06/17/2013 09:15 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Cancer society urges tougher anti-smoking laws

The Canadian Cancer Society is calling on the B.C. government to tighten its anti-smoking regulations, in an effort to cut the smoking rate from 14 to 9 per cent over the next five years.

The campaign comes on the 50th anniversary of the landmark declaration by Canada's Health Minister Judy LaMarsh that “smoking is a contributory cause of lung cancer”.

The statement came at a time when 50 per cent of Canadians smoked, including LaMarsh herself.

Today, B.C. enjoys the lowest smoking rate in the country — 14 per cent — but the society says the figure hasn't fallen in six years.

"Smoking is still responsible for 30 per cent of cancer deaths, and 85 per cent of lung cancers, so in terms of cancer prevention, controlling tobacco and reducing smoking rates is one of the best things we can do,” says Kathryn Seely of the Canadian Cancer Society's B.C. and Yukon Division.

The society is lobbying for higher taxes on tobacco, from the planned $44.60 as of Oct. 1 to $50 per carton of 200 cigarettes.

Vancouver already restricts smoking in many outdoor places, including restaurant patios, beaches and parks. But the society wants the government to implement those rules across the province.

- Smoking banned in Metro Vancouver parks

"Studies do show that smoke-free outdoor places work [because it] de-normalizes smoking so that children don't see smoking as a normal behaviour that their parents or another adult would do in a park or on a playground,” said Seely.

The society is also calling for a reduction in the number of places where tobacco is sold, such as pharmacies, to make it less convenient to buy tobacco products.

In a statement, the B.C. Ministry of Health said it "supports the overall goal to reduce smoking rates to single digits", adding that it has already implemented smoking cessation programs and bans on displays that promote tobacco in places frequented by youth.

It disagreed, however, that there has been no change in the rate of smoking, citing Statistics Canada data released today that show 130,000 fewer smokers in the province compared to 2008.