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Coalition urges government to drastically reduce number of BC smokers

(Photo credit: Dustin Godfrey for NEWS 1130)

Clean Air Coalition says smoking means $2.1 billion in costs for healthcare and lost productivity in BC

Coalition says more than a half million British Columbians smoke tobacco

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s a habit that kills 16 people in this province every day — over 6,000 every year — but there is a push to help hundreds of thousands smokers in BC butt out for good.

To mark National Non-Smoking Week, the Clean Air Coalition — which includes the BC Lung Association, Heart & Stroke, and Canadian Cancer Society — is presenting a report to the provincial government outlining five strategies that could decrease BC’s tobacco rates.

“There are far too many who continue to smoke, even though we are fortunate that we have the fewest number of people per capita who smoke in BC, we have about 525,000 British Columbians who still smoke tobacco,” says the Coalition’s Jack Boomer.

“That’s why it’s important, as we acknowledge National Non-Smoking Week, that we try to do everything we can to make it harder for youth to start smoking and easier for those who do smoke to quit.”

Boomer points out tobacco-use takes a tremendous toll on the healthcare system.

“It depends on which numbers you look at, but with the direct and indirect costs for healthcare and for lost productivity it’s about $2.1 billion in British Columbia alone.”

The coalition’s report, entitled First to 5% by 2035, outlines a vision for BC to be the first province to reach the federal government’s target of under 5% tobacco use by the year 2035.

“We have been working with others across Canada and the federal government has actually set a target to achieve five per cent prevalence by the year 2035 — so in about 20 years to get the rate of smoking in Canada down to five per cent. It’s an ambitious target and we want to be the first province to reach that goal,” Boomer tells NEWS 1130, adding that the current rate of tobacco use in BC is anywhere from 12 to 15 per cent.

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The report urges Victoria to ensure equal access to public clean-air spaces like parks, patios and beaches across the province.

“In BC, we have a patchwork of regulations in terms of how people are protected and we are encouraging the provincial government to set a simple standard,” he says.

“What we want to do is prohibit smoking and vaping of all substances on restaurant and bar patios, ensure parks beaches and playgrounds are completely protected, ensure there is a buffer-zone of about nine metres from doors windows and air intakes, and ensure that other substances are included like hookahs, cigars and electronic smoking devices.”

Boomer believes BC should also maintain access to free, evidence-based smoking cessation programs.

“BC has one of the most generously funded programs to help people quit smoking. Anyone can go the pharmacy, ask for support and they can get up to 12 weeks a year of the patch or gum. If you want therapy like Zyban or Champix, you can go to your doctor and get a prescription. Depending on how you are covered, you might get some or all of that at a lesser cost,” he says.

“We also know that some groups are heavily addicted in greater numbers and therefore they need additional support. We are encouraging the provincial government to explore that as well.”

The report is also pushing for more smoke-free options for the growing majority who live in multi-unit housing.

“It is legal for landlords and stratas to actually ban smoking in units and provide restrictions. Most people don’t smoke in their own homes, they go out on the balcony or the patio, and that smoke can actually go into another person’s unit. As a result of that it can cause a disturbance. What we are saying is that we should be increasing the rules around what is permitted with smoking in multi-unit dwellings.”

The coalition also wants to make tobacco product retailers more accountable and products less available.

“BC is the only province that still allows tobacco to be sold in pharmacies. This is one of the most amazing things — in the province where we have one of the lowest per capita smoking rates,” says Boomer.

“On top of that, it is extremely easy to get a license to sell tobacco. That, to us, seems a travesty when you consider that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and 50 per cent of all users will die by using it properly. We are advocating for more restrictions on the supply side and on retailers with better checks and balances on that side of the tobacco equation.”

The report also highlights new challenges: smoking patterns are becoming increasingly complex with new industry products, along with upcoming cannabis legalization.

The coalition believes both threaten to broaden the appeal of smoking and normalize the behaviour.