Madam Speaker, it is a great privilege to speak to Bill C-26 concerning the raising of taxes on cigarettes.
My position is not an easy one to take. When I consider raising taxes I swallow rather hard. Canadians are hurting desperately because of the taxes they pay, and imposing even more taxes cannot be healthy for the country. However the bill is less about raising taxes than about stopping the use of cigarettes. It is a health matter.
The use of cigarettes in our country has become a serious health issue and it must stop. I have been involved in the health care system for many years. When I talk with my counterparts I understand that one in six patients has a tobacco related problem. Canada has a critical problem with its health care system and cigarette smoking.
However to suggest that increasing cigarette taxes will solve the country's health care woes is misguided and dangerous. It is only one piece of the puzzle. We need to look at the whole puzzle and determine what must be done to change the paradigm and the way people think about tobacco use.
It would be better to ask where cigarette taxes are being spent. If they are not being spent to determine the health dangers of cigarettes then we have a serious problem. We need a game plan that does more than raise taxes because that is not the whole issue. The issue is about stopping cigarettes and the damage they do to the health of Canadians.
We should ask whether that can be accomplished. My father smoked all his life. I look at kids today and think of when I went to school and how difficult it was to discern whether or not to smoke. I was saved because of a basketball team and a coach who decided that if we smoked we would not be able to play. Those were the issues.
Teenagers are very vulnerable. The battle is about who will win the minds of our children with regard to cigarettes: the tobacco companies which are putting more and more nicotine into their cigarettes so they are more addictive, or the government which should address the issue in an educational sense so that teenagers know they are becoming victims rather than exercising free choice.
I believe a society should have free choice and that we should stop victimizing the weak. Someone who starts smoking at age 13 will have spent $15,000 on tobacco by age 30. That is a down payment on a good home or half the price of a good car. That does not even take into account the health effects of smoking.
Tobacco companies in Canada reap $260 million in profits every year from the sale of cigarettes to teenagers. Ninety per cent of those who start smoking do so between the ages of 13 and 20. That is where the battle must be fought. Approximately 28% of teenage girls in Canada smoke cigarettes.
The real question is whether we can win the war. Can we win the battle at that level? Let us look at the example of alcohol. Massive education campaigns have seen drinking and driving in Canada decline dramatically from what it was a couple of decades ago.
We have to be careful when we look at other countries and examine what they are doing. What California has done is worthy of note. It has put the pieces of the puzzle together a little more than we have here in Canada. As a result it has moved its percentage of teenage smokers from 30% down to 9% today. That is a success story that we need to perhaps model ourselves on and improve on, because it is an area that we have to look at.
The whole area of health care is something I would like to address because it is a bigger picture issue. We need to understand that if we are to address efficiencies in health care and sustain a health care system, we have to look at the bigger picture of preventative health. Since the seventies we have been talking about preventative health and yet I see very little effort directed to doing something about it.
The bill moves very slightly in that direction, but we have to recognize that as the baby boomer bubble hits our health care system we have to do more than just add funds to the system and stop the crisis management of health as Canadians end up in our emergency wards or clinics. To start with, we have to look at preventing them from becoming ill. That is something we have to look at in a bigger scheme. To do that we must recognize how smoking impacts our health care system. We have to realize that $3 billion is spent in direct costs for hospitalization and physician time in regard to smoking, and another $8 billion is spent in lost productivity in the workplace. Those are amazing figures.
Labour Canada estimates that it costs between $2,300 and $2,600 more to employ an individual who is a smoker. The rate of absenteeism in the workplace has increased because of it. Life insurance premiums have also gone up. Not only is there a productivity cost due to smoking, but there are other direct costs. These are the things we do not really recognize.
We have to get to the teenaged mind. Teenagers need to understand that not only is it costly to smoke and not only does it stink, and in more ways than one, but there is very little upside to smoking and to becoming addicted to something that will harness them to an addiction they cannot escape. I have talked to a lot of people who smoke. Very few of them want to smoke. Most of them want to quit, for many reasons.
Yesterday I had five individuals in my office. One of them was the president of the Canadian Dental Association. I have never thought about cigarettes and their effect on dentistry. These people came to my office to talk about cigarettes and what they see as they look into the mouths of Canadians. What they see is that baby boomers keep more of their teeth as a result of accomplishments in the dentistry field. However, they are suffering from far more cancers because of their cigarette smoking. Dentists are very concerned with the amount of gum disease and cancers of the mouth that they see brought on because of cigarettes.
I want to impress upon the House how important it is that we look at funding a plan to address teenage smoking. Just raising the cost of cigarettes is not the issue. If we took the money raised and put it into such a plan, Canadians would support it much more.
Here is what amazes me and why I ask the House to implement such a plan. The bill was introduced once before. Now it takes 40 pages to introduce the legislation and 50 pages to explain why. I am a little suspicious. It was introduced in 1998 by the Senate and supported at that time by the health minister. Unfortunately the Speaker of the House did not support it because he felt it was a taxation issue, not a health issue. Obviously this is a health issue and not a taxation issue.
It is a little suspicious to see the turnabout in the minds of the members next to me in the House, because they have to address this as a health issue. I am a little suspicious about how fast this is happening and about what kind of energy is behind it. If we do not address it as just one piece of a very large puzzle, then we will have missed our opportunity.
The House needs to examine it as not just a taxation issue but a health issue, one that has to be addressed in our country. We cannot fail in this one. We owe it to our teenagers and to the next generation. We owe it to them to sustain our health care system.