A few years ago, the former medical health officer for Sun Country Health Region, who subsequently became the first Chief Public Health Officer for the new Public Health Agency of Canada, noted that one change would make more difference in people's health than all others. That change? To stop smoking.
Since then, the Saskatchewan government has made major efforts to reduce smoking. It has outlawed smoking in public places and many workplaces. It requires tobacco products to be hidden from public view where it's sold. It has raised tobacco taxes and supported tobacco-reduction campaigns. Sun Country Health Region has followed suit. We've campaigned to keep smoking off our own property and out of public places. We've enforced the law. We've set up a program to help our patients and staff quit.
It has all helped.
Between 2007 and 2011, the number of people who smoke in this Region has dropped from 29.7 per cent to 21.3 per cent. We now have a lower number than the Saskatchewan average of 23.8 per cent but much higher than the Canadian number of 13.7 per cent. (Curiously, the number of people 12 years and over who report they are exposed to second hand smoke has actually increased by 2.4 per cent during that same time period.)
But 21 per cent is still too high. Tobacco use is a leading cause of early death and it remains the largest avoidable risk to health.
A group of international health agencies and doctors are trying to get the world's nations to join a campaign to create a tobacco-free world by 2040, a world where less than five per cent of people use tobacco. They say there is a global health crisis caused by non-communicable diseases - like those caused by tobacco use (heart disease, stroke, cancers, and chronic respiratory disease).
In a paper presenting their proposals on the website of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, these officials say the gains in economic growth, health, and living standards of the past century are threatened by crises of our own creation like the crisis in non-communicable diseases. Tobacco use alone accounts for one in six of all deaths resulting from non-communicable diseases.
We don't need to wait for the countries of the world to take action. The remainder of smokers in Sun Country Health Region can come in out of the smoke and quit. They will breathe easier. Their families will breathe easier. And they will lighten their load on the health care system now and in the future. We can get that 21 per cent down much further.