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Tuesday, 13 September 2011 00:00

Tobacco becoming more affordable for Alberta youth Health groups call for provincial tobacco tax increase

Recent data released by Alberta Health Services reveals that cigarettes have become more affordable for Alberta youth over the past five years.  “It now takes 43.5 minutes of labour for Alberta youth aged 15-24 to purchase a package of 25 cigarettes versus 46 minutes in 2007” said Dr. Gerry Predy, Senior Medical Officer of Health with Alberta Health Services.  Alberta now has the second most affordable cigarettes in Canada for youth aged 15-24.  By comparison, it takes up to 71 minutes of labour to purchase 25 cigarettes in other provinces.

“Tobacco is becoming more affordable to Alberta youth and we believe this is affecting smoking rates among adolescents” said Leigh Allard, President and CEO of the Lung Association of Alberta  and NWT.  “Alberta has not met its youth tobacco reduction targets for the last several years and the increased affordability of cigarettes is contributing to this problem.   Tobacco tax increases are one of the most effective strategies to reduce tobacco use, especially among young people.”
“Alberta youth are vulnerable to tobacco addiction and they deserve first-class protection from tobacco industry products” said Ev Glasser, Manager of Health Promotion for the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Alberta, NWT and Nunavut.  “We urge the Alberta government to reduce the affordability of these deadly and addictive products with higher tobacco taxes.   Global evidence shows that every 10 percent increase in the price of tobacco products contributes to a 6 to 12 percent reduction in consumption among adolescents”.
Although the government introduced a modest tobacco tax increase in 2009, it was not enough to offset the impact of higher wages among this age group since 2007.  The average hourly wage among Alberta youth aged 15-24 is now $15.61 compared to $14.32 in 2007.  To compound this problem, tobacco companies are offering price discounts of up to three dollars per pack that make it even easier for youth to purchase cigarettes.
In 2002, the Alberta government increased cigarette taxes by $2.25 per 25 pack which resulted in a 24 percent decline in tobacco sales the following year.  Youth tobacco use among 15-19 year olds dropped from 24 percent to 19 percent in the year following the tax increase.
“Alberta has been making good progress in reducing overall smoking rates” said Dr. Candace Nykiforukwith the Alberta Policy Coalition for Cancer Prevention and Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health.  “However we are failing to meet our youth tobacco reduction targets and we need to redouble our efforts to protect this vulnerable population from the ravages of tobacco use.  Tobacco tax increases should be a cornerstone of these efforts.  Alberta is due for another major tobacco tax increase to reverse this trend and to help kids remain tobacco-free for life”.
In 2010, the Alberta government’s targeted smoking rate for youth aged 12-19 was 10 percent and the actual rate was 13 percent as reported in last year’s Canadian Community Health Survey.  Tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of disease and premature death in Alberta, claiming 3,000 lives each year.  About (number) of Alberta youth aged 12-19 are daily or occasional smokers.
The Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta is a coalition of prominent health organizations who are working together to reduce tobacco use.
Dr. Gerry Predy
Leigh Allard @ 780-938-5864
Ev Glasser @ 403-781-7177
Dr. Candace Nykiforuk @ 780-920-2932
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