Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to add my thoughts to this important discussion on Bill S-5, an act to amend the Tobacco Act and the Non-smokers’ Health Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts.
One of the most important roles of any government is to protect the health and the safety of its citizens. As Conservatives, we have always taken this very seriously.
The previous Conservative government took a number of steps to improve the health of Canadians by funding and implementing various programs to reduce the smoking rate in Canada. Some of these initiatives included tightening advertising restrictions, banning flavoured cigarettes, which were seen as attractive to children, and introducing regulations for larger and updated warning labels. In fact, under the previous Conservative government, smoking rates among youth aged 15 to 19 decreased to 11%, representing the lowest rate recorded for this age group since Health Canada first reported smoking prevalence.
We invested over $650 million to reduce the smoking rate across all ages and partnered with the Canadian Cancer Society, providing it $5 million in partnership to launch the “Break it Off” tobacco cessation campaign to encourage young adults to quit smoking. These were positive concrete steps that were taken to help Canadians lead healthier lives, but Bill S-5 goes in a totally different direction.
As it is currently written, Bill S-5 plans to make two key changes to the Tobacco Act. The first change is to introduce a framework into the Tobacco Act that would regulate vaping products. The second key change is to implement plain packaging requirements for tobacco products.
I understand the stated goal behind Bill S-5 is to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to reduce youth smoking. However, as I read it, the bill quite frankly could do much more harm than good.
As I mentioned, Bill S-5 plans to implement plain packaging regulations that will see the outside packaging for cigarettes standardized as well as the cigarette stick itself. That means there will be no branding whatsoever. As a result, people who choose to smoke will not be able to tell one brand from another, either from the package or from the cigarette. Nor, indeed, will they be able to tell whether they have bought a legal product. In fact, law enforcement agencies will not be able to tell the difference either.
The government claims that this is designed to make the cigarettes less attractive to young people. That will in turn lower the youth smoking rate. I am concerned, on a number of fronts, that this portion of the legislation in particular will have just the opposite result.
My first concern is the impact that the plain packaging regulations could have on the contraband tobacco market in Canada. The reason why this market is a concern is that it is unregulated, unlicensed, and untaxed. Not only does the government lose an estimated $2 billion a year in taxes from the sale of illegal cigarettes, but the money that is made off them is used to fund very highly organized crime in Canada and abroad.
There are parts of our great country where contraband tobacco is big business. In some areas, it is reliably estimated that as much as 80% of cigarettes smoked are contraband. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that there are also areas where the illegal cross-border trade of cigarettes between Canada and the U.S. is a serious and sometimes even a deadly business. That is how big the stakes are.
What does plain packaging have to do with contraband tobacco? By having a generic package for all cigarettes, it will make it much easier for contraband producers both to counterfeit and also to sell their own product, with little chance of getting caught.
This leads me to a second issue surrounding the safety of Canadians and their right to know what they are ingesting.
As the contraband tobacco market is unregulated, there is no way to determine, much less control, the chemical make-up of its cigarettes. Because the packaging and the cigarette stick will be indistinguishable from one brand to the next, Canadians who choose to smoke will not only be unable to tell whether they are receiving their brand, but they will also be unable to determine whether they are receiving legal, counterfeit, or a contraband product. Since there is no way to control what chemicals are actually in these cigarettes, this could result in negative health impacts for Canadians and cause even more harm instead of reducing it. Believe me, some contraband cigarettes have been known to have some rather nasty stuff in them.
To get back to the government's stated goal of harm reduction, I also have a serious concern regarding the wording within the legislation that bans companies from saying that one product is less harmful than another. For example, the harmful chemicals that enter a person's body when smoking do so mostly once the cigarette is ignited. There are currently products available that simply heat the tobacco instead of igniting it, which significantly reduces exposure to much of the harmful chemicals. These products have been proven to be significant aids to quitting smoking. However, if this legislation passes, Canadians will not even get to know about these products.
The second half of this legislation deals with vaping products, which have also been deemed to be a less harmful alternative to smoking. However, as consumers, Canadians would be unable to know that these products are less harmful for them because of the advertising ban that would ensue if this legislation is passed.
For a bill that is focused on harm reduction, it seems illogical that companies or even Health Canada would not be allowed to educate Canadians if there are less harmful alternatives out there.
In addition, the government claims that switching to plain packaging will decrease the smoking rate. My concern here is twofold. Throughout my research, and through consultation with a number of stakeholders, I have been unable to find reliable statistics that prove that implementing plain packaging reduces the urge for youth to start smoking. In my experience, they do not try smoking because they see a package and think it looks cool. In many parts of Canada, they cannot see the package anyway because by law it is hidden from view in stores. Rather, they try it because their friends are doing it, or because it is easy to access.
We all want to go home for the weekend, so I will spare everyone from going into the litany of problems in this bill, and how it contrasts with what the Liberals are putting forward in their marijuana legislation.
Back to my second concern, which is if we implement plain packaging and end up fuelling the contraband market we could actually see an increase in the rate of youth smoking as a result of accessibility. One of the reasons why contraband tobacco continues to be popular is because of its low cost. In fact, in many areas where contraband tobacco is sold, a person can buy a Baggie of 200 cigarettes for about $10 compared to buying the legal product for well over $100 for the same quantity. People buy the cheaper product to save money.
A lot of young people do not have the means to purchase $100 worth of cigarettes, but they may have the means to purchase cigarettes at $10. Therefore, if the contraband market is allowed to flourish, youth could quite conceivably have even more access to cigarettes as a result of their low cost.
As I said earlier, I understand and I even support the stated goal, but I have very serious issues with the path that the Liberals are taking to get there.
In closing, I ask that the members of this House consider the very real and serious concerns that I have outlined today and take them into consideration when developing their own thoughts about the bill, and that they think of my speech when Bill S-5 is discussed at committee.