ALBERTA GOVERNMENT GETS ANOTHER UNHEALTHY REPORT CARD ON TOBACCO REDUCTION
Edmonton – For the second consecutive year, a coalition of prominent health organizations is giving the Alberta government a C-minus for its overall effort to reduce tobacco use in an annual report card. The coalition released the report card today at the Alberta Legislature.
The government received top marks for banning flavoured tobacco and pursuing legal action against Big Tobacco. However Alberta continues to underperform in a number of key areas including tobacco affordability, restricting youth access, providing uniform protection from secondhand smoke, and for not reinvesting tobacco taxes in tobacco reduction efforts. The coalition also expressed concern about the potential renormalization 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.”
Although originally passed in 2013, large sections of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act remain unproclaimed and unimplemented including measures to reduce youth access to tobacco products, to protect youth from all forms of flavoured tobacco and to protect all workers and the public from secondhand smoke exposure in workplaces and public places.
To emphasize the lack of regulatory action by the current government since 2015, at today’s news conference the coalition unrolled a 50-foot scroll of tobacco control measures that were taken by the previous government between 2012 and 2015. The coalition then unrolled a one-foot scroll representing all of the tobacco control measures taken by the current government. The current government has only approved a one-page tobacco regulation 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.”
The government 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 coalition also gave the government a “D” for maintaining the most affordable cigarettes in Canada through suppressed tobacco taxes. The government received another “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.”
The report card acknowledges that smoking rates have declined among youths and adults since 2010. However the coalition contends that these trends were established by the previous government and they cannot be sustained without (1) increased tobacco taxes to reduce affordability; (2) enhanced and enforced restrictions on tobacco including the full implementation of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act; (3) uniform protection from all forms of secondhand smoke in all workplaces and public spaces and (4) additional funding to fully implement the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy.
“The progress that has been made in reducing tobacco use over the past few years can be largely attributed to the actions of the previous government” saidAngeline Webb of the Canadian Cancer Society. “Despite showing early signs of leadership, the current government has allowed Alberta to fall behind other provinces on a number of key issues including tobacco taxation, youth access restrictions, and restrictions on smoking in workplaces and public places. To make matters worse, the Alberta government will be allowing widespread cannabis use in many public areas which may renormalize smoking. Smoking bans are a cornerstone of the tobacco control effort and the legalization of cannabis may increase the social acceptability of public smoking.”
Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of disease and death in Alberta, claiming 3,800 lives each year. About 25,000 school-aged youths use tobacco according to the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey. Tobacco is the most widespread and deadly form of substance abuse in Canada.
The Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta is a coalition of prominent health organizations that are working to reduce tobacco use in Alberta.
Les Hagen @ 780-919-5546
Angeline Webb @ 780-239-5295