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Friday, May 18, 2007

Stelmach Government Moves One Step Closer on Tobacco Control

The Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta supporting tobacco control legislation is moving along well. We are assisting the campaign made up of a coalition of 15 professional and health advocacy groups that are the driving force supporting this policy initiative. They are promoting the health and wellness aspects of tobacco control and the dangers of exposure to second hand smoke that currently impacts half a million Albertans.

Smoking bans in public and work places became an issue in the recent PC leadership campaign. It is now being addressed and moving through the government’s policy development and legislative process lead by the Minister of Health and Wellness Dave Hancock. Seven provinces have already passed smoke-free legislation and have banned the “power walls” displays of tobacco products. Six provinces have outlawed tobacco sales in pharmacies. Alberta is just now catching up on these tobacco control public health and workplace safety issues.

A recent poll showed public support for the Hancock initiative at an all time high of 80% for public and workplace bans, 78% for banning pharmacy sales and 67% against tobacco power wall displays. These citizen support figures are essentially the same for urban and rural Albertans.

The Premier has reconfirmed tobacco control legislation must have the support of the PC Caucus and he will abide by that decision. With the change in leadership we are now seeing some change in the political climate around tobacco control in Alberta too – but it is far from a slam dunk. The first indication of this positive change in attitude was the recent Provincial Budget increasing tobacco taxes in the face of past edicts that “…the only way taxes are going in Alberta are down!”

The proposal has passed the first two stages of Agenda and Priorities Committee and the Cabinet Policy Committee. Now it has to go to the Cabinet and Caucus for a decision. The Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta (http://www.smokefreealberta.com/) has mobilized a very impressive effort to have citizens to contact local MLAs to encourage support.

Now the MSM are getting into the issue big time, with front page stories. The political newsletter Alberta Scan (780-421-9077 for more information) is carrying a very informative piece on the politics of this initiative now too. We have done three related interviews, representing a range of interests and perspectives, on our affiliate website Policy Channel (http://www.policychannel.com/) as well. One interview is with the CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, another is with the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour and there is an interview with the past-President of the Canadian Medical Association…all of them supporting the tobacco control proposals.

The Yukon is the most recent jurisdiction to catch up on this public health issue and recently passed a private member's bill imposing a territory-wide smoking ban in public places. The Feds have signalled the same kind of ban in federal buildings across the country. Albertans clearly believe this is an idea whose time has come but it is still a political decision so nothing can be taken for granted.

Now it is time for the Stelmach government to make sure Albertans have protections from second hand smoke and we discourage smoking as a public health and wellness issue, particularly amongst teenagers, 8000 of whom took up the habit in 2005 alone.