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Ottawa under fire for cutting funding to anti-smoking program

Health Canada came under fire this week when it announced plans to trim the budget of its main anti-smoking program.

In total, $15-million will be cut from annual budget of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy. In the previous fiscal year, it was given $53-million.

The FTCS, using a combination of public health warnings and industry regulations, has played a key role in bringing down smoking rates among Canadians. Smokers now account for 17 per cent of the adult population – an all-time low. Back in 1999, 25 per cent of adults lit up on a regular basis.

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"The current tobacco program is a decade old. It has helped contribute to success, but now is the time to make changes that focus on those populations that are smoking far more than the national average," Health Minster Leona Aglukkaq said in a statement. "In particular, aboriginal populations within Canada have rates as high as 50 per cent."

Rob Cunningham, a senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society, agrees the federal government should do more to reduce smoking among aboriginals. But he said it shouldn't be easing its efforts elsewhere.

"We have an enormous amount of work that remains to be done," said Mr. Cunningham. "It is still the number one health issue. One of every two regular smokers is going to die from smoking."

As part of the federal strategy to reduce smoking, Ottawa recently introduced new warning labels on cigarette packages. And it banned flavoured little cigars – products that appeal to younger smokers.

National health groups, including the Canadian Cancer Society, argue it's shortsighted to take money away from tobacco control. If fewer people smoke, tobacco-related illnesses will drop – leading to big savings in medical bills, said Mr. Cunningham. He estimates smoking currently costs the health-care system $4-billion a year.

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