Rob Cunningham from the Canadian Cancer Society speaks about youth e-cigarette and vape use during the 2019 Western Canadian Tobacco Reduction Forum, in Edmonton Thursday Feb. 21, 2019. Photo by David Bloom
David_Bloom David Bloom / David Bloom/Postmedia
I was four years old when my grandpa died of lung cancer — due to smoking. One of my earliest memories is visiting him in the hospital and being hoisted up onto his bed for a visit.Fast-forward four decades later, and thousands of Albertans are still dying every year from smoking. Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and illness in Alberta and across Canada, with more than 3,800 Albertans dying annually due to tobacco-related causes.And surprisingly, with smoking taking on a new look under the guise of vaping, tobacco use is now on the rise in Alberta —particularly among teens and young adults. Alberta youths aged 12-19 smoke an unbelievable 530,000 cigarettes every day. And according to the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs survey, both e-cigarette and cigarette use has increased sharply among Alberta teens over the last two years.Meanwhile, the tobacco lobby has a dozen registered lobbyists who are working the political backrooms in Alberta to keep unproclaimed legislation off the government agenda. And the lack of regulation over e-cigarette advertising has created a massive window of opportunity for vape companies (some owned by tobacco companies) to pour buckets of money into advertising and marketing — much of it targeted to kids and teens — to grow their market as quickly as possible before the government catches on.It’s no coincidence that the vaping display at your local convenience store is right beside the chocolate bars and candy. Added to the mix, the recent legalization of recreational cannabis is already re-normalizing smoking.As a champion for wellness and a partner in the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, we at Alberta Blue Cross believe we have a role to play in a smoke-free future for Albertans. That’s why we sponsored the Western Canadian Tobacco Reduction Forum in Edmonton in February, which brought together 120 representatives from across Canada and the U.S. for an impassioned discussion on how to continue to press forward with tobacco reduction.Presenters at the forum included James Van Loon, director general of Health Canada’s Tobacco Control Directorate; Treffrey Deerfoot of the Siksika Nation; and youth tobacco reduction champion Alexa Blyan.We are also pleased to sponsor the Alberta Smoke Free Spaces Program, which recognizes Alberta municipalities, school divisions and post-secondary institutions that make smoke-free spaces a priority. For more information about this program and a list of 2018 award recipients, visit http://smokefreespaces.ca/.If you have children, teens or young adults in your life, the time to talk to them about the dangers of tobacco use — including vaping— is now. If you’re chatting with your local elected official or candidate for office, ask them to support increased tobacco regulation. And if you know someone who smokes, it’s the right time to give them a gentle reminder about the benefits of quitting.Too many Albertans are still dying from tobacco use. It’s time for us to do something about it.Brian Geislinger is vice-president of corporate relations for Alberta Blue Cross.