Pubdate: Tue, 19 Aug 2014
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2014 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Andre Picard


Urging young people not to smoke pot has nothing to do with politics 
and everything to do with public health, the federal Health Minister says.

Rona Ambrose was reacting to a decision by leading physician groups 
to distance themselves from Health Canada's new $6-million marijuana 
smoking cessation campaign.

The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Medical 
Association and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of 
Canada took the stand after Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau complained 
that the Conservative government was using public money to attack his 
party's position that marijuana should be decriminalized.

"Let me be clear: Telling kids not to smoke pot is not a partisan 
attack on Justin Trudeau by Health Canada. It is a sound 
public-health policy backed by science," Ms. Ambrose said Monday. 
"Whether pot is legal or illegal, the health risks of smoking 
marijuana remain the same."

One in five high-school students smokes marijuana, according to the 
Canadian youth smoking survey. The average age of initiation to pot 
smoking is 14. And, according to a Unicef survey, Canada has the 
highest rate of youth pot smoking in the world.

"These stats are alarming," the Health Minister said, stressing that 
consuming cannabis poses a real danger to the developing brains of 
young people.

Louis Francescutti, president of the Canadian Medical Association, 
which represents the country's 80,000 physicians, said there is no 
doubt that marijuana poses a health risk.

"On marijuana, the evidence is irrefutable: It's dangerous," he said.

Dr. Francescutti will continue to warn Canadians - and young people 
in particular - of the risks, but the organization felt uncomfortable 
with the Health Canada campaign.

"That campaign took a twist that was a little political and our 
members did not want us to be involved in something like this," he said.

In her speech to the delegates to the CMA General Council in Ottawa, 
Ms. Ambrose also spoke of her government's efforts to crack down on 
prescription drug abuse and the overuse of opioids in particular.

"Too many people are abusing prescription drugs and too many people 
are suffering and dying as a result," she said.

The minister said one million young people used prescription drugs 
recreationally in the past year, which she described as a 
"frightening" number. Ms. Ambrose noted that the controversial 
advertising campaign will target misuse of prescription drugs as well 
as marijuana.

In response to criticism that the government was targeting marijuana 
when alcohol causes much more harm to young people, the minister said 
Health Canada has long conducted public-health campaigns to counter 
alcohol abuse and misuse among young people and will continue to do 
so in the future.
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