Tobacco war in Ont. needs more funding

The governing Liberals need to put more money into programs that will help smokers butt out if they want to win the war on tobacco, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says.

Government funding for tobacco control has dropped over the last three years from nearly $57 million to $43 million, even though smoking is costing Ontario about $8 billion a year in health care and lost productivity, Dr. Arlene King noted in her first annual report Thursday.

Dr. Arlene King says Ontario must spend more on anti-tobacco programs.

Dr. Arlene King says Ontario must spend more on anti-tobacco programs.

“The plain truth is, we cannot win a war we do not invest in,” King said after releasing the report.

“And when every dollar we invest results in savings of $3 to government, the case for this investment would appear to me to be self-evident.”

The government must do better in getting smokers to quit, given that fewer than four per cent engage in provincial cessation efforts, the report said.

However, King wouldn’t go as far as to call on the government to allow smoking bans in apartment buildings — something Premier Dalton McGuinty has refused to do.

But stepping up anti-smoking efforts is only one of the measures the province should take to improve health and rein in massive growth in health-care spending, King said.

It also needs to tackle the causes of poor health — such as obesity and lack of physical activity — and focus prevention efforts on providing healthy child development, preventing injuries and reducing health inequalities, she said.

The public health situation in remote and northern aboriginal communities are of “serious concern” to her, King noted in her report.

“It is in many remote aboriginal communities where poverty, isolation and jurisdictional issues have come together to create what is, from a public health point of view, a perfect storm,” she wrote.

Focusing on prevention and health promotion will also “take the pressure” off government budgets, King said.

Twenty years ago, health care accounted for 32 cents of every dollar the government spent. Now it’s 46 cents, and is expected to rise to 70 cents in 12 years, she noted.

Governments must approach public health in a more comprehensive way and address the social and economic factors that influence health, said King, who plans to release her recommendations for a public-health strategy in six months, before the Oct. 6 provincial election.

The New Democrats accused the government of dragging its heels when it comes to disease prevention and health promotion, noting that just this summer, it slapped a 13 per cent harmonized sales tax on gym memberships.

Although Ontario was one of the first provinces to have a Ministry of Health Promotion, it’s accomplished very little, said NDP health critic France Gelinas.

“Health promotion is not something that grabs headlines, it’s not something that’s easy to sell, so they’ve given up on that file,” she said.

“A well-crafted health promotion strategy will do wonders to keep people healthy, to keep the health spending in check, but it’s something that needs political will and we’re not seeing it from this government.”


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