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St. Albert joins Airdrie in support of five-per-cent tobacco tax

Funds collected under the levy would be redirected to support programs and strategies to reduce and prevent tobacco use in Alberta. 
2107 tobacco edit file CC
St. Albert city council voted on July 5 to second Airdrie in an effort to push the province to slap a five-per-cent levy on tobacco manufacturers and importers. FILE/Photo

St. Albert has seconded Airdrie in a request that could see the Alberta government slap a five-per-cent tax on tobacco manufacturers and importers. 

The resolution, which was initially approved in Airdrie on June 21, will request the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) advocate to the provincial government in pursuit of a five-per-cent levy for the tobacco industry. 

Funds collected under the levy would be redirected to support programs and strategies to reduce and prevent tobacco use in Alberta. 

Every year, the AUMA puts out an annual call for resolutions to direct their advocacy on process and legislative changes to the province. These resolutions must address a topic of concern affecting municipalities on a regional or provincial level, and be approved by a seconding council. Resolutions will be debated and voted on during the AUMA fall 2021 convention. 

The resolution submitted by Airdrie referenced 4,000 premature deaths resulting from tobacco use in Alberta each year. Additionally, it highlighted the price of tobacco for the province, which including health costs exceeds $1 billion annually. 

The notice for St. Albert to second Airdrie's request was given by Coun. Jacquie Hansen at city council July 5. 

"For me this is an no brainer," Hansen said during council. "I'd be very proud to have council vote to second this request."

After the motion was carried unanimously, Hansen said she hopes "the government of Alberta is listening."

Price hikes for consumers a potential

AK Patel, owner of AK's Specialty Tobacco and Vape Shop in Inglewood Towne Centre, said the levy sounded positive. However, he said he could see a future where tobacco companies raise prices further, pushing the burden of the levy on to customers and businesses in the same way he has seen other taxes on tobacco operate.

"It's already a bloodbath," Patel said of the taxation. "It's like 'how much blood can we go for?'"

In 2019, Alberta introduced a tax increase of $5 per carton of 200 cigarettes, resulting in a tax of $55. Federal taxes for the same carton currently amount to $29.09. 

Patel said he has been in the process of opening a second location, but is starting to feel nervous about the impact further tax hikes could have on his business. 

"I'm looking into the future and wondering if I'll have to close the store before it's even opened," Patel said. "Regulation is already moving in the direction where it's not helping small businesses either way."

While Hansen said there was a chance the levy could end up costing customers, she argued the additional price could be "an incentive not to smoke." She said beginning by taxing tobacco companies is a crucial step. 

"There's a lot of industry out there that have to look after their own cleanup, and I think tobacco companies should be no exception," Hansen said.

Levy will not include vaping

As a former smoker who switched to vaping, Patel said he wouldn't be opposed to the government taking a more stringent stance. 

"The government could ban the tobacco industry, and I'd have no problem," Patel said. "At the same time, then you need to have one thing open for customers to enjoy, which is vaping."

When the AUMA resolution was brought forward for discussion in Airdrie, councillors voiced concerns about the absence of vaping from the levy. 

Airdrie Coun. Tina Petrow, who put forward the resolution, said Action on Smoking and Health Canada recommended the focus remain on tobacco in this instance. She said the levy could also have an effect on vaping companies, because they are often partially owned by tobacco manufacturers. 

"The levy would affect vape product manufacturers as well, even though it's not specifically named within this resolution," Petrow said.

Similarly, Hansen said that although this particular resolution is centred on tobacco use, she argued the issues are "intertwined." In 2019, Hansen put forward a resolution about banning the advertisement and promotion of vaping products to youth, which passed with widespread support at the AUMA.

Now, Hansen said she's interested to see what will result from Alberta's new Tobacco, Smoking, and Vaping Reduction Act, which will go into effect at the end of this month. 

"I'll be interested to see what kind of teeth it has," Hansen said of the act. "I really hope it will make it a bit more difficult for youth to purchase vaping products."

Hansen said she is "very concerned" about vaping, especially the impact it is already having on youth. Though Hansen herself is not running for re-election, she said she hopes a future council will bring forward a similar resolution that levies vape companies.

"We don't fully understand all the direct health impacts of vaping yet, and the companies need to be held to account," Hansen said.