Anti-smoking groups call on Alberta premier for details on tobacco lobbyists

EDMONTON — An anti-smoking coalition is accusing the Alberta government of holding private meetings with tobacco industry lobbyists.

Campaign For A Smoke Free Alberta says the industry may be exerting undue influence on NDP lawmakers.

The coalition notes that the province has failed to enact changes to tobacco legislation passed by the previous government.

Those changes included restrictions on tobacco sales to minors, a ban on flavoured tobacco products and protecting people from second-hand smoke at work.

The coalition also says the government has not increased tobacco taxes since 2015.

In a letter to Premier Rachel Notley, the coalition asks the government to disclose details of any meetings it has held with tobacco industry lobbyists since the NDP took power.

“We believe that the tobacco industry still has the upper hand with government and may be exerting undue influence on the development of vital public health policies that are aimed at protecting youth, improving the quality of life and reducing demands on the health-care system,” reads the letter dated April 27.

It is signed by executive members of the Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Lung Association, Alberta Public Health Association, Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention and Action on Smoking and Health.

“In the interests of public health, transparency and responsible governance, we ask your full co-operation with our request for the full disclosure of private meetings with tobacco lobbyists.”

The coalition also points out that any private meetings with tobacco industry lobbyists would contravene a 2005 World Health Organization agreement signed by Canada on a framework for tobacco control.

Officials with Notley’s office were not immediately available for comment.

The coalition’s call for full disclosure comes as the legislature is dealing with a government bill introduced last month called the Lobbyist Amendment Act.

The NDP has said the proposed legislation would better ensure that the activities of lobbyists are easy to obtain and track.

When Bill 11 was introduced, Christina Gray, minister responsible for democratic renewal, said the proposed changes would further regulate lobbyists and enhance oversight of their activities to improve confidence in government decision-making.

“Albertans have the right to know who is trying to influence the government,” she said last month. ”The proposed changes would make this information more transparent and accessible.”

During debate on the bill Tuesday, Independent Progressive Conservative member Richard Starke said the government appears to be saying one thing with the legislation, but doing another when it comes to tobacco lobbyists.

Starke wondered why the government has not enacted tobacco legislation that was passed years ago.

“One can only surmise that the reason they aren’t is because big tobacco has been actively lobbying this government behind closed doors in direct contravention of the framework on tobacco control and has been influencing the government in that way,” Starke said in the assembly.

“Bill 11 does absolutely nothing to stop that, absolutely nothing.”

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