Reducing tobacco affordability for youth
Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada due to low tobacco taxes and high wages. More needs to be done to help youth remain tobacco free for life. An increase in tobacco taxes will help reduce tobacco use, especially among youth.
ASH believes that the affordability of tobacco products is contributing to higher youth smoking rates. An increase in tobacco taxes, accompanied with stronger anti-contraband measures, will help reduce youth smoking rates and improve the quality of life for all Albertans.
Tobacco use in Alberta
Smoking rates in Alberta continue to decline and are now consistent with the national average of 17% but remain significantly higher than British Columbia's rate of 14%. However smoking rates among Alberta teens aged 12 to 19 remain disturbingly high at 13%. Unfortunately, the Alberta government did not achieve its 2010 target of reducing youth smoking rates among this age group to 9%. More needs to be done to help youth remain tobacco free for life.
Affordability of tobacco products among youth
Higher youth wages in Alberta make tobacco products more affordable. When calculating the number of minutes of work required to purchase a package of cigarettes, Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada.
A pack of premium cigarettes costs $11.09 in Alberta. Because of Alberta's high wages it takes the average employed 15 to 24 year old only 38 minutes of labour to purchase that pack of cigarettes. In contrast, a pack of premium cigarettes costs $15.02 in Manitoba, and an additional 27 minutes of labour (65 minutes in total) are required to purchase the same pack of cigarettes in that province.
Furthermore Albertans aged 15 to 24 years may purchase discount cigarettes at a cost of approximately $7.00 per pack, which requires only 24 minutes of labour.
Tobacco taxes benefit public health
Tobacco taxes are the single most effective means of reducing tobacco use—especially among youth. Alberta experience demonstrates that higher tobacco taxes contribute to lower smoking rates. Unfortunately Alberta has the most affordable cigarettes in Canada for youth aged 15-24 due to suppressed taxes and relatively high wages compared to other provinces. The benefits of increasing tobacco taxes include:
- Preventing youth smoking: The impact of a tobacco product price increases on adolescents is two to three times greater than on adults. Young people have less disposable income, making tax policy one of the main tools in reducing the onset of tobacco dependency. Tobacco tax increases will help reduce youth smoking rates.
- Helping smokers quit and/or cut back: The vast majority of people who use tobacco products regret having started and most tobacco users want to quit. An increase in the price of tobacco products provides additional motivation for tobacco users to quit or cut back.
- Helping reduce chronic disease and the burden on our healthcare system: Tobacco places a tremendous burden on our quality of life and our healthcare system. Over 3,000 Albertans die of tobacco related disease every year. Increasing tobacco taxes helps lower tobacco consumption rates, which in turn, helps reduce tobacco-related death and disease. Tobacco tax increases can help produce further public health improvements and help to reduce the demands on our health care system.
ASH recommends that the Alberta government introduce a tax increase on all tobacco products that would raise the purchase price by at least 20%. These tobacco tax increases should be accompanied by stronger anti-contraband measures. We also recommend that tobacco tax revenues be applied to tobacco reduction strategies and other wellness initiatives. A 2011 public opinion survey of 809 Albertans conducted by Ipsos Reid revealed that 70 percent of Albertans would support a $2.00 per pack tax increase on cigarettes if the proceeds are used to reduce tobacco use and promote healthy living.