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05/03/2021

Tax hikes 'most effective way' to cut smoking: Cancer Society

pile of lose cigarettes
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Health organizations praised the federal government's proposed tax hike on tobacco and vaping products, while a coalition against contraband tobacco says it will ultimately only benefit organized crime.

April's federal budget includes an increase in tobacco taxes of $4 per carton of 200 cigarettes, and plans to develop a framework to tax vaping products.

Kelly Cull, Atlantic Canadian director of advocacy for the Canadian Cancer Society, said both of these measures have long been advocated for by the association.

"Higher tobacco taxes are the most effective way to reduce smoking rates,'' said Cull adding this helps Canada move toward the goal of having less than 5% of Canadians smoking.

Cull said the organization is particularly hopeful that increases in the cost of vaping and cigarette products will curb youth use of these products. Young people as a demographic are particularly price sensitive in their choices, she said.

The rise of vaping among New Brunswick youth in New Brunswick is of particular concern because numbers here are already higher than the national average, Cull said.

Numbers from the 2018-19 Canadian Student Tobacco Alcohol and Drug Survey are alarming, Cull said, with 41% of New Brunswick youth indicating they had tried vaping, 27 per cent in the last 30 days.

New data about vaping in New Brunswick will be released later this spring, she said.

Stephane Robichaud, CEO of the New Brunswick Health Council, said the viewpoint that vaping is not causing a great deal of harm is both dangerous and outdated, noting increases in chronic lung conditions detected in the last couple of years.

The federal government has announced it is working on a framework for vaping products that would be implemented in 2022.

But a spokesperson for the National Coalition Against Contraband Tobacco said increasing taxes on legal cigarettes will just drive users underground.

Spokesperson Gary Grant said "this will backfire.'' Increasing taxes on legal cigarettes "will only benefit organized crime groups,'' he said.

The former police officer said Canada has over 50 illegal cigarette factories. While the movement of contraband cigarettes has lessened under COVID-19 restrictions, such as hard borders between some provinces, when borders reopen post-COVID, it is likely to welcome in more contraband, he said.

This has serious financial implications for the coffers of governments, Grant said.

While the move to increase taxes on these legal products has been proposed as a revenue generating tool by the federal government, Grant believes legal sales will decrease and the move therefore won't have the intended effect.

While the organization recently praised the government of New Brunswick's budget for reinstating a contraband enforcement unit, it sees the federal government as moving in the opposite direction on the anti-contraband file, he said.

Cull said some organizations and companies "scream contraband literally every time the price of cigarettes goes up.''

There are a number of other ways to reduce contraband being explored by governments, while continuing to deter smoking through the measures like those being proposed in this budget, she said.

The budget must be passed by Parliament before it comes into effect.