POLITICS

Health groups want Saskatchewan to enforce law against selling teens tobacco

12/12/2013 01:44 EST | Updated 02/11/2014 05:59 EST
REGINA - Health groups and retailers want the Saskatchewan government to do more to enforce a law that prohibits stores from selling tobacco to teens.

The Canadian Cancer Society, the Lung Association of Saskatchewan and the Heart and Stroke Foundation sent a letter Thursday to Health Minister Dustin Duncan.

In the letter, the groups call on the province to spend money on a program that would use test shoppers to catch retailers who sell tobacco to minors.

"We urged the minister to reinstate the test shopper program," said Donna Pasiechnik, spokeswoman for the Canadian Cancer Society.

"This practice increases retailer motivation to seek compliance at all times given the risk of being tested at any time and being charged and fined."

The federal government used a similar program before it turned over responsibility for tobacco enforcement to the provinces last year, but Saskatchewan scrapped it in favour of a complaints-based approach.

Only six complaints have been filed in the province since last fall.

Duncan acknowledged the complaints-based system isn't getting good results, but he also noted that using test shoppers is expensive.

"While we may not be going far enough in terms of the complaint system, we are looking at whether there is a middle ground between what the federal government did and what we are now doing."

The Canadian Cancer Society said the province has had the highest teen smoking rate in Canada for the last 10 years. It is estimated that 20 per cent of Saskatchewan teens between the ages of 15 to 19 smoke — almost double the national average.

Pasiechnik said the government spends about $500,000 on tobacco control each year ,while at the same time collecting an estimated $245 million in tobacco taxes.

The Western Convenience Stores Association said Thursday it isn't satisfied either with how the province is enforcing the tobacco law and supports the call for more action.

"Retailers should be reminded of their responsibility to ensure vigilance in their age verification program," association president Andrew Klukas said in a release.

He suggested high staff turnover and the need to provide quick service to customers are part of the problem.

"However, age testing has and always will remain the top priority."