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Smoke-Free Alberta asks: Why hasn't all of the Smoking Reduction Act been enacted?

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Sarah Hoffman

A letter Monday from the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman asks why the NDP Government continues to put off full implementation of the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act, passed three years ago by the Progressive Conservative government of Alison Redford.

The never-enacted sections include:

  • A ban on the use of water pipes and e-cigarettes in public establishments
  • A ban on flavoured pipe and water pipe tobacco
  • Mandatory training for tobacco retailers
  • Strict new tobacco retailing sign requirements
  • Active enforcement of tobacco sales to minors

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by AlbertaPolitics.ca, also alleges that Alberta Health Services has cut funding to smoking reduction programs and that unnamed government officials continue to meet in private with tobacco industry lobbyists.

“We believe that these concerns can readily be addressed with your help,” the letter tells Hoffman.

Smoke-Free Alberta is made up of Action on Smoking and Health, the Alberta Public Health Association, the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention, the Alberta-N.W.T. chapter of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Alberta-N.W.T. branch of the Lung Association.

The letter calls for the NDP cabinet to remove a regulatory exemption to the law that allows minors to sell tobacco products, saying evidence suggests young sales people are more likely to sell tobacco illegally to other minors.

It calls cuts to AHS tobacco reduction program funding “alarming and disheartening” and argues “it is important to Albertan’s future health that this highly successful program be sustained and strengthened rather than further weakened or impaired.”

And it alleges that closed-door meetings have taken place between tobacco industry lobbyists and government officials, saying this puts Canada in contravention of a global public health treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which prohibits closed-door meetings with industry representatives.

The letter provided no details of the meetings, which are potentially a problem for any government since groups like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have different official missions but maintain links to the tobacco industry through participation in groups such as the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco.

Hoffman’s Press Secretary, Timothy Wilson, said the government wants “Alberta to continue to be a leader in tobacco control, and we are evaluating the proposals set out in the letter.”

“The un-proclaimed items from the previous government’s legislation are just some of the issues facing the province in tobacco control,” he added.

He said also AHS has not been directed by the government to cut funding to smoking cessation programs: “AHS continues to review and adjust tobacco reduction programs to make sure they are effective and aligned with the Alberta Cancer Prevention Legacy Fund, Addictions and Mental Health, and other key areas.”

As for the allegation government officials have met with tobacco industry lobbyists, Wilson said Hoffman has not met with a tobacco industry lobbyist since the election. “The Minister of Health has directed ministry staff to enforce Article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control… Interaction with the industry is limited only to those meetings that are absolutely necessary to regulate the industry.”

Nine individuals are registered in Alberta as lobbyists for the tobacco or related industries.

The growing disquiet among anti-tobacco activists about the Alberta government’s failure to fully implement the Act -- which could be done by Cabinet without the need to go back to the Legislature – is heightened by the fact the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa is making moves on the tobacco reduction file.

The federal Liberals said yesterday they plan to move ahead with changes to the Canadian Tobacco Act to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping products to make them less accessible to young people.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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Image: Flickr/Mark Klotz

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