REGINA – Three major health organizations have expressed their disappointment with the Saskatchewan government Tuesday, in light of a relative lack of action on tobacco control.
The Canadian Cancer Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation and Lung Association urged the government to take steps to reduce tobacco use back in 2009.
While they note the Sask. Party has increased tobacco taxes and reduced the amount of cigarettes going to First Nations, overall they said not enough is being done.
“The government’s apathy on this file is completely unacceptable,” said Donna Pasiechnik with the Canadian Cancer Society. “We have become increasingly concerned about our stubbornly high smoking rates, particularly among youth, and the provincial government’s reluctance to address the issue.”
According to Statistics Canada, in 2014 around 20 per cent of Saskatchewan residents smoke. It’s not just adults picking up the habit either, our province historically has the highest teen smoking rate in the nation.
“Saskatchewan is falling behind what other provinces are doing in terms of legislation. With high rates of smoking, action and leadership is especially needed, but this is not happening,” said Rob Cunningham, a policy analyst with Canadian Cancer Society.
“Our minister of health keeps citing the need to monitor the situation before taking action. While he waits, more kids are becoming addicted,” said the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Lorie Langenfurth.
The health groups hired an independent consultant to review the province’s policies and compare them to the rest of Canada.
That consultant gave Saskatchewan a “D+” score, citing failures in areas like the regulation of e-cigarettes and the banning of flavoured tobacco.
Recently, other provinces, including our neighbours in Alberta, have enacted legislation to ban flavoured cigarettes, including menthol. The health organizations say the flavours are targeted at youth.
The province also doesn’t have stringent laws enforcing where people can smoke.
“We now have six provinces, soon to be seven, that have banned smoking on outdoor patios in bars and restaurants,” Langenfurth said, contrasting them with Saskatchewan.
Meanwhile, Saskatoon, Warman and Martensville acted on their own to create municipal bylaws banning smoking at parks and playgrounds.
But Health Minister Dustin Duncan said it’s very complicated to ban smoking in open-air spaces.
“I think we’re probably getting to a point where either we just make a decision to ban tobacco for everybody if those are some of the decisions we’re starting to contemplate,” Duncan said.
The opposition called that a cop-out.
“That is absolutely ridiculous and that is an excuse to do absolutely nothing,” said NDP health critic Danielle Chartier.
She added if she were health minister, the NDP would ban smoking on patios as well as flavoured tobacco, including menthol.