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21st - Jan

SMA supports recommendations in tobacco control report released today

The Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) supports today’s release of a report calling for government action to combat high smoking rates in Saskatchewan.

A number of health groups released the report, entitled “Protecting our Future: Recommendations to reduce tobacco use in Saskatchewan,” which makes policy recommendations in key areas.

“Doctors have come to know all too well the harmful effects that smoking of all kinds – tobacco included – has on the health of our patients,” said Dr. Siva Karunakaran, president of the SMA.

“We see those negative effects every day, both the harm done to individuals and the cost borne by the health system to treat them.”

At the 2015 Fall Representative Assembly, SMA delegates adopted resolutions calling for a ban on smoking of all tobacco products (including shisha and hookah) in all indoor and outdoor public places, tighter controls around e-cigarettes to prevent their use by young people and a ban on all flavoured tobacco to discourage smoking among youth.

Monday’s report includes recommendations on these points, and more. Health organizations supporting the report are calling on the provincial government to take immediate action to address Saskatchewan’s smoking rates, particularly among youth.

Surveys consistently show that Saskatchewan has the highest youth smoking rates in Canada. The latest data, the 2017 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drug Survey released in October, found that 22 per cent of youth aged 15-19 are current smokers compared to eight per cent nationally.

Today’s report is intended to reduce tobacco use and generate revenue for tobacco control enforcement and programs. It has been nearly a decade since the Saskatchewan government updated its Tobacco Control Act.  Since then new issues have emerged including the growth of flavoured tobacco products, the introduction of e-cigarettes/vaping products and the proliferation of hookah lounges (water pipe cafes).

“Most other provinces as well as the federal government have modernized their tobacco laws to address issues such as vaping and flavoured tobacco. Saskatchewan has not despite growing public support for these measures and repeated calls from health groups. Our high smoking results are the result of our government’s inaction," said Donna Pasiechnik, health policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society.

The new policy recommendations include:

  • Regulating the sale, promotion and use of vaping products as eight other provinces have done;
  • Banning flavours in all tobacco products;
  • Banning smoking in more outdoor places including patios of bars and restaurants, playgrounds and sports fields as several municipalities have done, including Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert, Warman, Martensville, Battleford, Maidstone, and Rosthern;
  • Banning the sale of tobacco products in more locations, including athletic and recreational facilities, bars and restaurants, university/college campuses;
  • Banning all hookah (water pipe) smoking wherever smoking is banned in public places;
  • Increasing the age to purchase tobacco and vaping products to 21 – or at the very least 19 as is required to purchase cannabis or alcohol.

Saskatchewan spends the lowest amount per capita on tobacco control of any province, approximately 35 cents per capita compared to the national average of $1.04.  Some of the coalition’s recommendations include policies that would generate revenue to pay for tobacco reduction programs and policy enforcement.  They include increasing taxes on all tobacco products, requiring tobacco retailers to have a licence with an annual fee as alcohol and cannabis retailers have, and implement a cost recovery fee on tobacco manufacturers/suppliers based on market share in the province. This could reimburse the Saskatchewan government for the annual costs of the provincial tobacco control strategy.

“The plan we have set out would not only reduce smoking rates but would provide the money needed to fund provincial tobacco control strategy by charging tobacco manufacturers and retailers a levy to sell this deadly consumer product,” said Jennifer May, vice-president, community engagement for the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.

It is estimated that tobacco use kills more than 1,500 people every year in Saskatchewan and according to the Conference Board of Canada costs the Saskatchewan economy $200 million annually, in hospital visits, doctors’ visits and prescriptions drugs.

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