Mr. Premier, would you and your caucus consider an increase in tobacco tax? The New Brunswick Lung Association wants you to do it, and we agree.
New Brunswick has the second lowest rate of tax on tobacco in the country.
But we don’t want you to think about getting your hands on the money that would come from a higher tobacco tax.
We want you to set that money aside, and use it to help smokers quit the habit. Specifically, we’d like you to spend it on those most in need – low-income residents who want to quit.
New Brunswick stands out from the crowd in the realm of cigarette smoking, and not for a good reason. While the national smoking rate is 19 per cent, in this province, 21 per cent of the population smokes.
And here’s another disturbing statistic: New Brunswickers smoke more cigarettes a day than do those in every other province. We’re hooked, but good.
Smoking rates are even higher among the poor and disadvantaged. And they are precisely the ones who don’t necessarily have the means to buy the patches, the gum, the medications and the counselling most people need to quit.
The lung association’s statistics show that without any intervention, a smoker has a less than five per cent chance of successfully quitting.
With the help listed above, their chances increase by 200-300 per cent. So it’s clear that help to quit is vital.
But it’s also expensive. That’s where the increase in tobacco taxes comes in.
We don’t want a big raise in taxes, because if you increase it too much, the smugglers will get extra aggressive. We want just enough to fund a program of smoking cessation for those who cannot afford it.
It sounds like such a simple plan that has the potential to produce positive results. How could you resist?
The plan has so many benefits. With fewer people smoking, there would be fewer health issues: cancers of all sorts (lung, larynx, oral cavity, esophagus, bladder, pancreas and kidney), heart disease, emphysema, other respiratory illnesses, sudden infant death syndrome, underweight babies and so on.
That’s a pretty nasty list, but can you imagine the benefits to our health-care system if the frequency of these diseases dropped? Maybe your mom would get her hip-replacement surgery more quickly. Perhaps there would be a shorter wait for other surgeries, appointments with specialists, tests and evaluations.
The best advice is never start smoking.
But for those who do, who are addicted, who want to quit but cannot afford it, government intervention would be a godsend.
Like the lung association, we believe government intervention doesn’t have to cost any new money.
That small rise in tobacco tax would fund the help needed, and our health-care system – and our population – would be in much better shape.
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