kept pace with wage increases. We want the government to reinvest a portion of the proceeds of any tax increase back into tobacco reduction just as they have reinvested a large portion of the carbon levy into carbon reduction strategies. Other jurisdictions like California and British Columbia have directed tobacco taxes toward tobacco reduction efforts. The Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy remains woefully underfunded and largely unimplemented even though the provincial government collects almost billion dollars in tobacco taxes each year. Not a single dime of tobacco tax revenue is dedicated to tobacco reduction. This contradiction cannot be justified any longer.”

While the report card acknowledges a drop in smoking rates among youth and adults since 2010, the coalition argues the previous government established the downward trends. Those downward levels cannot be sustained, the coalition believes without increased tobacco taxes, enhanced and enforced restrictions on tobacco, and uniform protection from all forms of secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public spaces.

The full report can be read here. CSFA report card January 2018

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