Health groups want Alberta to raise tobacco tax, bolster anti-smoking programs
A smoker inhales as he takes a cigarette break outside a building in North Vancouver, B.C. Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
John Cotter, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, January 18, 2017 6:43PM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 18, 2017 7:22PM EST
EDMONTON -- A coalition of health groups wants the Alberta government to raise the tobacco tax in its next budget and spend some of the money on anti-smoking programs aimed at young people.
Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta said an increase of $1.50 on a pack of cigarettes would raise about $200 million.
"Cigarettes are still more affordable in Alberta than in any other province and tobacco taxes are the single most effective means of reducing tobacco use -- particularly among kids," Angeline Webb of the Canadian Cancer Society said Wednesday.
Other coalition members include the Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Lung Association, Alberta Public Health Association and Action on Smoking and Health.
A pack of 20 cigarettes in Alberta costs about $11.
Webb said $20 million of the suggested tax increase could be spent to fund anti-smoking media campaigns and to hire more tobacco inspectors.
The coalition praised the NDP for raising tobacco taxes in 2015. But it added that since then, the government has failed to enact or properly enforce its own Tobacco and Smoking Reduction Act.
Rules that call for fines of up to $10,000 for retailers caught selling to minors and requirements for retailers to check identification of people under the age of 25 who want to buy smokes are languishing on the books, Webb said.
"Right now Alberta is not enforcing any of their tobacco product sales to minors regulations and we have the worst compliance rate in the country.
"We have more rat inspectors in Alberta than we do tobacco inspectors."
Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the government is aware of the coalition's tax increase request, but no decisions have been made.
Alberta expects to collect more than $1.1 billion in tobacco taxes this fiscal year.
Hoffman said the idea of dedicating part of the tax to tobacco reduction programs is complex, because it could involve cutting funds to other programs.
The proposal to hire more tobacco inspectors is worth exploring, she said, but Hoffman made no commitments.
"There is a significant opportunity for us to improve in terms of policing in this area."
The coalition hopes to meet with Hoffman and other cabinet ministers before the government's budget is finalized.
The coalition said there were about 37,000 teen smokers in Alberta in 2014.
It estimates that one of every two youths who continue to smoke as an adult will die of a tobacco-related disease.