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It doesn't have to be either/or

April 17, 2012

The federal government recently convened a conference call with national health charities and associations to outline its new direction in tobacco control. Health Canada's new directions however abandon a comprehensive strategy in favour of a few priorities aimed at defined and narrow population groups: First Nations on reserve and Inuit communities as well as a media campaign encouraging young adults to quit.

While there is a necessity to focus on these groups - Aboriginal populations have the highest smoking rates in Canada - ignoring the vast majority of Canadian smokers does not make sense as more than 5,000,000 Canadians continue to smoke. The department touts the tremendous gains made over the past decade but a deeper look at the statistics show that the largest gains in prevalence reduction occurred in the first five years of the 11-year tobacco control strategy with no statistically significant declines occurring in the last five years (2006 - 2010).

The evidence clearly shows that a comprehensive approach is needed, one that focuses on the general population and uses policy, programs and research to shape the environments in which people live.

The government appears to have looked at general population efforts and targeted efforts as if it were an "either / or" paradigm and have focused on the least effective lever available to governments to improve the health of Canadians: cessation. Documented best practice in tobacco control does not support a singular focus on encouraging people to quit - in fact, policy interventions that support people to quit on their own, are the most successful strategies. Add to this the very narrow population Health Canada has chosen to focus on and the chances of continuing to see decreasing smoking rates in Canada over the next five to 10 years become essentially non-existent.

Canada needs a well articulated federal tobacco control strategy with clearly defined goals. One such goal, promoted at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Singapore in March 2012, should be to ensure that any Canadian born since January 1st, 2000 be smoke-free for life. There are many ways to achieve this but Health Canada's current approach is not one of them.

We must remember that with over $3 billion in annual revenues from the sale of tobacco products, the government owes it to Canadians who smoke, and thereby contribute to that hefty revenue source, to engage in both targeted efforts and those focused on the general population. We must also remember that 75% of adult Canadians who currently smoke started as children or youth. The Government of Canada clearly has the financial resources to implement a truly comprehensive tobacco control strategy at levels significantly higher than those even promised in 2001 (at $110 million per year) to achieve a smoke-free future for all Canadians.

Our concern regarding cuts to tobacco control is neither alarmist nor over-the-top. Responsible for more than 37,000 deaths every year in Canada, tobacco use remains the most significant cause of preventable disease, disability, and premature death.

Tobacco control efforts should be for all, not just for some. The unfortunate part is that it represents a choice the government does not need to make.

The Canadian Council for Tobacco Control (CCTC) calls on the federal government to create a long term vision for the health of all Canadians. Canada has made its most significant gains when bold plans were laid that looked out to a 10 to 20 year horizon and articulated a compelling vision of what health could look like for Canadians. A well funded, multi-sectoral, comprehensive and inclusive tobacco control strategy is needed to create a legacy for the Y2K and future generations of Canadians.

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Robert Walsh
Executive Director
613 567-3050

For more information contact:
Robert Walsh
Executive Director
Canadian Council for Tobacco Control
Phone: 613 567-3050 x 107

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