News Releases

April 6, 2004

Health Groups to Prime Minister:
Cuts to Tobacco Control Programme Threaten Public Health.

(Ottawa) - Canadian health groups today called on the Prime Minister to ensure that the federal government’s anti-smoking programme is not sacrificed to pay for “new” government priorities.

The three-year-old federal tobacco control strategy was announced in April, 2001 by the then Finance Minister, Paul Martin.  In a joint announcement with Minister of Health, Alan Rock, Mr. Martin pledged “more than $480 million in a comprehensive, integrated and sustained tobacco control strategy over the next five years.”  Over $210 million was allocated to a five-year mass media campaign. 

“The new Prime Minister has overseen three successive decisions which , perhaps inadvertently, threaten the federal tobacco control strategy,” said Louis P. Brisson, vice-president of the Lung Association.  “The government has hit the programme with a ‘triple-whammy’ of a spending freeze, a moratorium on advertising and a budget reallocation exercise.”

The first threat to the federal tobacco strategy came in the form of a cabinet-ordered expenditure review that was announced within a few days of the swearing-in of the new government.  This resulted in a de-facto freeze on tobacco control programming for the last quarter of the 2003-2004 fiscal year.  The second set-back occurred just as this “expenditure deferral” was coming to an end, when a moratorium on all government advertising was put into effect on March 15, 2004.  The third hit was contained in the 2004 budget measures which included a new round of expenditure review, and ordered Health Canada to reduce its spending by $57 million in order to finance “new” government priorities.

Contributing to the group’s concern about waning political priority to reduce smoking are unexplained delays in the development of regulations to control tobacco marketing.  “We are still waiting for promised regulations to protect children from cigarette promotions beside the candy-counter in retail stores,” said Atul Kapur, President of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.  “And the deadline that the former Health Minister set for tobacco companies to stop using misleading descriptors “light” and “mild” elapsed more than two-and-a-half years ago.”

“The government should not waiver in its commitment to reducing tobacco use, nor should it lose confidence in the role that governments play in improving public health.” said Sally Brown, C.E.O. of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.  “Since the federal programme was initiated in 2001, we have seen the fastest rate of smoking reduction in Canadian history.”

Since 2000, the number of smokers in Canada has fallen by almost a million, and the number of young Canadians who have never smoked has increased by over a quarter million.  There were 7.4 billion fewer cigarettes smoked in 2003 than in the year before the programme came into effect. Millions more Canadians now live in communities where workers and the public are protected from second hand smoke.  “The job, however, is far from done,” cautioned Ms. Brown.  “Even with this progress, tobacco is the largest cause of preventable death and disease in Canada, and a major contributor to health care costs.”

“Ironically, the threat to funding for tobacco control programmes comes as both government and tobacco companies have increased their revenues from tobacco sales,” said Dr. Kapur. Tax increases announced at the same time as the pledge for a five-year tobacco control programme have given the government an additional $990 million in annual tax revenues.  Tobacco companies have increased their profit margin on cigarette packages from $0.70 to $1.07 during the same period.”

 “We welcome the impact that taxes have on reducing smoking,” he said “but they are not a substitute for a comprehensive approach to tobacco control.”

The groups have written the Prime Minister, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Public Works and Government Services to request an opportunity to demonstrate why tobacco should remain a priority health concern of the new government.”

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Cynthia Callard                       613 233 4878



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