OTTAWA - National health groups are condemning the Harper government for cuts to a federal non-smoking program.
Melodie Tilson, from the Non-Smokers Rights Association, says the cuts give tobacco companies the upper hand in influencing future health policy decisions.
"Why would the Harper government gut a program that saves the lives of Canadians, saves government money and safeguards the health and well-being of our youth?" Tilson asked.
"Consider who wins by this decision. The only winner — and they are big winners — is big tobacco."
Tilson is one of several public-health experts and non-smoking advocates who are critical of the recent federal budget that cut $15 million — more than 30 per cent — from the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy.
The program has successfully reduced the number of smokers across Canada, including a reduction of youth tobacco use by half.
There are still about five million smokers in the country.
The health groups say that decreasing funding for the program will leave Health Canada ill-prepared for emerging issues, such as growing use of smokeless tobacco products and flavoured water-pipe tobacco.
But Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq listed several government anti-smoking initiatives, including warning labels on cigarette packaging, a national hotline for people who want to quit smoking and a ban on small, flavoured cigarettes targeted at youth.
"The current tobacco program is a decade old," Aglukkaq said in a statement.
"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."
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