Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alberta's Tobacco Reduction Strategy is in Trouble

There is lots of good news coming out of the Budget Update. The surplus is up and the spending in under control. Stelmach has brought some much needed fiscal discipline back to this government in the short 3 month he has taken over the leadership.

Some serious concerns on the revenue side are being reported. Not that the revenues are down, they are not. The concern is the increase in tobacco tax revenue of some $40M over budget.

Indications are, according to Action on Smoking and Health this increase is due to higher sales volumes that are in fact caused by price discounting by manufacturers.

Alberta as a Tobacco Reduction Strategy that called for a 50% reduction in tobacco shipments between 2001 and 2011 but only a 15% reduction has occurred since 2001 and there have been repeated sales increases since 2003. The performance success on this health indicator is in serious jeopardy. Stats show that tobacco is the leading avoidable cause of 3,400 premature deaths in Alberta every year.

For the last several years, tobacco revenues have been repeatedly underestimated by Alberta Finance and these increases are a disturbing reminder that the Alberta Tobacco Reduction Strategy is not meeting its stated objectives. The performance measure for tobacco shipments is 2528 million cigarettes for FY2011 (four years from now). The total shipments for FY2006 were 4380 million cigarettes. This means that tobacco shipments need to decline by over 40% within the next four years in order to achieve the ATRS 10-year performance target. This reduction would require a Herculean effort by the Alberta government.

Dave Hancock, the Minister of Health and Wellness is calling for a total ban on smoking in workplaces and public places, something that was tied many times before but never got passed Ralph Klein, the former Premier.

Here is hoping this is an idea whose time has come under a new Premier.


  1. I remember the time when Ken was stating that Ted Morton should disclose all of his donors, that Hancock and Stelmach all agreed that they would disclose their funding.

    Ken, then will you know denounce this secret slush fund:

    Where is the transparency?

  2. I'm a proponent of transparency in government, but the media and the opposition have been chewing an old bone that might as well stay buried in the back yard.

    The leadership process desperately needs to be regulated, but should contributers who showed their support in a monetary form with the understanding that it was in confidence, for whatever reason (maybe they were spending their spoiled children's inheritance), have that confidence betrayed? We're talking about $162,000 here. I'm pretty sure that's not why Stelmach won the election. Surely a membership to "the Jim" was more expensive, and I don't see him in the big chair.

    As long as there are no signs of a gross impropriety let it go, and start focussing on regulating the process for all parties as a means of establishing greater transparency.

  3. F. Haultain3:17 pm

    Ken -- I am very disappointed with the Premier's decision to withhold the donor's names for a substantial portion of campaign contributions.

    In an earlier post, you said that disclosure should be a pre-requisite for a cabinet seat. Well, the Premier's chair is a cabinet seat. It really makes a mockery of the priority the Premier claims to place on integrity and transparency.

    Let's be honest, when it comes to the institutions of democracy (campaign financing, budget oversight etc), Alberta is one of the worst jurisdictions in Canada -- and according to a World Bank expert, we compare unfavourably with some third-world countries. Premier Stelmach's decision shows he is happy with that position.

  4. Anonymous3:18 pm


    Usually, I find myself in agreement with you. But not today.

    The media have put their predictably negative spin on what was a voluntary disclosure of campaign contributions. They love to use the $163k as some big donation (implicit that there is some cabal of big money). But the fact is, the majority of the money came from small individual donations (tons of names in the 0-$50 and $51-$100 category). Nowhere in my reading of the press articles did I see a clear admission of this. There was no "big oil" or corporate club behind Ed. None of the anonymous donations were >$15k, so whether you know their names or not, is practically irrelevant. I was actually shocked by the relatively low number of donations $10k and higher, frankly.

    You will also note that in addition to the list of contributors, there is a breakdown of revenue and expenses. More than 1/3 of the money (>$400k) went directly toward advertising (print, radio, TV). And this doesn't even include the money spent on the website. Clearly, because the media didn't give the candidate exposure (at least until second ballot), the campaign was forced to buy it. It is all on the website (up for a couple more weeks):

    What you certainly won't see reported is how the media outlets raised their advertising rates immediately following Ralph's letter of resignation. If you want a cabal, there is one for you ;-)

    Daniel is right. This bone has been thoroughly knawed. Let's move on, shall we?

  5. Increased sales of cigarettes are a direct result of the mistaken policy of the massive tobacco tax increase in 2002, as we revealed in "Tax Increase Caused Jump In Teen Smoking":

    The persistent failure of Tobacco Reduction Strategy policies proves that tobacco control is a tax-sucking farce run by con-artists who are incapable of accurately predicting the impact of their policies in real life.

    The rate at which smoking declined among the general population, before all these aggressive Tobacco Reduction strategies were developed (1970-1985) was HIGHER than the rate of decline AFTER our tax dollars were squandered by groups like Action On Smoking and Health (1986-2000).

    It's time to stop whining about smoking rates and start investing in medical services staff & infrastructure. Stop squandering monies on policy wonks who treat no illnesses and perform no surgeries. Invest in desperately needed medical services.

  6. Anon, I was just pointing out the fact that Ken has disapproved of having any anonymous donors. He overtly singled out Ted Morton for not disclosing his donors, yet he failed criticize the other leadership candidates on this issue. I was just trying to illustrate that Ken did not make a principled argument during the campaign and was just smearing Morton.

    I agree with the rest of your post. $163K is not a material amount and there are much more important issues of the day to worry about.