N.S. targets tobacco

Dinosaurs covered in ashtrays and a website targeting teenage smokers are the key components of Year 1 of a five-year provincial tobacco strategy released Wednesday.

The strategy calls for other types of action later on. They include immediate penalties for retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, persuading the federal government to change tobacco packaging, legislation to back no-smoking policies on hospital and school grounds, and looking at suing tobacco companies for smoking-related health costs incurred by the province.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, responds to questions Wednesday in Halifax after outlining the province’s new anti-smoking initiatives, which will include stiffer penalties for merchants who sell to minors

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer, responds to questions Wednesday in Halifax after outlining the province’s new anti-smoking initiatives, which will include stiffer penalties for merchants who sell to minors

Health and Wellness Minister Maureen MacDonald said the main action in the first year of the strategy is the social marketing campaign, launched in January.

It targeted teenagers. It included putting three-metre dinosaurs in high schools and having old ashtrays and lighters in museum display cases at places such as malls and theatres to send the message that “hardly anyone smokes anymore.”

There was also an interactive website set up, www.15andfalling.ca, a reference to the 15 per cent smoking rate among 15 to 19 year olds.

The strategy’s goal is to get that rate down to 10 per cent by 2015-16.

Other goals are reducing the rate among 20 to 24 year olds to 20 per cent from 30 per cent, and getting the rate for people 25 and older down to 15 per cent from 20.

MacDonald said Year 1 also includes continued work between stakeholders and government departments.

“We know there is still much work to be done to make Nova Scotia a province where not smoking is the norm,” she said at a Halifax news conference.

MacDonald said there is no new money for the programs. The province spends $3.6 million a year on tobacco control, she said.

The strategy calls for Nova Scotia to work with other provinces and Ottawa on packaging.

Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief public health officer, said advertising through packaging is still the tobacco industry’s best tool to keep Nova Scotians smoking, despite government controls.

“You may not realize it, but it’s a very sophisticated marketing tool in terms of the shape, the size, the colours, a whole range of things,” Strang said. “That’s why plain packaging — we need to go there to take away that last advertising tool.”

He said 20 per cent of tobacco vendors sell to minors, but penalizing them is a cumbersome process. Strang said the province is looking at immediate penalties, such as suspending licences to sell tobacco.

The strategy also calls for expanding stop-smoking services, researching why people start and continue smoking, and possibly increasing the tobacco tax when appropriate.

The Canadian Cancer Society and Smoke-Free Nova Scotia applauded the strategy. Maureen Summers, the society’s executive director, said smoking accounts for 85 per cent of lung cancer cases, and Nova Scotians lead the country in rates of the disease.

“Preventing cancer before it starts is absolutely crucial,” Summers said. “There’s no way to move back in time once you’ve heard the words you have cancer and this is why the new provincial comprehensive tobacco control strategy is so important.”

Liberal health critic Diana Whalen said she was glad to see a strategy that targets lower smoking rates, but there is not enough concrete action included.

“There’s been four years that has gone by since the last strategy ended,” Whalen said. “We should have had the talks done and we should have today some clear direction about the action.”

She also said it was shocking that there isn’t any new money for the strategy. She pointed out that the province expects to collect more than $200 million in tobacco taxes this year, plus it received more than $12 million last year as part of a national lawsuit related to tobacco-smuggling.

Progressive Conservative health critic Chris d’Entremont said he wondered why the strategy wasn’t released sooner, but he was glad to see it Wednesday.

“We think it’s a decent piece of work, and we’re going to have a look at some of those targets and make sure that they’re realistic.”

The last tobacco control strategy was launched in 2001.

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