By Kirk Winter

Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada and 45,000 people per year die of tobacco related illnesses.

The Canadian Cancer Society has made tobacco their “Public Enemy Number One” for the last three decades. While the number of deaths due to cancer caused by smoking have been noted, the numbers have remained stubbornly high.

As of 2017, tobacco still is responsible for 30 percent of all cancer deaths in Canada. Eighty-five percent of lung cancer deaths are tobacco related. In 2017, 28,600 individuals were diagnosed with lung cancer, and 21,100 died.

The number of tobacco related cancer deaths exceeds the total number of colorectal, breast and prostate cancer deaths combined.

Smoking has been directly linked to the following cancers developing: laryngeal, oral, stomach, pancreatic, kidney, bladder, ovarian, cervical, colorectal, pharyngeal, esophageal, nasal cavity, liver, acute myelogenous, leukemia, and ureter.

What clearly frustrates the Society is that despite changing attitudes towards smoking and a massive public health blitz aimed at first time smokers, young people continue to start to smoke. In 2015, a survey discovered that 10 percent of 15 to 19 year-olds became smokers. That number extrapolates to about 200,000 new smokers in Canada.

In 2016, the Society estimated that 17 percent of adult Canadians were smokers, almost 5.2 million people.

Many might suggest that those are good numbers considering where we were even 20 years ago, but the CCS does not agree. The CCS continues to challenge “Big Tobacco” particularly on the issue of how and where tobacco is sold. Tobacco packaging where currently 75 percent of the package contains public health warnings is courtesy of Society lobbying.

The Society wants to go one step further with packaging, forcing all tobacco companies to move to plain and standardized packaging. Australia, the U.K., Norway, Ireland, New Zealand and Hungary are already there.

The CCS is also pushing for an aggressive taxation policy to be used against “Big Tobacco” so that “the costs to the health care system of smoking are recovered from the tobacco industry.” The Society feels a good starting point would be an additional $60 million in taxes levied against the tobacco firms.

The CCS has done research that indicates that for every 10 percent price increase in tobacco, 40 percent of smokers give it up. The Federal government is facing increasing pressure from the Cancer Society to increase the price of tobacco significantly.

Finally, the CCS is lobbying Ottawa to pass legislation in three different areas that would help the Society in their fight against young people starting smoking.

  • An outright ban on all flavoured tobacco products as 50 percent of teen smokers favour these products over all others

  • Make universities and colleges 100 percent smoke free

  • Ensure that any film aimed at youth audiences is tobacco free, eliminating the product placement of tobacco products that is still surprisingly common

The Canadian Cancer Society’s ultimate dream is to eliminate the easily preventable cancers caused by the sun and cigarettes, which will allow them to then focus all of their attention on the more difficult to treat cancers like that of the pancreas or the brain.