April 5, 2001
GOVERNMENT ANTI-SMOKING MEASURES WILL SAVE LIVES
(Ottawa - April 5, 2001) - Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada (PSC) today welcomed the government's announced initiatives to reduce smoking. "Each of the two measures announced - a tax increase on cigarettes and significant new funding for health programs - will benefit public health," said PSC President Dr. Mark Taylor. "Together they point to a renewed commitment of Canadians and their federal government to address Canada's leading preventable cause of death."
This is the first significant tax increase since February 1994, when the newly-elected Chrétien government made a much-criticized decision to cut cigarette taxes as part of its anti-smuggling program.
"The tax increase is a step forward, even though it falls short of the amount we know to be appropriate at this time. Today's increase is far from fulfilling the government's commitment to return cigarette taxes to the levels they were in the early 1990s," said Dr. Taylor. "Since the price of cigarettes in the neighbouring United States has roughly doubled in this time, it is hard to understand why the increase could not have been higher." Dr. Taylor noted that, even after this tax increase, cigarette prices in Ontario and Quebec would remain the lowest of any U.S. State or Canadian province.
"I am equally pleased by today's announcement of a significant increase on funding for programs to reduce smoking," said Dr. Taylor. "But it is not the amount of money the government spends so much as the nature of the programs which will determine success. Our challenge now is to ensure that the money is used in ways which ensure that the goals to reduce smoking are met."
The potential for well-funded and well-executed government programs to reduce smoking and the diseases it causes has been demonstrated in jurisdictions like California, where lung cancer death rates decreased by 14% after a decade of aggressive anti-smoking programming. In British Columbia, which has both maintained high cigarette taxes and run aggressive anti-smoking programs, the rate of smoking is lower than any other province, and the rate of smoking among teenagers is more than 5 percentage points lower than the second lowest province (Ontario). Until the B.C. government programs began in 1996, smoking rates in B.C. were not significantly lower than those in Ontario.
Dr. Taylor called on the government to engage expertise from around the country to ensure that Health Canada's new programs build on the experience of other jurisdictions running major tobacco-reduction programs. "From California, Massachusetts, Florida, Australia and British Columbia we know that the measures which work best are those which are both high-impact and sustained."
Concerns expressed privately by Health Canada officials that they were unable to support hard-hitting media campaigns had previously led to calls for an independent agency to manage the mass-media part of the federal government's anti-smoking initiative. "The Minister has chosen to leave the responsibility for media campaigns inside Health Canada," cautioned Dr. Taylor. "We will be watching closely to make sure that responsibility is appropriately fulfilled."
"Today's announcements are overdue, but welcome nonetheless. We are deeply appreciative of the work of the Minister of Health and his cabinet colleagues in making this commitment." Dr. Taylor also acknowledged the work of thousands of Canadians who had campaigned for these measures, and of the politicians on all sides of the House and in both chambers of parliament who had responded with support. "A special thanks is also owed to Senator Colin Kenny who spearheaded this campaign tirelessly for several years," concluded Dr. Taylor.
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For information: Cynthia Callard