Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak on Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Excise Act, the Customs Act and the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act.
I congratulate the government on finally living up to its responsibilities and bringing in amendments so that the Act can be applied more effectively. Unfortunately, it seems that the government has decided to tackle the serious problems caused by cigarette smuggling on the backs of the manufacturers and retailers.
Instead of applying the Act to the letter and having goods seized and offenders arrested, on Indian reserves among other places, the government has opted for dissuasion and retaliation against honest citizens. The Prime Minister himself has admitted that he had difficulty getting the Act applied.
Under the weight of public pressure, the Minister of Health, the Hon. Diane Marleau, the same one who gave her word that taxes on tobacco products would not be lowered, had no choice but to give in. You have to admit it is sad to see that the current government seems to prefer protecting criminals who break the law to concerning itself with the health of Quebeckers and Canadians.
Despite that, there are some good provisions in Bill C-11, although some others ought to be amended. I am going to use the few minutes at my disposal to discuss these provisions with my fellow members here in the House. The bill contains the following amendment to section 7.1(1) of the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act: "No person shall sell or offer for sale cigarettes unless they are sold or offered for sale in packages containing at least 20 cigarettes per package".
It should be noted that packs of less than 20 cigarettes are primarily bought and consumed by young people. You might be inclined to think that the purchase of cigarettes by young people would now drop significantly, except that the government has just lowered the tax on cigarettes, which could have the opposite effect to the government's stated goal, thus making it easier for young people to get access to tobacco products.
This brings me to what it costs young people to smoke. Although some young people have a bit of work, often at the minimum wage, they are not rich, and so it is to be hoped that they will decide to stop smoking and invest their money in something more constructive. This may be a hollow hope, since it was estimated in 1989 that 90 per cent of young Canadians aged 12 to 19 years of age smoked every day. The total volume of purchases by this segment of the population represents$436 million.
You will agree that this is a huge amount of money:$436 million gone up in smoke-if you will allow me a small pun-especially when 40 per cent of young Quebecers were living below the poverty line in 1990. My figures are a few years old, but the situation has hardly changed.
Equally appalling is the fact that adolescents are starting to smoke younger and younger, a situation that alarms me very much indeed. I know what I am talking about, because one of my own children is 12 years old now, and I am sure that I am not the only member of this House to be confronted with this harsh reality. You can try your best to persuade them not to smoke, but at that age young people often succumb to peer pressure. Moreover, it is often before the age of 17 that dependence on cigarettes develops, and the older you get, the harder it is to break the habit.
According to Health and Welfare Canada, 38,000 people die each year of illnesses directly or indirectly related to tobacco use. And what about the years of diminished productivity caused by inability to work thanks to tobacco-related illness? The amounts that have to be paid out by the government-and that means by you and me, through our taxes-for leave and health care are enormous.
Another aspect of the bill that perplexes me is the control of the age restrictions on people who want to buy tobacco products. It is commendable to make access to tobacco products more difficult for the young. One of the provisions in the bill prohibits vendors from selling tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18, on pain of fines or imprisonment. The problem I see with this clause is that of controls and application.
The government says controls will be tighter, since some300 Health Canada inspectors will be responsible for ensuring that the legislation is applied to the letter. If these amendments are applied in the same way as those governing the sale of alcohol to minors, we are entitled to wonder about their relevance. We all know how easy it is for young people to obtain alcohol from unscrupulous vendors. You have only to visit any corner store in Quebec to realize that.
To follow up on what I have just said I would now like to speak about the fines that vendors would have to pay for selling tobacco products to minors, and manufactures for packaging cigarettes less than 20 to a pack.
The amendment that the bill proposes to section 7.2(1) of the Act would make anyone convicted of selling cigarettes to a minor liable, on summary conviction, to a fine of not more than $2,000 or a prison term of not more than six months.
You will agree with me that $2,000 is not a lot of money. In my opinion, the fine should be a little stiffer, to give the bill more teeth. On the other hand, the fines by the cigarette manufacturers will probably have a strong deterrent effect since they range from $100,000 to $500,000 and from six months to two years in prison.
In my opinion, education about the dangers and the cost of smoking, among both young and old people, is still one of the most effective ways of eliminating the problem of tobacco use in Canada-on condition, though, that the messages conveyed are relevant. Unfortunately, the government's publicity campaigns put forward in recent years by Health Canada are far from having had the desired effect. In the opinion of young people themselves, those campaigns did not get their attention. Instead of telling them that it is stupid to smoke or that their friends will drop them if they keep on smoking, we should show young people what really happens when people smoke.
In closing, I shall address the point of view of the tobacco product manufacturers and retailers concerning Bill C-11, an act to amend the Excise Act, the Customs Act and the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act.
The cigarette manufacturers have agreed to stop manufacturing packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes, and the retailers have agreed to stop selling them. However, the time allowed by the government to sell off that stock is too short, in the opinion of the manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Stopping the production of packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes will entail considerable costs.
Nor is taking packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes off the market right away justified: these products are not faulty and have no manufacturing defects.
Another point that should be noted is that whether the distributors and retailers have packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes in stock depends, essentially, on their sales in the past, when these packs were legal. A retailer who had ordered a large quantity of packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes but had not sold many of them would need more time to sell off that stock.
Nor should we forget that the cigarette companies will have to remove all machines that distribute only packs containing fewer than 20 cigarettes, a move that also entails costs.
For all the reasons I have just mentioned, we in the Bloc Quebecois ask the government to extend the deadline for manufacturers, distributors and retailers so that they may sell off their stock while suffering as few losses as possible.
In conclusion, I express the wish that the amendments to Bill C-11, An Act to amend the Excise Act, the Customs Act and the Tobacco Sales to Young Persons Act, will be strictly enforced and will help eliminate smoking, particularly among young people.