Health minister slams AHS e-cigarette study in Calgary

Date:14/12/11
 Health minister slams AHS e-cigarette study in Calgary

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Health Minister Stephen Mandel wants to butt out Alberta Health Service’s plan to fund an electronic cigarette study in Calgary.

AHS and the city of Calgary planned to split the $25,000 cost of a public consultation survey, the second phase of a study on the use of e-cigarettes and their potential impact on the community.

But in the legislature Wednesday, Mandel said it’s not an appropriate use of money by the superboard.

“Alberta Health Services should not be going out and doing those kinds of things at this point in time. These are difficult times, and we will talk to them about the kind of investments they’re making,” he said.

However, Dr. Richard Musto, AHS’s chief medical officer of health for the Calgary zone, said in an interview the money has been committed and the plan is to continue with the funding.

Musto said e-cigarettes are a potentially major health issue and public consultation is important to provide perspective to Calgary city council if it chooses to regulate the product.

“It’s a legitimate thing for the city to be doing,” he said.

“I’m really very pleased that we’re able to partner with them on this work because we should be — to the extent that we can — providing the best information available to our elected officials at whatever level so they can act on our behalf.”

Mandel was responding in the legislature to a question from Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth, who called the survey “ridiculous.”

The Calgary-Fish Creek MLA said the money would be better spent ensuring seniors in long-term care were given two baths a week as promised by the Tory government.

Mandel’s spokesman, Steve Buick, brushed off questions whether the minister would order AHS to scrap its funding, but said he would make his views known to the provincial health authority.

Buick said the study duplicates work already being done within government, as provincial medical health officers from across Canada are working together to formulate a joint policy around e-cigarettes.

Alberta’s current budget situation — with Premier Jim Prentice warning of a potential $7-billion hole in the budget because of nosediving oil prices — has also “sensitized” politicians to questionable expenditures, said Buick.

But Musto said he would be happy to provide information to Mandel about AHS’s intention in funding the study.

He said that even if the province does ultimately move to impose rules on e-cigarettes, it is appropriate for all levels of government to be looking at the issue. Municipalities have in the past been in the forefront of tobacco regulation.

Musto noted Mandel introduced new flavoured tobacco regulations this fall, but did not address the issue of electronic cigarettes.

“This is an evolving area, if you will, and I expect they will stay on top of it and make revisions as they need to,” he said.

The city’s community and protective services committee recommended Wednesday the consultation survey go ahead, but it still needs final approval from council.