Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-42, a bill that we have been working on for a long time to try to address what members from across the way have said is the single greatest threat to public health in this country. They are quite correct.
However, I am absolutely dismayed by the comments which have come from the other side. The government claims to be the great upholder of smoking prevention in this country. It was this government that had the single greatest negative impact on the health of Canadians when it rolled back tobacco taxes in 1994. This undid 15 years of good work in the prevention and decrease of tobacco consumption in this country, particularly for our youth.
There was a solution to the smuggling problem of the time that did not involve rolling back taxes, but the single act of rolling back taxes has led a quarter of a million children in Canada to take up smoking. Two hundred and fifty thousand children are now smoking when they would not have done so before.
This message was given to the Minister of Health by the ministry itself. The Ministry of Health told the Minister of Health that if he rolled back the taxes a quarter of a million young people would pick up smoking, that it would have a devastating effect on the country with respect to health care costs, not to mention the humanitarian effects on those people, and that it would affect those most affected by tobacco consumption and cost, the youth of Canada. Yet the government went ahead and did it.
I understand the circumstances. A great deal of smuggling was taking place, particularly in certain areas of Quebec and Ontario. But there was another solution, a solution which we presented many times to the minister. It was a solution that had worked before: an export tax.
We had the same situation in 1991-92. The government of the day introduced an $8 export tax on each carton of cigarettes. Each carton that went to the United States would be stamped and an $8 fee would be paid by the tobacco company. That completely cut the legs out from bringing that tobacco back into Canada with the benefit of the price differential between the United States and Canada. Six weeks after it was introduced that measure caused a 70% decline in tobacco smuggling.
However, the prime minister of the day, Mr. Mulroney, caved in under pressure from the tobacco companies. The tobacco companies told Prime Minister Mulroney that they would leave the country if he brought in a tobacco export tax. He removed the export tax and smuggling resumed. If we look back in history we will see that the solution was there.
What we presented in 1994 was a solution. Do not roll back the taxes; implement an export tax. The smuggling that took place at that time not only involved cigarettes, it also involved guns, people, alcohol and other contraband. Tobacco was a conduit for the smuggling that was unfortunately taking place on such reserves as Kanasatake and Kahnawake, to name two. It was run by thugs attached to organized crime, particularly from the United States.
No one talks about the aboriginal people on those reserves and how some of those people were held hostage to criminals within their midst, many who came from the United States. Police officers were apparently told that they could not touch the smugglers going back and forth across the border because the government was afraid of an Oka crisis. This had nothing to do with Oka. It everything to do with thugs taking advantage of a political problem within our country, thugs who were by and large American. We buckled under and to this day that smuggling is still taking place.
This is my message for the government. If it truly wants to deal with the tobacco epidemic, and it is an epidemic within our midst, then there are solutions. The solutions are: raising the taxes to the level they were at before February 1994, applying an export tax to cut the legs out from underneath smuggling, enforcing the law where smuggling is taking place, and dealing with appropriate education, which the government, to its credit, has begun to introduce. However, although it promised a large sum of money for that purpose, a large chunk of money has unfortunately not yet been seen by the appropriate organizations.
In looking at the scope of this problem we can look at what happened before 1994 and since 1994. As I said before, there are 250,000 more children smoking. In 1961 there were about 13,000 smokers who died. Twelve thousand were men and 1,000 were women. In 1996-97 that figure climbed to a whopping 48,000. There are 48,000 people every year who die of tobacco related illnesses.
The numbers have changed. Tobacco consumption deaths among women have climbed dramatically. Tobacco deaths among women have now surpassed all other causes of cancer related deaths, including breast cancer. That is a profound tragedy.
To put it in perspective, 48,000 people die every year from smoking related deaths. Forty-two thousand people died in World War II. That means that every year more people die from tobacco related illnesses in Canada than those who died in World War II.
The solutions are there. What we can do, as I said before, is raise the taxes to what they were, increase the export tax, enforce the law and address the education issue.
