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Anti-smoking strategy ‘could have done more’

For the Canadian Cancer Society, Monday’s announced anti-smoking strategy could have done more.

Although Sarah Hawkins, public policy analyst with the Red Deer chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, said they are happy to see what the strategy proposes, but it could have gone further.

“We were hoping to see tobacco taxes be a little more prominent,” said Hawkins.

“We feel that a strategy is just kind of like trying to fight a wrestling match with one arm tied behind your back if you don’t have something as important as taxes.”

Hawkins said that the presence of more tax on tobacco products can be a huge factor in keep youth from making a purchase.

Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne introduced the three-year strategy aimed at reducing tobacco use.

Increasing tobacco taxes is included in the long-term part of the strategy, but a hike is mentioned as something the government will consider over the next 10 years.

Other long-term considerations include point-of-sale health warning signage, further restrictions on smoking in public areas and expanding the availability of tobacco cessation products.

The health minister said on Monday that the provincial government plans to introduce legislation in the spring session that will restrict the sale of flavoured tobacco and expand school-based stop-smoking programs.

“We’re happy to see it finally come through,” said Hawkins.

“There are a lot of great measures in the strategy, we’re hoping to see them implement a lot of the policy in the spring session.”

Bruce Buruma, Red Deer Public School District communications director and chair of the David Thompson health advisory council, said the strategy is taking a good look at the role that marketing plays in attracting young people to smoking.

Quoting Dr. Martin Lavoie, Alberta chief medical officer of health, Buruma said people don’t start smoking as adults.

“Many of the marketing techniques and many of the ways of retailing and marketing tobacco is aimed at young people,” said Buruma.

“I think we’ve seen a lot of change in the behaviour of students. Tobacco is not the issue it was years ago, but it is still significant.”

Although the strategy takes a 10-year look at tobacco reduction, over the next three years the government hopes to focus on a few priorities including restricting the sale of flavoured tobacco, prohibiting tobacco sales to minors, protecting children from second-hand smoke in vehicles, social marketing around the harmful impact of tobacco use, more tobacco cessation training for health professionals, and expanded workplace, school-based and community tobacco-cessation programs.

“All of the measures are really important, especially access,” said Hawkins.

“The way they are regulating sales to minors is really critical because right now we’re the only province that relies on federal regulations for sales to minors. That’s really insufficient.”

Proposed legislative changes to support the strategy will be referred to the Legislative Policy Committee on Families and Communities, an all-party committee of the Alberta legislature, for consideration.

The hope for Hawkins is that once implementation and enforcement of the new measures starts at the provincial level, there will be better protection for youth.

“We could have, if they chose to pass regulations on flavouring, some of the most innovative smoking bans in all the world really, which is really important when you look at how much flavouring is targeting youth,” said Hawkins.

The government has committed $500,000 per year for three years for the social marketing campaign under the addiction and mental health strategy.

Smoking rates in Alberta have fallen from 25 per cent in 2001 to 19 per cent in 2010.

The target for the strategy is to have smoking rates fall to 12 per cent by 2022.



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