Health organizations are worried that the Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act is going up in smoke with the legalization of marijuana.
Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health, says the government is putting measures in place to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people, but the same measures aren’t being taken for tobacco.
“It’s a double-standard,” he says. “While the tobacco legislation is stalled, the government is fast-tracking cannabis legislation.”
Action on Smoking and Health, Canadian Cancer Society and the Heart and Stroke Foundation are part of a coalition advocating for the Tobacco and Smoking Act to be fully implemented across the province.
The act was introduced in 2013, effectively changing the way tobacco is sold across the province.
The legislation pulled flavoured tobacco from the shelves of convenience stores, put product out of sight and made it illegal for parents to smoke with children in the car.
However, Hagen says more still needs to be done.
“Right now in Alberta an untrained 14-year-old can sell tobacco from an unlicensed location in the vast majority of Alberta communities,” he says.
“Compare that with liquor. Everyone requires training and they must be 18 years or older to sell it. And we suspect that it’s going to go in the same direction for cannabis.”
He says the coalition would like workers to card anyone who appears to be under the age of 25 and require retailers to complete mandatory online training.
The federal government has plans to legalize marijuana by July 2018. The intent of the bill is to stomp out illegal sales of marijuana and keep the drug out of the hands of young people.
Under the Cannabis Act buyers would need to be a certain age to purchase marijuana and selling to a minor could result in a 14-year prison sentence.
In a news release the coalition said they were worried that the government appears to be more concerned about preventing underage cannabis use over underage tobacco use.
According to the release, they’re not alone. Leger Research conducted an online survey of 1,006 Albertans during the week of July 24. Four out of five poll respondents said they want the tobacco act to be fully implemented before marijuana is legalized.
The 2018 deadline has the Alberta government scrambling to draft its own legislation around the drug. Elements of the act, such as how it’s enforced and legal age limit of sales, will be determined at a provincial level.
Marie Renaud, MLA for St. Albert says tobacco and cannabis are two separate issues.
“They’re blending the two together,” she says. “I think that it’s been fairly clear from the federal government that we have a deadline to meet, and that’s next year in July to get this done.
“I think what the focus was for us is to make sure that the profits from (cannabis) don’t end up in the hands of criminals, that it stays out of the hands of children and that we have protection on the roads and the workplace.”
She says the government’s main concern is to make sure the Cannabis Act is rolled out safely.
When it comes to tobacco, she says the government has implemented some strong changes but admits more could be done.
“I think while we have anybody smoking we still have work to do,” she says.
Tara Grimstead, pharmacist with the St. Albert Sturgeon Primary Care Network, says the majority of smokers started in their teens.
“Youth will start smoking because of peer influence, they don’t want to appear different,” she says.
She says most smokers try their first cigarette between the ages of 11 and 16.
“They (health professionals) compare smoking to drug addiction. Nicotine enters the brain within seconds of smoking and attaches to receptors in the brain. The smoker feels great but almost immediately after finishing their cigarette the nicotine has left again,” Grimstead said
When it comes to cannabis, Grimstead has her own concerns. She says the government should focus on creating a healthier society instead of adding another unhealthy product to the market.