Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Applause for smoking tax hike

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The federal government's surprise inclusion in this week's budget of additional taxes on tobacco products deserves attention as a likely boon to public smoking cessation efforts.

Much of the reactive focus to the news of the pending tax hike on cigarettes and related products has been directed toward the likelihood that this will fuel more smuggling of these materials into Canada -- and more smokers turning to black market products.

Ottawa clearly anticipated criticism in this regard. Its coinciding budget announcement that it would be providing the RCMP with $92 million over five years to better battle tobacco smuggling was evidence of that.

The Harper government is being criticized for underfunding what the RCMP will need to do this work effectively. We trust the RCMP and various policing jurisdictions will provide input on whether they will have adequate resources to police this issue -- which has already been a live one for years.

In the Waterloo-Wellington region alone, the Canadian Convenience Stores Association has reported that studies of discarded cigarette butts in various area locations have shown that more than 40 per cent of consumed and ditched smokes were contraband. There's no doubt the impetus to traffic and purchase such cigarettes will rise as the cost of legal ones jumps by $4 per carton later this year.

Ottawa has worked to appeal to the conscience of smokers -- which it has invested in significantly through recent public campaigns highlighting the scope of the black market cigarette problem. If it can achieve inroads in this regard, which will be a challenge, and fund effective anti-smuggling efforts -- an even bigger task -- this will achieve the stated policy goal of generating hundreds of millions in additional annual taxation revenue.

What these new measures do in terms of smoking cessation efforts should also receive scrutiny.

Put simply, the most effective tobacco prevention/reduction strategy has generally proven to be reducing economic access to such products. This is particularly the case for youth smokers and youths considered to be at the greatest risk of becoming smokers.

In spite of the noxious labelling on the health risks of tobacco, the education campaigns on the same topic, the marketing prohibitions and the reduced points of sale, tobacco cessation efforts have seen flattening in their success rates. In fact, some recent studies have even suggested that tobacco use is rising in frequency among girls. That's alarming. If the increased taxation succeeds as a disincentive to smoke, it can be a public policy win in a very different way, with significant economic implications.

Ottawa's ability to effectively confront the smuggling and organized crime associated with this issue needs to be watched. But what this move might deliver in terms of smoking cessation must be followed as well.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 ??65519

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