The Federal Tobacco Control Strategy

Zoe Kahn

Reprinted from "Tobacco" issue of Visions Journal, 2007, 3 (4), p. 10

Tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of disease and death in Canada. Every year, over 37,000 Canadians die from smoking-related illnesses, including 800 non-smokers who die from illnesses due to exposure to second-hand smoke.1 Half of current smokers will die prematurely from illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and pulmonary disease.

Despite achievements resulting in fewer smokers, health care costs attributable to smoking increased by about a third since 1991—from $3.4 billion to $4.4 billion in 2002. When the societal impacts of lost productivity are factored in, the total economic cost of tobacco use soars to $17 billion annually.1

Federal Tobacco Control Strategy: 2001-2011

The Government of Canada introduced the 10-year Federal Tobacco Control Strategy (FTCS) in 2001. Its purpose is to implement a comprehensive, integrated and sustained tobacco control strategy to significantly reduce disease and death due to tobacco use. The strategy encourages and supports a range of activities that fall broadly into four interdependent areas:2

  • Protection activities, such as assisting in the planning, implementing and evaluating of non-smoking by-laws, work to create an environment that supports non-smoking as a societal norm.

  • Prevention activities work to discourage all Canadians (especially youth) from taking up smoking. These include programs that educate youth about the dangers of tobacco use and that share best practices with health care professionals, teachers and parents.

  • Cessation activities focus on helping Canadians quit smoking, and include working with a range of stakeholders to provide telephone quit line counselling nationally.

  • Harm reduction recognizes that some smokers will not quit, and works toward a better understanding of the new and novel products in the marketplace.

The FTCS is built on a foundation of partnership. Health Canada’s FTCS mandate is health focused. The Canada Revenue Agency, Justice Canada, the RCMP, the Canada Border Services Agency, and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness provide support in monitoring and providing surveillance for contraband tobacco.

Health Canada also consults and collaborates regularly with provincial and territorial partners. In 1999, a pan-Canadian approach to tobacco control was developed under the title, New Directions for Tobacco Control in Canada: A National Strategy.3 The four goals identified—prevention, cessation, protection and denormalization—continue to form a strong basis for federal, provincial and territorial cooperation.

The FTCS is further strengthened through close collaboration with the private and voluntary sectors and with the international community. As one of the first countries to ratify the first ever public health treaty, the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC),4 Canada takes its leadership role in tobacco control seriously. Health Canada provides both technical and financial assistance to developing countries and countries with economies in transition.

Achievements to date

To date, the FTCS has exceeded expectations and is successfully meeting the goals outlined in 2001. The goal of reducing the number of people who smoke to 20% of the population was achieved in 2004, seven years ahead of schedule, and has since been further reduced to 19%.5 This reduction in prevalence translates into well over one million fewer Canadians smoking than in 2000, and means that more than half of Canadians who ever smoked have quit.

There has also been good progress in meeting the other goals. The number of cigarettes sold in Canada declined from 43.2 billion in 2000 to 33.6 billion in 2004, representing over two-thirds of the 10-year target of a 30% reduction. Retailer compliance with laws on tobacco sales to youth improved from 69.8% in 2000 to 80.8 % in 2005, exceeding the original 80% target.

The FTCS has also been successful in reducing the number of people exposed to tobacco smoke in enclosed public places. The number of children under 12 exposed to second-hand smoke at home dropped from 1.1 million in 1994 to 379,000 in 2006. In same period, the number of Canadian workplaces with total smoking bans more than doubled to upwards of 70%.

New safety initiatives include Cigarette Ignition Propensity Regulations, which now require manufacturers to produce cigarettes less likely to start fires.

Looking Ahead

The Government of Canada remains committed to reducing tobacco-related death and disease. Progress to date has reinforced that the battle to reduce smoking can eventually be won. As Health Canada works with its partners to establish new objectives for the remaining years of the FTCS, the focus is on how to best meet the remaining challenges and ensure that smoking rates continue to fall

About the author

Zoe works as a Policy Analyst for Health Canada’s Tobacco Control Program

  1. Rehm, J., Baliunas, D., Brochu, S. et al. (2006). The costs of substance abuse in Canada 2002. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

  2. Health Canada. (2002). The Federal Tobacco Control Strategy (FTCS): A framework for action. Ottawa: Author.

  3. Conference of Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers of Health. (2002). A National Strategy: New Directions for Tobacco Control in Canada. Banff, AB: Author.

  4. World Health Organization. (2003). WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Geneva: Author.

  5. Statistics Canada. (2006). Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey (CTUMS). Ottawa: Health Canada.