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.