Friday, November 26, 2004

Public smoking ban a simple way to save lives, MLAs say

VICTORIA - Pretty brave, those Liberal backbenchers on the health committee who took a stiff shot at their government's smoking policy.
It's been almost three years since the Liberals over-ruled the WCB and said people could go on smoking in bars and restaurants, despite the health risk
The result, based on the latest report from the legislature's health committee, has been more sickness, death and hundreds of millions in health costs.
The committee - 12 Liberal backbenchers and New Democrat Joy MacPhail - has just weighed in with its latest report, focusing on ways of preventing illness and injury.
And although the skittish Liberals stopped short of calling for smoking ban in bars, restaurants and other public places, they might as well have.
The committee said municipalities should ban smoking, since a provincial government ban might seem too intrusive to some people. (Never mind that other provinces seem to have found the will.)
"More communities should consider banning smoking in all public buildings, particularly in bars and restaurants," the committee recommended.
The most direct beneficiaries would be the people who work in those businesses.
"This move is most important to protect restaurant and bar workers, who must inhale secondhand smoke and risk harm by tobacco's hundreds of toxic elements," the committee warned.
Why do they have to risk harm from toxins? Because the Liberals gave in to a fierce lobby from the industry and - for the first time ever - over-ruled the Workers Compensation Board order that employees not have to work in smoke-filled rooms.
It's not just the employees who are at risk. The committee reports that legislation banning smoking may be the greatest help to smokers who have the most difficulty quitting. A public health study found that 36 per cent of ex-smokers cited legal bans as the prime motivation; smokers who tried to quit were three times more likely to succeed when a ban was in place.
It's not really a question of an individual's right to choose to risk illness. As the committee noted, the current policy puts the health of employees in bars and restaurants at risk.
And anything that encourages smoking, or makes it harder for people to quit, costs us all money. The committee report says that about 16 per cent of British Columbians now smoke; getting that down to 12 per cent would save $160 million a year in direct and indirect health costs, plus much more in lost productivity and social costs.
Sadly, the committee wimped out on advocating a province-wide ban. Instead individual communities should ban smoking, it suggested.
But they've had the chance to do that, and many of them haven't. (Sixteen municipalities across the province have ordered full or partial bans on smoking in enclosed public spaces.) Many of the holdouts complain that a municipal ban penalizes local businesses. If smokers can simply drive outside the city boundaries and smoke in a bar, then establishments in the city will be unfairly penalized.
The committee has delivered a useful report taking aim at our individual responsibility for our own health.
The public debate around health often centres on waiting lists and drug costs and what kind of care we can afford.
But it needs to shift to focus much more on obesity and exercise and healthy food choices, all things that can enhance our individual health and save the system a fortune. Even modest progress on preventing chronic diseases and avoidable injuries, increasing physical activity and reducing obesity and smoking could save close to $1 billion a year.
We spend almost $11 billion on health care in B.C., with more than 97 per cent of that going to treat people when they're already hurt or sick, often from preventable causes. "We have a sickness care system, not a health care system," the committee reported.
The committee wants spending on prevention doubled, to six per cent or $660 million a year.
The government should quickly promise to meet that goal.
Footnote: The committee found up to 40 per cent of chronic diseases could be prevented. Obesity is on track to replace tobacco as the number one preventable killer. More exercise and healthier food choices could do more for health that a dozen MRI machines.

1 comment:

Cash Advance Man said...

I skim a lot of blogs, and so far yours is in the Top 3 of my list of favorites. I'm going to dive in and try my hand at it, so wish me luck.

It'll be in a totally different area than yours (mine is about danger of smoking) I know, it sounds strange, but it's like anything, once you learn more about it, it's pretty cool. It's mostly about danger of smoking related articles and subjects.