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B.C. tobacco sales remain strong: stats 0

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Sales of tobacco in British Columbia have remained strong over the past several years.

Sales of tobacco in British Columbia have remained strong over the past several years.

Sales of tobacco in British Columbia have remained strong over the past several years despite the provincial subsidy for smoking cessation and enhanced municipal laws covering where smokers can puff.

According to new data from Statistics Canada, the wholesale value for cigarettes and tobacco products in B.C. for the first four months of 2014 was $278.5 million. In terms of year-to-date values, it's the highest number in B.C. over the past five years. In 2009, that figure was $263.6 million.

Local health authorities agree that more needs to be done.

"This is not the time for complacency," said Fraser Health Dr. Helena Swinkels.

She said cities and the provincial government alike need to continually strengthen legislation that would "denormalize" smoking, such as banning lighting up at parks, beaches, schools, entryways and other public places — though the rise of e-cigarettes being targeted towards youth is a growing issue.

Vancouver Coastal Health Dr. Meena Dawar said one proven way to help smokers quit was demonstrated in a pilot project that ran from 2007 to 2011.

That project — which identifies smokers in hospital to help them quit — assisted 4,000 smokers and had a quit rate of 52% after six months of completing the program.

She said the health authority is trying to extend the program to reach more patients, but funding is short.

In Ontario, a similar program costs $85 per patient.

"All in-patients are asked: did you use tobacco in the last seven days?" Dawar said. "If they say yes ... we help them through withdrawal, start them on nicotine replacement therapy, also then having someone work with them who addresses their addiction."

She said smokers are typically more cognizant of their health when hospitalized — whether it's for a broken arm or actual lung problems — and the approach could intercept smokers as they pass through the healthcare system.

The B.C. Ministry of Health said 155,000 patients have received smoking cessation aids through its subsidy program since September 2011.

B.C. is also currently looking at its Tobacco Control Strategy, with a target to achieve a 10% smoking rate by 2023. A new framework is expected this winter. 

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