On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, Canadian health organizations have called upon the federal government to set a bold new course to drive down tobacco use more quickly.
“There is no doubt that Canada has made significant progress against tobacco use; we need to continue this work in earnest, there is so much more that needs to be done,” said Ms Lesley James, senior health policy analyst at Heart and Stroke Foundation. “And it is clear that the progress achieved has taken far too long and that far too much death and disease has occurred to get where we are. Tobacco use continues to be the leading preventable cause of death in Canada. We need to ramp up efforts and get the job done.”
“In the past, the federal government was seen as a global leader in tobacco control. Canada once led the way with innovative public measures to reduce smoking but now is not keeping pace with global progress on key initiatives,” said Dr. Atul Kapur, president of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “With the current federal tobacco control strategy soon to expire, there is an opportunity to take a leadership role again and adopt a new, more robust and revitalized approach.”
“Other governments are moving forward with plain and standardized packaging requirements, banning flavours including menthol, and exploring bold new approaches,” said Ms. Lorraine Fry, executive director of the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association. Among the 34 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations, five countries have brought forward legislation to require plain packaging of tobacco products and four have set target dates to achieve significant reductions in smoking.
The United States federal tobacco control budget, on a per capita basis, is more than double Health Canada’s tobacco control budget. The United States recovers annually the full cost of the Federal Drug and Food Administration's (FDA) tobacco strategy from the tobacco industry, and is developing a research basis for new areas of regulation. Major health authorities, including the U.S. Surgeon General, have identified the need for new ‘end-game’ approaches, she added.
“Tobacco use remains a challenge for Canada’s health system and for the economic and physical well-being of our communities” explained Dr. Chris Simpson, president of the Canadian Medical Association. Health authorities widely acknowledge that tobacco use is responsible for more deaths and economic loss than other drugs or consumed products. Health Canada estimates the annual economic cost of tobacco use at $17 billion.
“The first generation to grow up under the protection of the 1997 federal Tobacco Act is now reaching adulthood,” said Mr. Michael Perley, director of the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco. “Unfortunately, even if this legislation has contributed to significant progress, fully 18% of youth aged 18-19 are current smokers. Young Canadians deserve first class protection from the marketing of the tobacco industry. Having almost one in five of our youth entering a deadly addiction by the time they reach adulthood is not a situation we should accept.”
He explained that the legal and policy framework behind Canada’s approach to tobacco control is now more than 18 years old and needs to be updated to respond to new challenges. When the current Tobacco Act was adopted, electronic cigarettes, widespread flavoured products, and stealth marketing were not part of the market as they are now.
“Teenagers are increasingly being introduced to tobacco use through new products over which there is inadequate government control,” said Dr. Geneviève Bois, spokesperson for the Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac. “The threats posed by starter products like hookah/waterpipes and flavoured tobacco, as well as novelty products and new packaging techniques were not anticipated by those who designed the current federal law.”
“I and many other health advocates across the country, envision a Canada where tobacco use is no longer the leading cause of preventable death and disability. Strategic action is needed to reduce the number of people smoking in Canada,” says Margaret Bernhardt-Lowdon, a tobacco issues spokesperson for the Lung Association. In March, the House of Commons Health Committee called on the government to establish a new regulatory framework to regulate electronic cigarettes. “This is an opportunity for the federal government to respond with a commitment to develop a modernized and strengthened federal tobacco control strategy with a long term vision, innovative policy measures and directed towards appropriately ambitious health objectives.”
About the The Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco
Canadian Coalition for Action on Tobacco is a national coalition of health organizations. Members supporting this initiative include: Action on Smoking and Health (Alberta), the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Council for Tobacco Control, the Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Lung Association, the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, the Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.
About The Lung Association
Established in 1900, The Lung Association is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected health charities, and the leading national organization for science-based information, research, education, support programs and advocacy on lung heath issues. For information on lung health issues, call us toll-free at 1-866-717-2673. In Quebec, call us toll-free at 1 800-POUMON-9.
Janis Hass, The Lung Association, 613 569-6411 ext 252
Dominique Jolicoeur, Canadian Medical Association, 613 731-8610 x 2038
Geneviève Bois, Coalition québécoise pour le contrôle du tabac, 514-602-2508
Lesley James, Heart and Stroke Foundation, 613 691-4066
Lorraine Fry, Non-Smokers’ Rights Association, 416 726-6861
Michael Perley, Ontario Campaign for Action on Tobacco, 416 709-9075
Cynthia Callard, Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada, 613 600-5794