No progress on keeping Alberta teens from smoking

The Alberta government is missing its own targets for reducing smoking among teens, according to the Alberta Health and Wellness annual report.

Thirteen per cent of Alberta youth between 12 and 19 smoked last year, compared to the province’s target of no more than 10 per cent.

Little has changed among these youngest smokers between 2003 and 2009, with teen smoking in this province fluctuating between 11 and 14 per cent.

“It’s a very disturbing trend. It means governments will have to redouble their efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use among young people,” said Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health.

The Alberta government is missing its own targets for reducing smoking among teens, according to the Alberta Health and Wellness annual report.

The Alberta government is missing its own targets for reducing smoking among teens, according to the Alberta Health and Wellness annual report.

The lack of progress convincing kids to avoid cigarettes comes despite the province having recorded smoking levels at an all-time low in 2009 — with national statistics showing only 18 per cent of all Albertans over the age of 15 are smokers.

“We don’t want to see any kids take up tobacco. It’s a long-term process. But we’re pretty confident we can meet our targets,” said Alberta Health and Wellness spokeswoman Micky Elabdi.

The province has made positive strides against smoking, but is unlikely to meet its youth smoking targets by 2012 because it is not stepping up prevention strategies such as education efforts, said Tony Hudson, president and CEO of the Alberta branch of the Lung Association.

Youth tobacco consumption is a top health concern for Alberta Health Services, said medical officer of health Dr. Brent Friesen.

“There is good evidence to support that the more you can delay somebody from experimenting and starting to smoke, the easier it will be in the future in terms of that individual stopping smoking,” said Friesen.

Provincial policies prohibiting smoking in public places and workplaces has certainly helped with prevention, as has the push to have smoking appear less in films and television, said Friesen.

But Alberta youth continue to be attracted by flavoured tobacco products and spit tobacco, he said.

In July, the federal government banned the sale of flavoured cigarettes to protect young people from marketing practices directed at them.

But critics say the ban was too restrictive.

While the flavoured cigarettes are prohibited, tobacco companies began developing other products such as flavoured cigars to get around the ban, said Evie Rodway, Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta division.

“It masks the harsh flavour of tobacco. It is a very effective way of hooking younger generations who might have been turned off by the taste,” Rodway said.

Once hooked, youth often graduate to regular cigarettes.

Alyssa King, 19, has been smoking for seven years and said she started largely because the people around her were smoking, too.

She likes to smoke but said someone explaining “the fact that it’s gross and expensive” might have prevented her from starting in the first place.

Rae Boss, 15, refuses to light up, mostly because her parents smoke and seeing what it has done to their teeth is a real turnoff.

While she’s constantly telling her friends smoking will give them cancer, she knows many teens who started young.

“They started because of stress and some picked it up in junior high because it was cool,” Rae said.

Alberta’s relatively high wages for youth mean they can afford to buy a pack of cigarettes faster than most other provinces, said Hagen.

There are no indications of the government moving to increase taxes on cigarettes in the upcoming budget, Elabdi noted.

The government’s antismoking policy will be under review next year.

source The Calgary Herald

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