Mr. Speaker, last February 10, the Minister of National Revenue tabled a bill to significantly amend three other acts of Parliament, namely: the Excise Act, the Customs Act and the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act.
The purpose of the bill is to more or less balance, through various pieces of legislation, the government strategy against smuggling, which was announced in this House by the Prime Minister, on February 8, 1994.
Several people working in the health field expressed concern regarding this national plan to fight smuggling, because of the adverse effects it could have on the health of Canadians and Quebecers. These people, including practitioners and health care specialists, fear an upsurge in tobacco use in general, but more important increased consumption among young people.
Even though the federal government's efforts to eliminate or at least better restrict access to tobacco products for young people may be commendable, the fact is that the situation is serious.
The government is proposing amendments which, it says, will reinforce some provisions contained in Bill C-113, which was passed on March 25, 1993. As you know, this legislation prohibits the sale of cigarettes to persons under 18 years of age.
Just what are those provisions? Part III of Bill C-11 contains three amendments to the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act. Under section 10 of the bill, the long title of the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act is replaced by the following: an act to restrict access to tobacco by young persons. According to the government, this new title implicitly expands the scope of the act and reflects much more accurately the new approach of restricting instead of prohibiting.
Clause 11 adds three new elements to Bill C-111. Clause 7.1 prohibits the sale of packages containing less than 20 cigarettes. As of May 1, 1994 producing or selling what are commonly called kiddie packages, that is packages containing 10 or 15 cigarettes, will be prohibited. Those packages, which are usually sold at a good price, are extremely appealing for young people. Their relatively low cost is also an important incentive. It is easy to start smoking. You never know, it could be fun.
Clause 7.3 prohibits the importation into Canada of any tobacco product by a person under the age of eighteen, whether for personal consumption or for someone else.
In recent weeks, we have looked at the legal and tax aspects of the question, and particularly at the thorny issue of cigarette smuggling. In the process, we also put the health and well-being of Canadians and Quebecers on the back burner.
According to Dr. Richard Lessard, who is the Director of Public Health for Health and Social Services, Montreal Centre branch, it would be a mistake to limit the debate to legal and tax considerations. A major issue takes precedence over tobacco smuggling, and that is the health of Canadians and Quebecers.
Dr. Lessard himself said that tobacco consumption is currently linked to 40 per cent of deaths due to cardiovascular complications-to 87 per cent of deaths due to lung cancer, and to 80 per cent of respiratory diseases. Low birth weight is twice as common among babies whose mothers smoke than among those whose mothers do not smoke. And currently, the increase in smoking is higher among young women.
Young Canadians start smoking between the age of 11 and 15. At fifteen years of age, 22 per cent of males and almost 30 per cent of females are smoking. Also, 65 per cent of these teenagers are paying for their cigarettes out of their own pockets. Any public policy, whether it is non inaction in fighting smuggling or lowering taxes on tobacco, if not linked to aggressive preventive measures, does encourage these vulnerable teenagers to start smoking.
According to Dr. Lessard, tobacco-related health problems cost $2.5 billion to Quebec and $9.5 billion to Canada, even though, before the current crisis, tobacco consumption had decreased by 40 per cent since
Several health officials have criticized the decrease in sale prices of cigarettes following the tax reduction announced by the government. They think it will only encourage the most vulnerable groups, teenagers and young women, to start smoking.
My colleague, the hon. member for Lévis, mentioned and rightly so the devastating effect of smoking among our young. We think educational measures must accompany the legislation which was announced. We must develop new programs and support the current ones by investing in mass advertising.
We must also make businesspeople aware of their social responsibility. Bill C-111 goes ahead by implementing measures concerning tobacco sales. For example, the stamp prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors is a step in the right direction.
We also need to make some long-term investments in an anti-smoking campaign. I am pleased to report that the Quebec government has undertaken a major anti-smoking campaign to urge young smokers to change attitudes. Several governments in Canada have decided to follow suit.
Bill C-11 includes provisions concerning the Excise Act and the Customs Act which confer new powers on the minister and various police forces in Canada and in Quebec responsible for enforcing the law throughout the country. According to the government, these provisions will provide the new legal tools which are needed to achieve better enforcement of the law and to continue the fight against smuggling.
One interesting provision of this bill is found in clause 9 which says that the minister may authorize an officer to sell or destroy the seized goods.
It goes without saying that the government will never proceed, I am convinced, with the sale of seized tobacco products. This is commonly done in some American States but it would be out of place in this country given the current situation. However, the equipment and facilities used to carry or stock these goods could, of course, be sold. This could become an interesting source of funds to be reinvested in anti-smuggling programs or in a public awareness campaign.
In order to be successful in its fight against the harmful effect of tobacco, the government must maintain the National Strategy to Reduce Tobacco Use. As its title says, the main objective of this action plan, developed in co-operation with the provincial governments, is to reduce tobacco use.
Every member of the House knows that this strategy has three objectives: to protect the health and rights of non-smokers, to prevent non-smokers from picking up the habit and to help smokers who want to quit smoking.
In this context, in order to effectively reduce tobacco use, there has to be a concerted effort by all levels of government and by non-governmental organizations.
We believe that the government must harmonize the various legislative measures in place to combat the use of tobacco and its effects. We believe that the measures proposed in Bill C-11 respecting the sale of tobacco to young people must be accompanied by a genuine desire to eradicate smoking.
The problem of tobacco use will not be solved simply by making it harder for young people to obtain tobacco products through more or less coercive measures aimed at merchants, producers and consumers.
The government must not shirk its responsibilities. As Dr. Lessard said, our governments have already made a commitment to health and have understood that making a long-term investment in our collective health will help us, as a society, solve our serious economic problems. During the present budget cutting period affecting health care in Quebec, and probably in other provinces, how can we explain the omission of health considerations in the debate since the major consequence of this crisis is sickness?
How can we fail to see that the only winners are tobacco companies? Should our society yield to an industry which takes our own health hostage and which economists say is steadily losing ground in our economy?
We understand the important economic and legal issues involved in the revolt of some elements of our population against taxes, and the general outrage over smuggling and its corrupting effects. Prompted by the rumblings of public discontent, our ministers of justice and finance laid out some very convincing arguments on that point.
It seems urgent and critical to ask the premiers to listen also to the arguments of their health ministers and to renew their commitment to the well-being of the population.
It is crucial to reintroduce social and human dimensions into the present debate. No government should be allowed to forget the health and well-being of its population for purely fiscal considerations.