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Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Evolution of Ed Stelmach on a Smoking Ban in Alberta

Last May, the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta submitted a survey to all of the PC leadership candidates regarding various tobacco control measures in Alberta.

In the early days of the leadership campaign, Stelmach initially signaled his resistance to provincial legislation, instead promoting education to reduce tobacco use.

However after several forums, citizen feedback, the strong positions of other candidates and increasing media profile for tobacco legislation, Stelmach submitted his reply to the Smoke-Free Alberta survey on November 1.

In the survey, Stelmach supported a tobacco sales ban in pharmacies and free votes on private members bills regarding smoking and tobacco marketing. He responded “no” to government legislation to make all workplaces completely smoke-free and a ban on powerwalls. He also responded “no” to a tobacco tax increase (which he eventually supported in the recent budget).

In the final week of the leadership campaign, Stelmach sent a letter to Smoke-Free Alberta stating “Let me be perfectly clear in my disapproval of smoking. I don’t smoke and I don’t like it. It has a tremendous cost to society in terms of health care.” He went on to say, “I support the use of preventative health programs to reduce smoking….”

His bottom line is, “I will encourage my caucus to debate further measures to reduce smoking and to support and champion their collective decision” and “I will support my caucus decisions—part of an open and inclusive government”.

It is worth noting that three major supporters of tobacco legislation—Dave Hancock, Lyle Oberg and Mark Norris—all endorsed Ed Stelmach in the final week of the leadership campaign. This likely contributed to Stelmach’s evolving consciousness and changing of heart on the issue. It also reinforces his message to promote “an open and inclusive government”.

This is not a new idea in Alberta. Unfortunately under Premier Klein the idea was killed 4 times during the policy development process, even though polls show that 84% of Albertans support a legislated province wide smoking ban. Banning smoking in public places and workplaces saves lives, saves money, and should even help improve health care access over time if we can all put more of an emphasis on wellness and prevention. Then tobacco related diseases will not be needing so much of our health care system's resources.

The Premier’s support of the tobacco tax increase in his first Budget as Premier is a very good sign that he is willing to “support and champion” his caucus’s decisions on this issue, especially considering that he initially opposed a tax increase in the Smoke-Free Alberta survey. The key here is that it will be a caucus decision in the final analysis. Now Albertan’s who want a wellness in addition to a health agenda have to make sure their MLAs know it.

Citizens have to return to exercising their power in a democracy between elections. This is a good issue to renew ones responsibility of active citizenship in a representative democracy. This legislation needs to be introduced and passed now. It has been far too long in coming.

So take a minute and call your MLA, or e-mail them or better yet, invest some time (and a stamp) and write and snail mail them a personal letter. Let them know why they must join you and support this initiative for a province wide smoking ban in public and workplaces throughout Alberta.

All the MLA contact information is at: http://www.electionsalberta.ab.ca/streetkey/skSearch.cfm