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Health coalition calls on province to take action on tobacco now

Each year approximately 6,000 British Columbians die because of tobacco use or second-hand smoke exposure.

This National Non-Smoking Week (January 21-27), the Clean Air Coalition of BC is recommending ways the provincial government can take action to prevent youth from smoking, help those most heavily addicted, and address increasingly complex smoking patterns.  

Diseases caused by tobacco cost BC more than any other preventable disease. Each year approximately 6,000 British Columbians die because of tobacco use or second-hand smoke exposure. That’s an average of 16 deaths every day in our province – more than from AIDS, street and prescribed drugs, alcohol, automobile accidents, suicide and homicide combined.

Working together as the Clean Air Coalition, the BC Lung Association, Heart & Stroke and Canadian Cancer Society want the government to know that tobacco use in BC is unacceptably high and that much illness and death can be prevented with stronger government action. Today, the coalition is presenting a comprehensive report to the provincial government outlining five strategies that could decrease BC’s tobacco rates:

  1. Make it harder for youth to start tobacco use.
  2. Make tobacco product retailers more accountable and products less available.
  3. Ensure equal access to public clean-air spaces like parks, patios and beaches.
  4. Maintain access to free, evidence-based smoking cessation programs.
  5. Increase smoke-free options for the growing majority who live in multi-unit housing.

“Considering tobacco use kills half of those who use cigarettes, disables many more, and drains $2 billion from our health system annually in direct and indirect costs, governments are wise to push forward ever-tighter tobacco controls,” says Andrea Seale, BC and Yukon Executive Director, Canadian Cancer Society.

Given the deadly nature of cigarettes, jurisdictions around the world are creating more restrictions on where people can smoke, such as outdoors and in multi-unit dwellings, while exploring ways to address the easy access to tobacco products and even raising the age to purchase tobacco products to 21.

“With approximately 525,000 tobacco users in the province, an increase in smoking or even rates staying stagnant is a threat too large to be ignored” says Adrienne Bakker, BC and Yukon CEO, Heart & Stroke.  “We are Canada’s fourth largest smoking population.”

The report also highlights new challenges: smoking patterns are becoming increasingly complex with new industry products, along with upcoming cannabis legalization. Both threaten to broaden the appeal of smoking and normalize the behaviour.

The coalition’s report, entitled First to 5% by 2035, outlines a vision for BC to be the first province to reach the federal government’s target of under 5% tobacco use by the year 2035. This aligns with the province’s current goal of reaching a 10% smoking rate by 2023.

“Former NDP governments have been bold on tobacco control in the past and taking action now is an opportunity to make critical change,” adds Christopher Lam, CEO, BC Lung Association.  “When cannabis is addressed this upcoming legislative session, it will be timely to tackle tobacco as well.”