Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This is the Week When a Smoking Ban Policy Happens or Not.

UPDATE MAY 29/07 Indications are that the Hancock policy initiative for province wide tobacco control in Alberta passed through the Stelmach Cabinet today. It now goes to Caucus for final deliberation as early as this Thursday. Cabinet has been seen as the biggest political hurdle but that is now done. MSM media has caught on that this may actually happen now. One can only hope the momentum is enough to put this over the top and it becomes law as quickly as possible.
Well today is a kind of a crunch day on the initiative for a province wide smoking ban in Alberta. Indications are that today is the day the proposed policy package goes to Cabinet and media reports show three heavyweight Cabinet Ministers oppose the idea. The good news is the same reports show eight Cabinet Ministers support it. Four others are in the “other category” and that includes the Premier, all of whom are waiting for the decision of Caucus. That meeting is apparently scheduled for later this week as well. The smoking ban idea seems to have a better chance in Caucus with 36 PC MLAs identified as supporters.

If we are serous about a shift in policy emphasis to include a commitment to a wellness agenda, this proposal is an obvious and effective first step. Yes there are arguments that there are other problems that need attention too. Priorities always have a ranking challenge and resourcing. But no matter how you slice this one – as a health issue, as a cost issue, as a productivity issue, as a liability issue for damages caused by second-hand smoke, as a safety issue in the workplace or as a property damage and personal tragedy issue through fire - it just makes sense.

My understanding is matters rarely come to an actual vote in Caucus. With polls showing that 84% of Albertans supporting a province wide ban on smoking in public and work places, I would not be surprised if this issue was one of those times a vote was held. With an election coming up, perhaps in less than a year, no doubt those politicians who were on side with the mainstream thinking of Albertans around this issue will want that fact to be known.

Hopefully for Dave Hancock his proposal will pass and prove to be the exception to McClaughry’s Law of Public Policy: “Politicians who vote huge expenditures to alleviate problems get re-elected; those who propose structural changes to prevent problems get early retirement.”

We can’t continue to throw money at the healthcare system in 10% annual budget increments. It is unsustainable to do so. The system needs structural changes that do not erode the principles of the Canada Health Act but enhances and embraces more individual responsibility. A province wide smoking ban would be a great start. Good luck Dave.