Press Release

Tobacco companies use contraband to sideline government actions on tobacco

Investments in tobacco control can overcome contraband’s effects, health agency concludes.

Ottawa - May31, 2010

On World No Tobacco Day (May 31st), Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) is calling for Canadian provincial and federal health Ministries to reinvigorate their tobacco reduction campaigns.

“Tobacco companies and their allies have worked hard to discourage senior government officials from adopting further measures to reduce the demand for cigarettes and to focus only on supply-side measures which would benefit the industry,” explained PSC’s Executive Director, Cynthia Callard. She outlined how recent campaigns by tobacco manufacturers and retailers are used to distract governments from actions that motivate smokers to quit and to get governments to respond to seemingly intractable contraband sales by suspending further tobacco policy reforms.

“Governments should be focusing on reducing the demand for both legal and illegal cigarettes,” said Callard.  One of the most effective ways for Ministers of Health to protect health is to actively create environments which protect young people from encouragements to smoke and which encourage smokers to quit.  This cannot be a one-time effort, but requires sustained reinvestments and improvements to policies and programming. In the long run a sure way to reduce the sale of contraband tobacco is to reduce the demand for all tobacco products.”

PSC observes that even in provinces with high levels of contraband sales, governments which have been active on the tobacco file have had more success in reducing smoking than have provinces where contraband tobacco is less common but where government anti-smoking programs have been de-funded or have grown stale.

PSC reviewed data on smoking rates from Canada’s largest health behaviour survey, the Canadian Community Health Survey and gathered estimates of provincial government tobacco control expenditures from the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit. The analysis showed that provinces with higher budgets for tobacco control had made significantly more progress against smoking than had provinces with lower program investments – even when faced with the challenge of contraband.

“Quebec and Ontario have had the highest reported rates of contraband, but they have also had the highest per-capita provincial budgets for tobacco control,” said Callard.  “The result is that the rate of smoking fell by more in those provinces (15% and 19%) than in British Columbia and Manitoba (3%, 9%) which, despite having a much smaller contraband problem, had spent much less on tobacco control. Over a six-year period, provincial per capita expenditures on tobacco control ranged from $3.13 in Manitoba to $24.79 in Quebec.

PSC urged Canadian governments to reinvigorate, redesign and reinvest in their tobacco control programming.  “Health Canada’s target of reducing smoking prevalence to 12% is an achievable goal towards which all governments and civil society should be joining efforts,” said Callard.  Although the original target date of 2011 now seems unrealistic, PSC believe the goal could be met within 5 years if governments restored funding, and accelerated implementation of measures that have been mothballed following tobacco industry opposition.  “The contraband problem should not be accepted as an excuse for political inaction,” said Callard.  “It must instead be responded to with stronger and more ambitious demand reduction measures.”

For more information: 

Cynthia Callard  613 233 4878                      

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