EDMONTON — A coalition of health groups is calling on Alberta's NDP government to raise the tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack.
Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta says such an increase in the government's budget later this month would help deter young people from lighting up.
Dan Holinda, executive director of the Canadian Cancer Society in Alberta, said cigarettes are already too affordable in the province and the new increase in the minimum wage will make it even easier for young people to buy tobacco.
"The minimum wage increase should be coupled with a tobacco tax increase to ensure that youth smoking rates don't rise,'' he said.
"We are not opposed to the increase in the minimum wage but a corresponding tobacco tax increase is needed to ensure that tobacco doesn't become even more affordable.''
The coalition estimates such a tax hike on cigarettes and other tobacco products could generate $180 million the government could use for wellness programs.
Alberta's minimum wage increased on Thursday to $11.20 per hour from $10.20. The government plans to raise the rate to $15 per hour by 2018.
According to the Canadian Youth Smoking, Tobacco and Drug Survey, there are an estimated 39,000 tobacco users in grades 6 to 12 in Alberta.
Alberta has the ninth lowest tax rate on cigarettes of the provinces and territories.
Leigh Allard, president of the Lung Association of Alberta, said the province has fallen behind when it comes to tobacco taxes.
"The Notley government has a huge opportunity to significantly reduce youth smoking with the most powerful weapon available — a tobacco tax increase,'' she said.
The coalition said it wants Alberta to dedicate $20 million of any new tobacco tax revenue toward programs aimed at reducing youth smoking.
Last March, Alberta's former Progressive Conservative government raised the tax on a pack of 20 cigarettes by 50 cents to $4.50 per pack.
Les Hagen of the group Action on Smoking and Health said there is irrefutable evidence that tax increases reduce youth smoking.
"We would like to see a minimum $1 per pack increase on cigarettes to help reduce youth tobacco use,'' he said.
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