From Tobacco Info No. 6 - July 2011
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One year renewal of Federal Tobacco Control Strategy
Will tobacco be a priority with this Conservative majority government?
By Joe Strizzi
One day prior to Stephen Harper’s walk to the podium to announce that a federal election had been called for May 2, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq revealed that the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy would be extended for another year, in order to evaluate its recent initiatives and to explore its ongoing approaches.
“Under the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy (FTCS), federal, provincial and territorial efforts have been successful in reducing smoking in Canada and preventing youth from starting to smoke,” said Aglukkaq, who was reappointed to her position following the Conservative majority electoral victory. “Health Canada is currently examining ways to ensure Canada remains a world leader in tobacco control and that past gains are maintained,” adding that the federal health department is working with its FTCS partners.
According to an email from Health Canada to Tobacco Info, this process includes a review of the effectiveness of current programs and policies, as well as an assessment of current tobacco-related issues in Canada.
In the interim, maintaining funding under the FTCS will allow the government to continue to support smokers in their efforts to quit. It will also allow it to continue to address the issue of contraband tobacco and work toward the implementation of new health warnings on cigarette and little cigar packages.
Meanwhile, Health Canada is in the process of negotiating potential projects with a number of organizations for Federal Tobacco Control Strategy funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year.
“We are hopeful that Health Canada will continue to see us as good partners in the implementation of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy,” said Cynthia Callard, Executive Director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. “One of the strengths of the tobacco control movement and the issue is that it is pan-partisan — Canadians of all political persuasions work together to address this health crisis. Over the past few parliaments, the Standing Committee on Health has demonstrated that the federal parties will work collaboratively to strengthen tobacco control laws and regulations.”
However, the Health Minister was relatively quiet publicly on the tobacco front following the election, creating some concern among health groups.
André Picard, reporting on a letter from the Quebec Coalition on Tobacco Control sent to the Health Minister, wrote in his May 25 article in the Globe and Mail, “strategic investment of public money makes good business sense: Done properly, it is a way of stating priorities, setting goals and measuring results. Is the implied message in the current foot-dragging that tobacco control is no longer a priority? Hopefully, the Conservatives are not abandoning this strategy because it was a Liberal initiative. Smoking is a massive public-health problem, not a matter for petty partisanship.”
However, the Minister stepped up to the plate on June 9, tabling three regulations proposed prior to the election: Tobacco Products Labelling Regulations (Cigarettes and Little Cigars); Promotion of Tobacco Products and Accessories Regulations (Prohibited Terms); and Regulations Amending the Tobacco Products Information Regulations.
“We are encouraged by Minister Aglukkaq’s tabling of the regulations,” said Flory Doucas, Codirector of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control (QCTC). “We hope that the Health Committee and Cabinet will also do all that they can to ensure that these regulations are Gazette by the end of June. The new warning labels would then appear just in time to motivate and support smokers, when many of them make the New Year’s resolution to quit once and for all.”
Tobacco control was not a major issue during the election, but the Conservative Party platform did include certain contraband initiatives.
Despite indicators showing considerable reductions in the size of the contraband market, the newly elected majority government’s platform read: “Contraband tobacco has become a massive black-market industry. It results in huge losses in revenue. More important, it makes it much cheaper — and therefore much easier — for children and teenagers to start smoking. And, by encouraging smoking, it leads to higher health care costs and higher rates of smoking-related illness and death. To help reduce the problem of trafficking in contraband use, we will establish mandatory jail time for repeat offenders. We will also establish a new RCMP Anti-Contraband Force of 50 officers.”
The platform also reminded voters that the Harper government had introduced legislation restricting flavoured tobacco products and intended to improve warning labels on cigarettes.
Still, many groups are left wondering if the tobacco epidemic will be a priority for the new majority government.
“The real deadline before us is March 31, 2012, when the next strategy must be in place and the option of a one-year extension is over,” said Callard. “On the day before the election was called, the Minister made two statements that encourage us to hope that the next FTCS will be ambitious; that the government is committed to ‘innovative approaches’ to ‘remain a world leader’ and ‘to ensure a clear role for the federal government in this area of shared jurisdiction.’”
The FTCS and its results
Under the FTCS, Health Canada administers $15.8 million in contribution funding to support a range of tobacco projects across Canada that are aimed at helping people stop smoking, preventing youth from starting to smoke and protecting Canadians from exposure to second-hand smoke. In March 2011, the FTCS was extended for one additional year, until March 31, 2012.
One of the more recent achievements in tobacco legislation under the current
FTCS was the introduction of Bill C-32, An Act to amend the Tobacco Act,
introduced in the House of Commons on May 26, 2009. It received Royal Assent on
October 8, 2009. The bill amended existing provisions in the Tobacco Act and
introduced new provisions relating to, among other things, little cigars,
additives in tobacco products and the advertising of tobacco products.
As a result of the implementation of the FTCS in 2001, legislation and other initiatives, Canada now has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world. Smoking rates dropped from 22% in 2001 to 18% in 2009, representing about 500,000 fewer smokers. In 2009, the youth smoking rate was 13%, the lowest rate Health Canada has recorded.
However, over the past few years, smoking rates have hit a plateau and the federal government has fallen behind on some of the goals set nearly a decade ago.
According to Doucas of the QCTC, “Health Canada has routinely under spent its budget by $9 to $15 million over the past five years, while markedly downsizing Health Canada’s tobacco control directorate and the Harper-led government has in many instances taken actions that are counterproductive and demonstrate a lack of a clear vision and position when it comes to tobacco. For example, government settled lawsuits with tobacco companies for trivial amounts of money with no criminal charges being laid and the highly-praised move to ban flavouring in cigarillos is being dodged by tobacco companies.”
According to Callard, a major challenge in the past decade has been the turnover of health ministers, usually as a result of a change in government. Hopefully, with some stability in government, communication should improve.
“Since 2000, we have had three prime ministers and six health ministers [Alan Rock (97-02), Anne McLellan (02-03), Pierre Pettigrew (03-04), Ujjal Dosanjh (04-06), Tony Clement (06-08), and Leona Aglukkaq (08-present).] The change-over means repeated delays as new staff are briefed and as public servants wait for direction. With a four-year term ahead of us, we hope that the backlog of issues will clear and that longer-term planning will be made easier.”
Health Canada intends to launch a Call for Proposals for 2011/12 contribution funding in the near future.
Tobacco control and political party stances
Tobacco control was not officially addressed by most political parties in this election, but historically, most have taken a stance.
The New Democratic Party, the official opposition in Parliament, wrote on its website that it has “worked consistently toward tobacco cessation and fully supports the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy and would renew its mandate in 2012.”
The Liberals supported renewal of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy in 2012 for five years and recently pressed for stronger warning labels on tobacco products.
The Bloc Québécois supported a wide range of strong measures to fight the production and distribution of contraband tobacco products, as well as measures to prevent smoking.
The Green Party had supported action on tobacco control and programs for smoking cessation prior to the election, but had no official mandate.