Friday, February 12, 2010

Lower taxes do not equal higher smoking prevalence

In my last post, I wrote about a study conducted by HEC Montreal which concluded that lowering taxes did not contribute significantly to an increase in either smoking prevalence or consumption.

I opined that the anti-smoker fanatics would find it hard to dismiss the highly regarded business school, and their study, as the work of tobacco company stooges. I was wrong, or at least half wrong.

I underestimated the brass of the anti-smoker crowd. No, they didn't try to vilify HEC or anything so audacious. Instead they attacked the CCSA ( Canadian Convenience Store Association) which commissioned the HEC study. “The CCSA is the friendly neighbourhood face of Canadian Big Tobacco," said NSRA (Non-smokers Rights Association) policy director Melodie Tilson. Nice turn of phrase.

A Canada Newswire (CNW) article refers to the NSRA as a “health association”, although it's hard to imagine what a propaganda factory like the NSRA has to do with health. “The health association [NSRA] released a critique by former World Health Organization economist Emmanuel Guindon in response to a Canadian Convenience Store Association study earlier this month that purported to justify tobacco tax cuts.“

The Canada Newswire article was based on a press release issued by the NSRA.

According to CNW, “Condemnation of the CCSA for releasing a wrong-headed analysis of the 1994 tobacco tax rollbacks has been expressed by many health organizations including Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada. The CCSA study has also been severely criticized by a group of Quebec economists with Analysis Group on behalf of the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control.”

By “wrong-headed”, of course, they mean the HEC study contradicts the teachings of the Holy Church of the Anti-Smoker. And, everybody knows the doctrine of the cult can never be questioned.

At any rate, it's not surprising that “health organizations” like the NSRA, Physicians for a Smokefree Canada and the Quebec Coalition for Tobacco Control would condemn the CCSA for questioning church doctrine. Condemnation and the demonizing of smokers (referred to by the anti-smoker cult as de-normalization). is what they're all about. Nor is it surprising that former WHO (World Health Organization) economist Emmanuel Guindon would offer up a criticism on the HEC study. After all, the whole concept of de-normalization originated with that organization.

The anti-smoker crowd has always played fast and loose with the truth, claiming every study which disagrees with (their) conventional wisdom is dishonest, flawed or the work of big tobacco front groups. The main stream media seldom publishes information which does not carry the ant-smoker seal of approval. And the vast majority of the unquestioning public is unlikely to go wading through hundreds of scientific journals on the internet or the local library to uncover the truth.

The HEC study, released in January, 2010, was newsworthy because it challenged conventional wisdom, that smoking prevalence can be controlled by high taxes. But, after a pretty thorough search on Google, I couldn't find a single article in Canada's mainstream media. In fact, I only found a handful of blog entries on the subject, including my original source for the information, CAGE (Canadians Against Government Encroachment).

But, I did find the CTUMS (Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey) for 2003. And, what really caught my eye was a chart on the first page of the report showing smoking prevalence trends from 1985 to 2003. A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. And, the graphic certainly points out the truth of the underlying data better than words could ever explain.

The chart (shown above, slightly modified) shows the smoking rate for youths (15 to 19 years of age) in 1985 and 1991.There is a steady decline during that period which ends in 1991, and then increases through 1996 where, once again, it begins to decline. For the age group 20 to 24, the smoking rate levels out in 1991, then continues its decline from 1994. For the age group 25+, the smoking rate shows a continuous decline from 1985 onward.

Clearly, the change in trend began in 1991, almost three years prior to the government reduction in tobacco taxes in February of 1994. This timing appears to be corroborated by data from Statistics Canada in their Report on Smoking Prevalence in Canada, 1985 to 1999. “There was a significant and large increase (6.5 percentage points) in current smoking prevalence for 15 to 19 year-olds between 1991 and January 1, 1994. Since 1994, there has been no significant change in current smoking prevalence of youth.”

In other words, the existing data from statistics Canada substantiates the HEC study showing no significant change in smoking prevalence due to the decrease in tobacco taxes in 1994. This should come as no surprise since the HEC Report was based on Statistics Canada data.

It is quite likely that the increase in smoking prevalence during the early nineties, attributed to the reduction of tobacco taxes by the anti-smoker crowd, was actually the result of the growing availability of cheap contraband which began around 1989.

Dealers in black market cigarettes don't require proof of age and they sell their contraband at pocket money prices which many teenagers can afford. Higher taxes encourage the black market, which in turn, means cheaper smokes for kids. The anti-smoker crowd doesn't seem to understand.

The simple facts are that tobacco taxes represent the profit margin available to smugglers and dealers in contraband. The higher the tax, the greater the potential profits. And, tobacco taxes in Canada are at record setting levels, as is the problem with contraband.

Reducing taxes to combat smuggling makes sense.

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