We should not start talking to individuals when they are 17, 18, 20 or 22 years old about quitting smoking. As the member across the way quite correctly mentioned, people start smoking when they are 10, 11 or 12 years old. They do not start when they are 20.
As a result, our efforts must be addressed to younger individuals. I would submit that we have to start at ages 6 and 7. If we start at that age then perhaps we can have an effect. We should not hit them with the fact that their mortality will change. Teenagers and young children do not understand that. If we tell them they are going to die young, they know that. In fact, statistical evidence shows very clearly that young people know they are going to die young. They know the effects of tobacco. Interestingly enough, many teenagers feel they are not going to be smoking two years after they leave high school. However, 80% of them will still be smoking eight years later.
We have to address their sense of narcissism. We have to address the fact that their skin is going to look older sooner, that their breath is going to smell foul, and that their hair and skin is going to smell foul. We have to address young girls in particular. I hate to address that group, but it is the group that has increasing consumption. We have to tell them that although it keeps them slimmer, which is one of the primary reasons for them to smoke, it also makes them grow older faster and it is not sexy, despite what they may claim.
Although that is a brutal thing to say, if we address it at their level, in a way that they understand, then we will get into their psyche and have a profound effect. We must address their narcissism, not their mortality. We must tell them about what it will do to them physically, how it will age them and how they will smell.
Although there is some movement in that direction I think the government can certainly play a very constructive role in convincing health care groups to deal with it in that way.
With respect to this bill, I would suggest that there are a number of amendments that could have and should have been made. The fact that the government is going to extend tobacco sponsorships for two more years is ridiculous. That will put it at five years.
Members on the other side claim that this is somehow going to address the issue of sponsorship and it is going to protect companies. All they need to do is look at the experience in Europe. Europe did the same thing. They introduced laws very quickly. Sporting events and such got other sponsors, including car racing.
It is continually brought forth that car racing, tennis matches and such would somehow not occur in this country if we did not have tobacco groups to sponsor them. That is completely untrue. Again, the government only needs to look at the experience in the United States.
Another thing that could have happened was to put a ceiling on tobacco company sponsorship promotion expenditures during the delay period. The government could have put a ceiling on that but did not. It could have taken a leaf from Quebec's book. Quebec has implemented a similar measure with good effect.
Sponsorship promotions should not be permitted on the inside and outside of stores where tobacco is sold. That could be done now but it is not being done.
The government believes that tobacco companies can be trusted. This is complete nonsense. Tobacco companies have been asked to do things voluntarily. They have weakened their own so-called voluntary restraint by introducing tobacco advertisements within school zones. This happened in 1996, after the government had implored them to adhere to fair-minded rules and regulations so that children would not be subjected to tobacco advertising within and around schools. Tobacco companies surreptitiously did it anyway. They thumbed their noses at the government and the Canadian people.
The government could have introduced other things. It could have ensured that cabinet would determine the exact starting date of the ban. Right now it is an open book. It could start December 1 this year, December 1 next year, or the year after. That needed to be in this bill and it is not.
The government could have had a delay period for tobacco sponsorship promotions. It could have specified that sponsorship promotions for foreign events could not occur in Canada during the transition period. It could have banned the use of famous individuals in advertising and prevent misleading advertising.
From looking at the good analysis by the Ministry of Health on advertising, we know that those advertisements are geared to children no matter what the companies say. I sat on the health committee four years ago. I was shocked when people who had been bought and paid for by the tobacco companies appeared as witnesses in front of the health committee, big guns from the United States who were obviously paid a lot of money. They had been in high positions in the U.S. government. When asked pointedly if they thought tobacco had a negative effect on the health of people, their response was “we are not doctors; we do not know”. Those kinds of blatant and obviously misleading comments by witnesses should never be tolerated. They give insight into the actions and beliefs of the tobacco companies.
