City council will vote Monday on the motion, which is aimed at putting pressure on provincial parties to take a tougher stance on smoking.
Montreal North borough mayor Christine Black and two city councillors are calling on the provincial government to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21, arguing that such a measure would ultimately save lives.
Black’s motion, proposed by veteran Snowdon councillor Marvin Rotrand and Andrée Hénault of Anjou, already has the backing of the director of the Montreal Public Health Department.
“Raising the legal buying age to 21 is a promising solution to decrease access to tobacco products,” Dr. Mylène Drouin, director of the department, wrote in a letter to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.
City council will vote on the motion on Monday. The motion also urges the next provincial government to raise taxes on tobacco progressively to deter smoking.
“According to the Canadian Cancer Society, tobacco use is responsible for 20 per cent of all deaths nationally, and has given rise to $6.5 billion in additional health-care costs,” Black said in a statement.
Black noted that a recent SOM poll found that 73 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of raising tobacco taxes to the same level as those in Ontario.
Rotrand, a longtime advocate for a smoke-free environment, noted that Quebec charges the lowest retail taxes on tobacco of all the provinces. The tax on a carton of 200 cigarettes is $29.80 compared with $47.93 in Ontario.
Research has shown that raising tobacco taxes by 10 per cent leads to a four-per-cent reduction in the number of smokers.
“Tobacco kills more Montrealers than guns do,” Rotrand said. “Quebec has to step up to the plate. It has had the lowest tobacco taxes since 1994.”
The timing of Friday’s news conference at Montreal city hall coincides with the provincial election campaign, putting pressure on the four main political parties to take a tougher stance on smoking.
Kevin Bilodeau, director of government relations for the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Quebec, noted that all the parties are insisting that health care is a priority, yet he lamented that there’s been no talk on reducing tobacco use.
“Health care has become a central theme in the campaign.” Bilodeau said. “All the parties want to solve the problems of health care rather than focusing on prevention.”
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A 2017 Statistics Canada report observed that “people typically begin smoking during their teenage years.” It’s estimated that more than 200,000 Canadians aged 15 to 19 smoke.
Some teens start smoking when friends in their social circle who are 18 share cigarettes with them. Thus, raising the legal smoking age to 21 will reduce the likelihood of teens picking up the deadly habit, said Katherine Unger, of the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation in the United States.
“Ninety-five per cent of adult smokers started using tobacco products before the age of 21,” Unger explained.
“Many transition from experimental smoking to regular, daily use during the ages of 18 to 21. Delaying the age when kids first experiment or begin using tobacco can reduce the risk that they will transition to regular or daily tobacco use.”
Unger noted that six U.S. states — Hawaii, California, Oregon, Maine, New Jersey and Massachusetts — have adopted tobacco 21 laws, covering 28 per cent of the U.S. population.
The prevalence of smoking has declined in all provinces from 1999 to 2015, according to a University of Waterloo study. In Quebec, smoking prevalence dropped from 30.3 per cent in 1999 to 14.2 per cent in 2015. But the growing popularity of E-cigarettes threatens to reverse that trend, Unger warned.