Sask. health organizations call on province to do more to reduce smoking rates

Several health organizations are urging the province to implement recommendations from a recent report to reduce smoking rates in Saskatchewan.

Report released Monday gives policy recommendations

The Saskatchewan Coalition for Tobacco Reduction released a report outlining a list of policy recommendations aimed at reducing tobacco use and generating revenue for tobacco control enforcement and programs. (iStock)

Donna Pasiechnik describes Saskatchewan's youth smoking rate as an "epidemic."

Pasiechnik, a health policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), has joined several other health organizations, including the Saskatchewan Medical Association, in urging the provincial government to implement strategies to reduce smoking.

"We have been calling for years now to update our tobacco control laws to prevent more kids from starting and that simply has not happened," Pasiechnik told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of youth smokers, according to the Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drug Survey done in 2017, the latest data available.

The survey shows 21.9 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 are current smokers compared to eight per cent nationally.

The Saskatchewan Coalition for Tobacco Reduction released a report Monday outlining a list of policy recommendations aimed at reducing tobacco use and generating revenue for tobacco control enforcement and programs.

Donna Pasiechnik wants to work with the provincial government to lower the rates of tobacco use in Saskatchewan. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Some of the recommendations include increasing the legal age to purchase tobacco and vaping products, banning all hookah smoking wherever smoking is banned and banning flavours in all tobacco products.

"We've been calling for a ban on flavoured tobacco because we know flavoured tobacco products are extremely popular among young kids," said Pasiechnik.

"The federal government has banned most flavours. They banned menthol tobacco. Seven other provinces have banned all flavoured tobacco products including smokeless tobacco, which here in Saskatchewan is extremely popular."

The report also calls for stricter rules around e-cigarettes and vaping.

Pasiechnik said concerns about vaping products "seem to fall on deaf ears" and that Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only provinces that haven't regulated vaping.

She said there's been a "huge spike" in vaping and she expects that to continue if regulations don't become more stringent.

Increase prices

The report also recommends increasing the price of tobacco products and introducing tobacco licences for retailers.

"Saskatchewan and Alberta are the only provinces where you do not need a licence to sell tobacco," said Pasiechnik.

Selling tobacco or tobacco products is not allowed in pharmacies or retail stores that are connected to a pharmacy, according to the province's web site.

Pasiechnik said a price increase and licences would enable the government to spend more on reducing smoking.

Gov't meeting

Pasiechnik said she had a productive meeting with Health Minister Jim Reiter and other government officials before Christmas.

Now she wants action.

"I have made it sort of a a job of mine to speak to as many individual MLAs as is possible to educate them about why we should all be concerned about what needs to be done," she said.

"This is a non-partisan issue, as far as the Canadian Cancer Society is concerned."

Saskatchewan had the second highest smoking rates for adults aged 20-24 and older than 45, finishing behind Newfoundland.

CBC has reached out to the provincial government for a response.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning


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