A new poll conducted by Leger Research finds that two-thirds of Albertans would support a tax increase on cigarettes of at least $1.50 per pack, which would put affordability in line with neighbouring provinces. The poll found that a full 75 per cent of respondents were in favour of re-investing tax revenue from cigarettes into anti-smoking programs, something that the province badly needs, says Les Hagen of Action on Smoking and Health.
“The Alberta government does not dedicate a single dime of the one billion dollars it collects annually from tobacco taxes to help smokers quit or keeping kids tobacco-free” said Hagen in a statement. “The survey results reveal that Albertans expect the government to reinvest a significant portion of tobacco tax revenue into tobacco reduction and prevention.”
Alberta’s government currently spends about $4 million per year on anti-smoking and prevention strategies, an amount that health advocates say needs to be raised to $20 million. “We are urging the government to increase its investment in tobacco reduction to at least $20 million annually or about two percent of total tobacco revenues,” says Kayla Atkey of the Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention. “The provincial government will not meet its ambitious 10-year tobacco reduction targets without fully implementing the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy.”
Launched in 2012, the Tobacco Reduction Strategy calls for expanding youth-based engagement and community supports, initiatives which have yet to be adequately broached, says Hagen, who points to the fact that revenue generated from the new carbon levy gets invested in carbon emission reduction strategies, yet a similar funnelling isn’t happening with the $1 billion collected annually in tobacco taxes.
“Without fully funding [the Tobacco Reduction Strategy] and simultaneously reducing tobacco affordability,” says Hagen, “the Alberta government and the public health community will continue to fight tobacco use with one hand tied behind their backs.”
In terms of affordability, it takes Albertans an average of 22 minutes of labour to pay for a pack of cigarettes versus 25 minutes in BC and 26 minutes in Saskatchewan. Alberta is slightly above the national average for smokers, with 19.0 per cent of the population listed as smokers in a 2014 Statistics Canada report, in comparison with an 18.1 per cent national average. 20.5 per cent of the population in Saskatchewan smokes, while the rate in BC is the lowest in the country at 14.3 per cent.
Thanks to anti-smoking and health education campaigns, smoking rates across the country have been cut in half over the past 40 years, but with the upcoming legalization of marijuana proposed by the federal government, that achievement may be at risk, says Robert Schwartz, Senior Scientists at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction in Mental Health, in a letter to the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Schwartz points out that many marijuana users mix cannabis with tobacco, thus making pot smoking a potential gateway for nonsmokers to be introduced to smoking. In response, Schwartz has called on the federal government, once marijuana is legalized, to encourage alternative ways of consuming cannabis other than smoking it, such as edible or vaporized marijuana.
The non-random online survey of 1,005 Albertans was commissioned by the advocacy group, Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta, a coalition of health organizations in the province.