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Alberta Municipalities vote favours new tobacco levy

The resolution was put forward by the City of Airdrie and seconded by St. Albert.
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While the levy could be passed on to customers, Les Hagen of Action on Smoking and Health Canada said the net benefit of the levy will be invaluable.

Tobacco and vape companies could be taxed an extra five per cent on their revenue following a vote at last week’s Alberta Municipalities convention. 

Municipal leaders from across Alberta met in Edmonton and online Nov. 17 to Nov. 19 for the 2021 convention. Alberta Municipalities — formerly known as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) — represents urban communities in Alberta. 

Each year, Alberta Municipalities members vote on resolutions that shape the organization’s advocacy to the provincial government on municipal issues. This year, a range of resolutions were on the floor, including a resolution to lobby the Alberta government to establish a five-per-cent levy on all revenues collected by major tobacco manufacturers and importers.

Funds collected under the levy would be redirected to support programs and strategies to reduce and prevent tobacco use in Alberta, such as the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy. 

Les Hagen, the executive director at Action on Smoking and Health Canada, said the resolution is a “strong endorsement” of Alberta’s Tobacco Reduction Strategy.

“[The strategy] expires in March, and we’re waiting for word on the renewal of the strategy for the next 10 years, so this resolution is very timely,” Hagen said. 

The resolution was put forward by the City of Airdrie and seconded by St. Albert, allowing it to be read at the convention for approval. Jacquie Hansen, who served on St. Albert city council from 2017 to 2021 spurred council to second the motion this past spring. 

Tina Petrow, councillor for Airdrie, spoke to the motion during the Alberta Municipalities conference. Petrow noted tobacco use in Alberta — including health-care and environmental costs — amounts to $1 billion per year. 

“This is a cost all Albertans pay whether you partake in the act or not,” Petrow said. “Let’s redirect these costs back to where they belong and hold the manufacturers responsible for the safety and well-being of all Albertans.”

While the resolution originally did not include vaping or vape manufacturers, Alberta Municipalities members voted to amend the motion to add in these aspects. 

Michael Hildebrand, councillor for the Town of Provost, spoke against the amendment before it was passed with 428 votes in favour and 80 opposed. Hildebrand spoke of his experience as a smoker. 

“I know tobacco is a bad thing, but removing the ability to access any tool a person would use to try and get off of actual tobacco is just poor planning,” Hildebrand said. 

Hagen said he feels differently, noting a number of major vape companies are partially or wholly owned by tobacco companies. For example, Juul is owned by Philip Morris Companies — now called Altria Group. 

Hagen also said the majority of those who vape aren’t looking to quit, and vaping products are growing in popularity.

“To get to the main concern here, if the government moves ahead with this proposal and places a fee on tobacco companies … those fees can help to support smokers to quit,” Hagen said. “Those fees can be used to help defray legitimate medical treatment.” 

As far as whether the additional fee will be passed down from the companies on to consumers through inflated costs, Hagen said the potential exists, but is still outweighed by the importance of fortifying anti-smoking initiatives with the levy. 

“We can’t let the strategy expire, and we know there are funding pressures on the provincial government,” Hagen said. “This is intended to solve both problems.”

The resolution passed with overwhelming support, with 425 in favour 92 opposed.