Why is BC settling for average marks?
On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Health Organization’s World No Tobacco Day, the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the BC Lung Association have issued a Report Card to the Government of British Columbia on its current tobacco control efforts.
In a Report Card released today, leading health advocates the BC Lung Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation give the BC Government a C+ for their overall efforts to protect the public from the harms of tobacco use, the primary preventable cause of disease.
The report card provides a summary of progress made, identifies best practices, and compares the Province’s achievements on the issue of tobacco control with those of other Canadian jurisdictions.
The objective? To secure the Province’s commitment to a more aggressive tobacco control strategy worthy of the Premier’s Healthy Families agenda.
“The government has made enormous strides on issues related to tobacco control – most recently through its subsidization of proven quit medications – but overall it receives average marks,” says Scott McDonald, CEO of the BC Lung Association. “By dragging its feet in several key areas, the Province is settling for mediocrity rather than leading Canada by example.”
“Our aim is to ignite decisive action on every available tobacco use deterrent. Today, fewer than fifteen percent of British Columbians smoke, social norms have changed and British Columbians feel it is a right to breathe clean air,” says Diego Marchese, CEO, BC & Yukon of the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
The report card grades the government in seven key areas and compares BC’s progress to the rest of Canada. Areas addressed are: 1) tobacco use rates, 2) tobacco tax rates, 3) the sale of tobacco in pharmacies, 4) smoking bans in outdoor public places, 5) smoking in a motor vehicle when a minor is present, 6) subsidized nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and proven prescription cessation drugs, and 7) smoke‐free multi‐unit dwellings.
BC gets an ‘A’ for its provision of subsidized quit smoking medication, which people need to obtain through pharmacies, but an ‘F’ for its failure to ban the sale of tobacco in those pharmacies and stores that contain pharmacies.
“This is the number one preventable cause of death. We should employ every known smoking deterrent we can,” continued Marchese. “Why, for example, is BC the only remaining Canadian province not to ban the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies? We’re paying to subsidize proven quit medications to help people quit smoking cigarettes, but we still allow pharmacies to sell them.”
Furthermore, say the health advocates, the government needs to address the patchwork quilt of municipal bylaws banning smoking in outdoor public places.
BC laws ban smoking three metres from doors, windows and air intakes of public buildings, in transit shelters, and on K‐12 school grounds. They do not, however, address smoking in outdoor places such as parks, playgrounds and customer service patios.
“Only a fraction ‐ 20 percent ‐ of BC regional districts and municipalities have implemented bylaws banning smoking on restaurant and bar patios, and/or in public parks, playgrounds and on beaches. This leaves 80 percent of BC municipalities without any such bylaws,” says McDonald.
“We need standardized province‐wide legislation that protects adults and children from exposure to toxic second‐hand smoke in public outdoor places.”
Last on the health advocates’ fix list is a bewildering absence of smoke‐free housing options.
“Two million British Columbians live in apartment buildings, condos and townhomes – the fastest growing segment of the housing market. The vast majority are non‐smokers and want to live smoke-free,” says Marchese.
“Through our Smoke‐free Housing BC website (www.smokefreehousingbc.ca), we hear regularly from people in apartments and condominiums exposed to unwanted second‐hand smoke drifting from neighbouring suites and balconies. People feel helpless to stop it,” continued Marchese. “Under BC law, smoking is prohibited in building common areas such as lobbies, corridors and laundry rooms, but these laws do not apply to private balconies for example. We need more smoke‐free housing options and we need to provide landlords with effective tools to enforce no smoking regulations.”
A March 2012 survey conducted by the Mustel Group for the BC Lung Association and Heart and Stroke Foundation indicate clear BC public support for province‐wide legislation and policies that:
- Ban smoking in outdoor public places including customer service patios in restaurant and bars; and within 7.5 metres of customer service patios and entrances to public buildings.
- Ban tobacco sales in pharmacies and stores that contain a pharmacy; and
- Increase availability of smoke‐free housing options in multi‐unit dwellings.
While BC has the lowest tobacco use rate in the country at 14.3 percent, its 550,000 tobacco users constitute the fourth largest population of tobacco users nation‐wide. Cigarette smoking harms cost the BC economy a reported $2.4 billion annually, including $605 million annually in direct health care costs.
About the Heart and Stroke Foundation
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (heartandstroke.ca), a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.
About the Lung Association
A non‐profit, non‐governmental organization, the BC Lung Association is dedicated to improving lung health and promoting clean air initiatives across the province. Through public awareness campaigns, the BC Lung Association acts as an educational resource for the general public as well as those living with respiratory conditions. The BC Lung Association also specializes in patient support programs, community services and advanced medical research.