Canadians look to a healthier future by quitting smoking

09:02, January 12, 2011      

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Canadians will get a subtle yet graphic message to butt out or face a possible death from lung cancer this week when the country's 34th annual National Non-Smoking Week begins Sunday.

"Smoking still kills 37,000 Canadians each year and tobacco is responsible for 30 percent of cancer deaths and 85 percent of lung cancers," Kathryn Seely, the Canadian Cancer Society's public issues manager for British Columbia and the Yukon, said in an interview with Xinhua.

She recommends that even the most hardcore addicts can kick their habit through using "the patch" or gum as nicotine replacement therapies. Other suggestions include physician counseling or through the support of online help groups or family and friends.

Taking it a step further, the Canadian Cancer Society regularly urges the federal government to pass legislation that would help people quit smoking and prevent others from starting in the first place.

"We also lobby our provincial governments to pass policies and legislation that would stop people from starting (smoking) and hopefully tempt them to quit," Seely said.

In British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, the healthy, outdoor life is ingrained in the local communities. With its beautiful environment that provides ample encouragement for regular exercise, it could possibly be one of the main reasons why the province has the country's lowest percentage of smokers.

According to the online magazine The Health eZine, 15 percent of British Columbians aged 15 or older smoked. The national average was 18 percent. Residents of the south-central province of Saskatchewan lit up the most at 24 percent.

The numbers, however, were down drastically from 1965 when 49 percent of Canadians smoked.

Health Canada, understandably, would like to see the numbers continue to fall as the government annually spends about 3 billion Canadian dollars on smoking related health care.

In recent years, the government arm has moved to require shopkeepers to keep tobacco products hidden from sight so as not to lure children into smoking, and updated its warning pictures on cigarette packages showing graphic images of the effects of smoking, such as gum disease, cancer and male impotence, among others.

Whether such measures are enough in a country where pack of name-brand cigarettes can cost more than 10 Canadian dollars (10 U.S. dollars), Health Canada has set the lofty goal of lowering smoking rates to 12 percent by this year.

Taking matters into its own hands, the City of Vancouver has been at the forefront in making it difficult for people to light up, or to deter them from ever starting.

After British Columbia passed a smoking ban in March 2007 in bars, restaurants and any buildings outside of private residences, Vancouver banned smoking at city beaches, playgrounds, parks and even golf courses last year.

Angelo Couris, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority's manager of health protection, has been given the job to oversee the enforcement of such a ban. So far, local smokers, now conditioned to standing in the cold and wet outside bars, restaurants and public places, have largely accepted the situation, he said.

"It's been very successful. I can tell you ... our enforcement is based upon education and also ticketing. But in the past year, I've looked at our records, we've issued one ticket. And this was a restaurant employee. So this has been received and very successful."

Couris said it wasn't the authority's style to ticket individuals if a complaint was levied about smoking in a premise - likely because the culprit would long be gone before one of his 26 inspectors arrived on the scene - but rather to fine the proprietor.

"So usually we work with people. We don't go in there waving a ticket, it is more education. You have to educate people of the adverse effects of second-hand smoke and that smoking is bad for you. When you do that and they learn that, that's when you are going to get compliance."

As different agencies from the federal, provincial and civic levels are working together as a team to curb smoking, it will be increasingly difficult situation for smokers. This, coupled with the social stigma against smokers and greater awareness of the dangers of smoking, would undoubtedly help the numbers to continue to drop.

However, he admitted ongoing education to the dangers of smoking is a must, especially for the juniors.

One of the agency's routines is to hire minors to go into a business and try to buy cigarettes. If the store sells to anyone under 19, they will receive a fine varying from 200 to 500 Canadian dollars. Chronic offenders risk losing their license to sell tobacco.

When the smoking ban was passed in local bars in 2007, Couris said the biggest howls came from pub operators who claimed their business would drop as most of their clients enjoyed a puff with their drink.

The authority looked to California, then at the forefront of smoking regulation, which did a study that found that there was no economic impact on those businesses as a result of the ban.

"It took a while to convince them (bars), but in the end, after a few years of implementing the regulations, they came around and said definitely there wasn't any (impact). Some of them came even forward and said, 'Oh, our business has now improved.'"

Source: Xinhua
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