Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in favour of Bill C-71, the government's tobacco control strategy.
Over the past few months I have been part of a group of concerned caucus members encouraging and providing support to the Minister of Health in his efforts to introduce the legislation. I am pleased to see his efforts have finally been realized.
It is estimated that more than 40,000 Canadians die each year due to the effects of smoking, mostly due to lung and heart disease. Twenty-one per cent of all deaths in Canada can be attributed to smoking. This makes smoking the number one preventable cause of death and disease in Canada.
We are all well aware of the links between the use of tobacco and serious disease. We can also assume that as tobacco use continues to rise among Canadians the death toll will increase accordingly.
It is not only by reducing the demand for tobacco now that we will be able to reduce the number of Canadians who will die painful tobacco deaths in the future. This is why the health minister's new tobacco control strategy is so important.
When the Supreme Court of Canada struck down certain elements of the tobacco producers control act in 1995 it left the Canadian government, representatives of the Canadian people, with too little control over tobacco regulation. Alternative control measures became a necessity. This is not an entirely new initiative.
The government has been exploring its options ever since the Supreme Court ruling. Many of my constituents have been critical expressing their disappointment with how long it has taken for the government to act. I shared some of their concerns but it was important that all available options were studied thoroughly. This time we had to get it right.
Late last year the government released a blueprint on tobacco control outlining the various options available. Since then we have received comments from many different Canadians, doctors, business people, the tobacco industry, consumers, parents and various credible advocacy groups. These new regulations are a product of this ongoing study.
I am confident they will arm us for a successful battle to curb future tobacco use in Canada. Tobacco use is not simply a problem for the individual who smokes. Tobacco use is costly to every member of society in a number of ways. It is estimated that in 1991 the cost of smoking in Canada totalled $15 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity.
Smokers visit the doctor more than non-smokers. They spend more time in hospitals and they occupy more spaces in long term health care facilities. In total smoking alone costs the health care system $3.5 billion.
Smokers are absent from work more than non-smokers. It has been estimated a smoking employee costs over $3,000 year more to employ than a non-smoker due to lost days. In addition, lost productivity from smoke breaks, waiting for smoke breaks and thinking about smoke breaks cannot be calculated.
Finally, 40,000 smoking related deaths amount to about $10.6 billion in lost revenue for Canada. Compare this figure to the $2.6 billion the federal excise tax and duty on tobacco products generates. In the end smoking costs the Canadian economy billions in lost productivity, health care and social assistance to the families of those who are incapacitated by smoke related diseases. The new tobacco legislation will see many positive improvements. It will limit youth access to tobacco products to fight tobacco use before it becomes an addiction.
I recall visiting the Woodlands Secondary School in my riding as the local trustee the year we banned student smoking rooms and
smoking areas in schools. I was asked by students why we were banning smoking rooms for kids and allowing the teachers to smoke in the staff room. At the time I gave a very facile answer. I said: "They are adults and they are old enough to kill themselves if they choose to".
The real answer was that they were all addicted. By banning student smoking areas we were trying to stop the influence of one smoker over another and stop young people from smoking.
Immediately after the visit to the school, though, we put a proposal before the board of trustees to ban all smoking on all school property for adults as well as students, and those rules still stand today. The interesting part is that teachers have to put on their coats in the bad weather and walk up and down the street to smoke. This is not a very glamorous image. The kids are beginning to see how horrible it is, how addicted the teachers are, and how foolish they look walking up and down the street.
Almost 30 per cent of 15 to 19 year olds and 15 per cent of 10 to 14 year olds are currently smokers. This is both frightening and unacceptable. Eighty-five per cent of smokers begin their addiction before they are 16 years of age when they are most susceptible to peer pressure and the desire to fit in. The new measures introduced in the legislation will specifically target youth prohibiting self-service displays, banning vending machine sales and requiring photo ID to confirm age.
The new legislation will also limit the marketing and promotion of tobacco products including restrictions on tobacco advertising, packaging, sales promotions and promotions through sponsorships. Promotional materials containing tobacco brand names will be restricted to publications with primarily adult readerships.
Some will argue that these regulations unfairly hurt the tobacco industry as well as the events they sponsor. However this concern must be tempered with the concern for the health of our children. We cannot afford to sacrifice the health of the country by allowing another generation of smokers to begin this life threatening habit.
Marketers of tobacco products use a range of lifestyle advertising to sell their products. They are very appealing methods to attempt to create a link between tobacco and an attractive lifestyle. They are particularly fascinating to children and youth. "Smoke Marlboroughs and be a real man". "Smoke Slims and men will fall in great stacks at your feet".
The government has no intention of telling tobacco companies what they can or cannot sponsor. Nor is it prohibiting the sponsorship of a whole category of events. The government is simply restricting the extent to which companies can relate tobacco brand names to activities which convey a desirable, glamorous and exciting lifestyle.
The new tobacco strategy in Canada will also see increased health information on tobacco packages, the establishment of an enforcement mechanism to regulate the chemical contents of cigarettes, control of the practice of supercharging with addictive nicotine and the adding of other chemicals to enhance the effects of nicotine. Altogether I am confident these measures will eventually have a significant impact on the consumption of tobacco products in Canada.
This is not the end of government action in this area. In addition to the actions of the Department of Health other ministries will be taking part in this initiative. The federal and some provincial governments will raise their taxes on tobacco products to a combined rate of $1.40 a carton, together with an extension of the federal surtax on tobacco manufacturers at the rate of 40 per cent for three years.
Many of my constituents have been calling for such measures. They serve the dual purpose of increasing the price of tobacco products as well as increasing government revenue to pay for some of the costs associated with tobacco use. This tax increase will be accompanied by anti-smuggling initiatives to make sure the increase does not result in the resumption of cigarette smuggling. In fact, it is estimated that since the government began its anti-smuggling initiatives in 1994, enforcement has prevented $2 billion worth of illegal products from reaching the streets in Canada.
The final element is also one of the most important. Fifty million dollars over five years have been committed to enforce this legislation and to provide health education programs. I can say from experience that education programs are essential in fighting tobacco use among young people.
As testimony to that fact, the government is focusing its initiatives where they most matter, to prevent Canadians, particularly youths, from becoming addicted to tobacco products. Retailers will only be marginally affected by the legislation. Retail displays will be limited and photo ID will be required for purchase but the government will not regulate who can sell tobacco products at this time. This is very reasonable legislation.
I am pleased to have had the opportunity speak on behalf of this long awaited legislation. I am particularly proud of the Minister of Health, the Prime Minister and the parliamentary secretary for their diligence in the face of so much organized and well-funded opposition.
Tobacco use in Canada is a health problem. We must ensure that the health of the country is not lost to this addictive product. We already have one of the best records in the world and we must strive to make it even better.