Alberta communities can help keep kids tobacco-free for life

In March, Edmonton City council approved a bylaw to ban smoking at playgrounds, sports fields and outdoor facilities frequented by children. While dozens of communities across Canada have passed similar bylaws, the Edmonton bylaw is the strongest in the province and we hope that other Alberta communities will follow suit.

The main objective of the new Edmonton bylaw is to promote healthy smoke-free behaviour to children and adolescents and to help youth remain tobacco-free for life. Young people are very impressionable and they take their cues from adults and other role models. As a society we need to send a strong message that smoking in public is not acceptable and we need to promote non-smoking as the norm if we want to drive down youth smoking.

Public smoking restrictions are a proven strategy to help discourage tobacco use and to reduce smoking onset by adolescents. The recent U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Reducing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults concludes that smoke-free laws contribute to reduced tobacco use among youth.

Alberta’s youth smoking rate remains unacceptably high and we are not meeting our provincial youth smoking target. In 2010, 13% of Alberta youth aged 12-19 were current smokers according to the Canadian Community Health Survey. The provincial target set by Alberta Health and Wellness was 10%. Obviously, more needs to be done to drive down smoking rates among impressionable adolescents.

Recently, the Alberta Legislative Assembly passed a bill to ban smoking in motor vehicles containing children under the age of 18. Municipalities can go one step further by providing youth with smoke-free outdoor spaces to complement the new provincial law.

Public support for smoke-free outdoor spaces is very high. A 2010 telephone survey of 1,203 Albertans conducted by the University of Alberta Population Research Lab found that 69% of respondents supported smoking bans at all outdoor public spaces.

Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of disease, disability and premature death in Alberta resulting in 3,000 deaths annually. Tobacco has no safe level of consumption, it is highly addictive, and it is the only legal produce that kills one-half of its long-term users when used as directed by its manufacturers. About 50,000 Alberta youth between the ages of 12 and 19 are current smokers according to the Canadian Community Health Survey.

The bottom line is that Alberta children deserve first-class protection from tobacco use and outdoor smoking restrictions will help to achieve this objective.

ASH is western Canada’s leading tobacco control organization.

Gail Foreman

Action on Smoking and Health

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