We need not look any further. Tobacco companies have been caught putting added nicotine into tobacco. They up the nicotine content which ups the potential for addiction.
We can also look at their actions in other countries. What they do in China is appalling. China has an enormous health care problem with cancer, emphysema, bronchitis and other related illnesses related to tobacco because tobacco consumption is going up. In some countries the tobacco companies sponsor parties and dances which are geared to children. They give out free cigarettes for no other purpose than to ensure that the children become addicted.
It has been mentioned in the House many times that tobacco, as with cocaine, is the leading most potent addictive substance we know of today. We know very clearly that despite what they say, tobacco companies gear their advertising, their work, their efforts not to adults but to youth. A good chunk of their efforts are designed to hit that vulnerable group.
Tragically the government fell into the trap by lowering taxes and rolling them back. This is despite repeated warnings by the Ministry of Health that this is going to affect children deleteriously. This is despite the fact that this is going to cost the Canadian taxpayer billions of dollars, not only in health care costs, but also in the loss of revenue from taxes and losses in the gross domestic product. It is not just a matter of death. Smokers have greater chances of becoming sick than non-smokers do. Smokers stay away from work longer. The cost to the gross domestic product is enormous.
There are obvious effective solutions, particularly with respect to the cost. Studies show that the price elasticity on demand for tobacco is very high, especially with respect to children. The higher the cost, the less they smoke; the lower the cost, the more they smoke. It is not rocket science. This is perhaps the most important message the government needs to listen to.
The government can twiddle all it wants around the edges of this issue. It can talk about plain packaging. It can talk about sponsorship. It can talk about education. But when it comes down to the cold hard facts, the single most important determinant in consumption is price, particularly for the youth.
I implore the members across the way to look at the information that has been put out by the health ministry. It is unfortunate that the Minister of Health has chosen not to speak to this bill yet. It does not look like he is going to speak to it and I wonder why.
I wonder if the minister truly is ashamed of this bill. Perhaps he is ashamed that the government has not taken a more proactive approach, a more effective approach particularly in view of the fact that he has been caught holding the bag for what his predecessors have done. The minister has been left holding the bag for an implementation strategy which, rather than lowering tobacco consumption, has increased it and not in any small amount. It is a huge amount, a quarter of a million children, and every month that we fail to change the situation, 10,000 more children will take up the tobacco habit. I cannot believe that despite the clear evidence this government continues to pursue the course and tack it is taking.
The government submits that it is the great upholder of the health of Canadians. A former Minister of Health said during her tenure “I would do anything, anything, to prevent one child from picking up smoking”. That minister and this government has failed, failed, failed in that promise.
The government would find a great deal of co-operation across party lines in pursuing an effective tobacco strategy. Please do not buckle under the threats of the tobacco industry that it would pull out of Canada. Do not buckle under the submissions the companies make that this is not addressed to children. Do not believe that this is going to prevent race car driving, tennis tournaments and other such events from taking place in this country. The facts do not support those allegations. In fact the tobacco industry has very little credibility anywhere in the world.
We can see what is happening in the United States today. The companies are paying hundreds of billions of dollars to state governments because of the cost they have incurred to those governments. They are willing to pay large sums of money, which they have, to get out.
We cannot let them off the hook. While prohibition does not work, and no one is advocating that, there are effective measures that have been implemented around the world. Before 1994 Canada was a world leader in dealing with the tobacco issue through its education strategies and by increasing the taxes on tobacco.
If we take a lesson from what we have done historically, if we do not buckle under the tobacco companies and if we work together on this issue, as the hon. NDP member mentioned in the health committee, we would be addressing the most important health care issue affecting Canadians today. Tobacco is the greatest public health care issue affecting Canadians today. This has been echoed by the member from the NDP and the member from the Liberal Party. It has been echoed many times by my colleague from Alberta and our health care critic, and members from other parties.
I implore the government to work with our party and other parties to come up with an effective strategy to deal with tobacco consumption. This bill simply does not cut the mustard.