Madam Speaker, if I understood correctly, the Liberals do not want to know the truth about the Auberge Grand-Mère. That is really what we heard. Nor do they want the lease to be tabled in the House. They do not want to see for themselves that the Prime Minister is talking through his hat when he says there was no financial connection between the auberge and the golf club after 1993. It is rather strange, but I will now get back to my remarks about Bill C-26.
I must say at the outset that Bill C-26 contains good measures to fight tobacco consumption. It provides various instruments, including a tax increase on tobacco products in general and on cigarettes in particular.
We support this bill. Why? Because tobacco kills. But before it kills, it creates considerable costs for our health system. These costs run into the billions of dollars every year. Tobacco kills through various smoking related diseases.
There is emphysema, heart disease and myocardial infarction in particular. There is lung cancer. There are strokes, many of which are linked to smoking.
In the end there are over 40,000 deaths a year in Canada caused by smoking.
There are still too many people smoking today. There are still too many people uninformed. There are still too many people today, especially young people, who are beginning to develop this bad habit of smoking.
And yet, tobacco kills. It is a real poison. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there are a variety of components to cigarettes, chemicals, which should be made known to those who have the bad habit of smoking.
They are real poisons. To name but one, tar in cigarettes by itself contains 4,000 chemical compounds, 4,000 noxious compounds. Nicotine is the worst element in a cigarette causing dependency, because of its high level—between 5 and 7 milligrams per cigarette—of such magnitude that it is likened to cocaine and heroin dependency.
I know what it is like to break a habit like smoking because I myself smoked for many years. Given the withdrawal symptoms that one can experience over a long period of time, I know whereof I speak.
Cigarettes, and tobacco in general, contain acetone. This substance is normally used as a paint stripper. This is what one is inhaling along with cigarette smoke.
Cigarettes also contain methanol, something else one is inhaling. Methanol is wood alcohol, one of the most potent alcohols on the market. Tobacco also contains acetylene, another chemical, which is used to fuel flares. This is what one is inhaling in tobacco products.
One is inhaling hydrocyanic acid, which is used in gas chambers, benzene, a very strong solvent on the market, and ammonia as well. When one smokes a cigarette, one is breathing in ammonia. This is a colourless gas used for cleaning. I think that everyone is somewhat familiar with this chemical, which is extremely harmful if inhaled. It is very bad for the health.
Cigarettes also contain mercury, lead and cadmium. These are the substances one is inhaling when one smokes a cigarette: three highly toxic heavy metals. There is also carbon monoxide. Everyone has heard of carbon monoxide, a colourless, odourless and deadly gas. Nitrogen oxide, a toxic gas, is also present.
In short, if we could conduct an aggressive information campaign to provide this kind of fundamental data and make an analogy with a poison cocktail, we could not find anything more appropriate.
Imagine a large glass in which there is a certain amount of tar. This is the viscous, yellowish liquid which becomes black once it has been mixed with other products and which is used on roofs. Imagine a large glass with some tar in it.
Imagine another glass in which there is acetone and two or three spoonfuls of paint remover to enhance the flavour. To this, we would then add wood alcohol, a product used for torches, and hydrocyanic acid. We would also pour some acid into our explosive cocktail. And benzene, which is a solvent. We would also put a certain amount of heavy metals into the same glass. We would mix the whole thing with some ice and give it to someone to drink. This is the image that we should bear in mind whenever we light up a cigarette. This is what we are inhaling.
The fundamental question that I ask myself is: Would we give that cocktail to our children to drink? Would we be able give that explosive mixture, that poison which I just described, to our children to drink? This is what is happening.
Since the end of the eighties, the only age group that has significantly increased its tobacco consumption is the 15 to 19 year olds. Where are the parents? We must provide that information, but we must also have it. I could not give that to my child. I could not accept that my child would take such a quantity of poison. Yet, according to statistics, this is what is happening.
As a society, we have an obligation to act. In the case of young people aged 15 to 19, statistics on tobacco since the end of the 1980s are staggering. At the end of the 1980s, the percentage of habitual smokers among female teenagers 15, 16, 17 and 18 of age 24%. Today, it is 31%, an increase of almost a third since the end of the 1980s and early 1990s.
This is cause for concern, when one considers the devastating effects of tobacco. At the end of the 1980s, 21.6% of teenagers aged 15 and over smoked. Today, it is 27.2%.
This too is a cause for concern because we know that diseases that can be developed, like emphysema, myocardial infarction, lung cancer and even strokes are linked to a lifelong investment, from youth to maturity. It is a cause for concern when teenagers, who will become young adults and mature adults, are increasingly becoming smokers.
I believe we should take urgent action to put an end to the deplorable increase of smoking.
I was recently reading a report that showed that the situation with young people between the ages of 20 and 24 is stable but a stable catastrophe is still a catastrophe. When one looks at the data for young people between 20 and 24, and these are young adults we are talking about here, it is surprising to see that 39% of men and 32% of women in that age category are still smoking.
