Lighting a fire for change
Tobacco control policies and programs have altered behaviour so dramatically in Canada and other developed countries, it’s easy to forget that a few decades ago smoking was the social norm. We smoked at work, at home, and in restaurants and bars, and tobacco companies relentlessly advertised their products on television, radio, and in magazines and newspapers.
With funds from Health Canada, IDRC supported an economic study that helped the Jamaican government rebut the tobacco industry’s arguments against higher taxes on cigarettes — in the process breathing new life into the country’s tobacco-control strategy.
In the past two decades, the smoking rate for Canadians aged 15 years or older has been cut in half — from 35% in 1985 to 18% in 2006. Yet, as smoking rates have been declining in Canada and other Western countries, they have been rising in the developing world. By the year 2030, tobacco will cause an estimated 10 million deaths annually — 70% in developing countries.
Unfortunately, the negative impact of tobacco in poor countries goes far beyond increased morbidity and mortality. Growing tobacco requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers and rapidly depletes soil nutrients, and 70% of the world’s tobacco is grown in developing countries. Land used for growing tobacco is not available to grow food. Every year, an estimated 2000 km2 of woodland are cut down to fuel smokehouses that cure tobacco. And tobacco workers, many of whom are women or children, typically work in poor conditions for very low pay.
An Understanding of What Works
Few people are in a better position to understand this than Linda Waverley of IDRC’s RITC, a program within the Social and Economic Policy program area. Created in 1994, RITC funds research in developing countries on a wide range of issues, including how to make the transition from growing tobacco to growing food; the health, economic and environmental impacts of tobacco cultivation; the health care costs of tobacco use; and effective policy approaches to reducing tobacco use. RITC addresses tobacco as a major development issue, exploring how globalization affects tobacco cultivation and use and how tobacco use affects poverty at both the household and national levels.
The position also gave Waverley an opportunity to work on tobacco control at the national level, first as the BC representative on a national steering committee for reducing tobacco consumption, then as the committee’s chair. Her work experience, combined with a master's degree in investigative medicine and a PhD in the social science and public administration aspects of tobacco control policy, landed her the job of RITC senior program officer in 1998. Two years later, she became RITC program leader.
|“RITC’s support of Vietnam in the hard struggle against tobacco has been very important. Through this research, consumers have gained greater awareness about tobacco, while we know more about the actual perceptions and behaviours of consumers. As a result, we have made recommendations and suggestions to officials responsible for tobacco control.”
— Dr. Do Gia Phan, Vietnam Standard and Consumer Association
In South Africa, for example, local RITC-supported research convinced the government to implement some of the strictest tobacco control measures ever adopted by a developing country. The consequences of that legislation were truly win-win: when the excise tax was increased from 34% to 50% of the retail price of cigarettes between 1994 and 1998, tobacco consumption dropped 15% while government revenues from tobacco taxes climbed 75%.
|Tobacco Control in Canada
Few countries have reduced tobacco consumption as quickly or as widely as Canada. A key part of this success has been Canadian leadership in integrated tobacco control policies and programs.
The first wave of tobacco control in Canada was spurred by the 1962 release of the United Kingdom's Royal College of Physicians' report on smoking and health, which unambiguously linked smoking to disease and premature death. Two years later, when the United States Surgeon General directly linked tobacco use to lung cancer, public calls for governments to introduce anti-smoking policies and programs grew louder, not only in Canada but worldwide.
Until the mid-1980s, Canada’s approach to tobacco control was piecemeal. This changed in 1986, when the federal government introduced multi-year, comprehensive, integrated strategies. The current Federal Tobacco Control Strategy has five objectives for 2001 to 2011:
Implementing the strategy requires the collaboration of many partners, including federal, provincial, and territorial governments, tobacco control advocates, and health care organizations and associations. It has four mutually reinforcing components: