Alberta scrounging for tobacco money

In mid-October, the Government of Alberta announced that they planned to sue Big Tobacco in order to recover the health-care costs associated with tobacco use. It has been a fairly common strategy in the war on tobacco. In the United States, a lawsuit by 46 state Attorneys General was finally settled in 1998, and the four largest tobacco companies are still paying more than $200 billion to the states that participated in the suit.

It’s a tried and tested method, so it makes sense that Canadian provinces — including Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and New Brunswick — are getting on board in order to fill their coffers. There’s only one problem: it exposes the systematic lies that the government and anti-smoking lobbyists have been feeding us for the last twenty years.

Canadian tobacco policy has evolved legislatively — that is, the federal and provincial governments have achieved their policy goals through legislation, not litigation. They’ve passed laws against tobacco advertising, enacted indoor smoking bans, and affixed health warning labels to cigarette packages. As well, the government has consistently hiked taxes in an effort to curb smoking, reasoning that once the cost becomes prohibitive, more smokers will drop the habit.

It is a constant tool of the anti-smoking movement to claim that smokers are a social liability, costing the health-care system hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better used elsewhere. Tobacco taxes are helpful here, covering some of the health-care costs associated with tobacco use. However, governments and lobbyists are still claiming that taxation does not account for the entire cost to the system of treating smokers for illnesses like heart disease and cancer. This new lawsuit is designed to make up for whatever shortfall exists in the tax scheme.

The problem is that this supposed shortfall doesn’t exist.

According to Health Canada, the health-care costs from tobacco add up to around $3.5 billion per year. But documents from one of the largest anti-smoking lobby groups, Physicians For a Smoke-Free Canada, pegs the total revenue generated from taxation of tobacco products across Canada at around $7 billion. According to the numbers coming from those who are attempting to procure more money for tobacco control, there is a multi-billion dollar surplus from tobacco tax revenue. Therefore, there’s no excuse for suing the tobacco companies.

It’s the worst symptom of childishness; the government wants to both have their cake, and eatv it too. Governments have systematically burdened smokers with a highly regressive tax program, claiming the money was needed for their health care, and they’ve succeeded in more than covering those costs. However, they continue to try and milk even more money out of the industry.

The provincial governments have restricted our freedom of speech to prevent tobacco advertising. They have violated the property rights of business owners by enacting smoking bans on businesses. They have placed taxes on imports, exports, and sales that are prohibitively high. And now they move forward with a judicial agenda, which demonstrates that the rhetoric they used to justify other tobacco policies was a blatant lie.

This demonstrates that the Alberta government simply cannot be trusted with social control policies. Premier Ed Stelmach proved this point a couple years back, retreating on his increased alcohol tax when there was an uproar, but leaving his tobacco tax in place. When only a fifth of the population smokes, and the tides of social opinion have turned against them, the government is free to strip from them what they will, all in the name of a greater social good.

At least now it can be seen as a sad fraud that rests upon a bed of outdated rhetoric and lies. Hopefully the presiding judge will see this, and throw the government and its agenda out of our courts.

source: thegatewayonline.ca

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