Again, when people hit 40 or 50 years of age, which is the time when tobacco illnesses surface, they end up with the health they built in their youth. If they neglected their health when they were young, it will not improve as the years go by.
What I am trying to say is that starting to smoke at a young age is a negative investment in one's health. It is a bad investment in one's health that can cause two major problems: first, it ensures a slow and painful death, and second, society has to pay for one's bad habit and one's choice not to quit.
Smoking kills and it costs billions of dollars in health care and other services. That is something those with government responsibilities have to bear in mind.
When the packaging of cigarettes and the horrible and repulsive pictures to be displayed on the cigarette packs were debated in the House, the Bloc Quebecois tabled a report containing a number of recommendations to better discourage smoking.
We, of course, recommended an increase in taxes, which has proven to be an effective tool. It has been proven in the past that tax increases have a deterrent effect on young people. Young people do not have a lot of money, particularly 15, 16 and 17 year olds.
We also said that putting photos on cigarette packs and increasing taxes was not enough. We need other solutions, such as requiring cigarette manufacturers to reduce the nicotine content of cigarettes.
As I was saying earlier, there are hundreds if not thousands of toxic products in a cigarette but nicotine is the one chemical that creates addiction. It is as addictive as cocaine or heroine. This should be our first priority so that young people who try that first or second cigarette do not become addicted.
There are means of reducing the nicotine level which, according to various scientific studies, should not exceed five milligrams a day for a person not to get addicted to cigarette smoking.
Members will certainly remember the scandal. If the tobacco industry was able to increase the nicotine level to get more people addicted to their product, an act which is totally reprehensible, irresponsible, appalling and despicable, it means that science is sufficiently advanced to enable the industry to lower the nicotine level. It could be a first step toward helping people to quit smoking or preventing them from becoming addicted to smoking.
Funding for anti-smoking campaign has to be increased as well. At the moment, some $40 million is spent on developing awareness. With new tax money available under C-26, $100 million could be set aside. There is an urgent national need to do so.
With slightly less than 30% of the population still smoking, still having the habit, and with the mortality rate of the various smokers' illnesses, and increased smoking by young people, it seems to me it would be worthwhile investing a little more money there. Instead of swelling surpluses or the government's consolidated fund, it seems to me that it would be a good idea to invest this tax surplus in information, training and public awareness, not only among children and adolescents, but among parents as well.
As parents, we have huge responsibilities and we cannot know everything. Despite all the information campaigns, I think there are still parents around, as there are adolescents, who are not completely in the picture about the problems of smoking and all its ins and outs. They are also unaware of the consequences of this bad habit smoking. We have to lay it all out in order to change these habits.
In the past 20 years, progress has been made. Fewer people smoke but there are target groups. Budgetary resources must be deployed such as information resources and educational resources, to ensure that there is reinvestment in health so that we do not end up 20 years from now with the same problems we have had for the last 20. I am thinking of such things as the increasing incidence rates of lung cancer, emphysema and stroke. Something must be done.
Our second recommendation at that time, and one I believe is still current today, was additional funding. There will be new funds connected with the new taxes imposed by the Minister of Finance on smokers and on the tobacco industry. Please, let us use this money to invest in the health of our young teens. It seems to me this would be a good thing to do.
Our third point was that smoking is not the only thing that creates victims, so do changes to the industry. If government continues its approach—and I choose this terminology because we are talking about smoking here—to burn an industry right off the map, even one as harmful as the tobacco industry, it must not penalize workers in the process.
There will be tens of millions of dollars at stake. Why could some of that not be earmarked for worker retraining and relocation? Why could some not be set aside for policies on conversion from tobacco?
Farmers in various regions of Quebec and of Canada are hurt by these measures. They will hurt even more because the government, like ourselves, seems determined to continue to battle against smoking. Why not earmark an amount to help them retrain?
Some farm families have invested a lot of money in machinery and land improvement to produce the best possible tobacco. Now that we are indirectly fighting this production, we must provide adjustment policies because there are none.
A few years ago the level of taxes on tobacco was so high that contraband was thriving. There is a direct link between the level of taxes and smuggling. If smugglers can sell cigarettes at a cheaper price than on the market, contraband will become more prevalent as the gap grows between these two markets.
This is my fourth point. We support an increase on tobacco taxes. We support any other measure that might be effective in the fight against smoking.
At the same time, we must realize that as taxes increase so will the urge to engage into contraband activities. This means that we must also step up law enforcement.
With these four measures—although there is no quick fix for such an issue—we would be on the way to helping those who are addicted to tobacco, an addiction that is often the result of the industry's greed. In the United States—I do not know if the same thing was done in Canada—it even increased the nicotine content of its products to get more people addicted. It seems to me that the victims of that industry could benefit from these four measures.
These four initiatives would also help the some 30% of Canadians who currently smoke kick this harmful habit so that some day there will not be any smokers left.
We will support the bill.