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Up in smoke


The reinstatement of a tobacco tax rebate for Labrador West retailers has garnered mixed opinions.

A smoker enjoys a cigarette at the Labrador Mall. Cigarettes lowered in price at the start of the month in an effort to keep Labrador West residents from travelling across the border to buy cheaper cartons.

The price of cigarettes decreased as of May 1 in an effort to encourage Labradorians to purchase cigarettes in the province rather than travelling across the border to Quebec.

Local business owners and smokers laud the decrease of almost $0.11 cents per cigarette for the money saved in pockets of customers and the extra ringing of cash registers for storeowners.

Just two weeks into the decrease, Keith Feltham, manager of Grenfell Corner Store in Wabush, said he’s already seen an increase in business.

“It’s helped us a lot already,” he said. “Just the fact that people have stopped going to Fermont, now they’re picking up beer, cigarettes, pop, everything here.”

Feltham said smokers crossing the border has hurt sales during the few years the province removed the rebate.

“It’s a big problem because you don’t only lose money on cigarettes, but pop, groceries, gas – everything. It’s something all businesses were fighting for.”

He estimated cigarette sales have close to doubled since the rebate began.

“I never sold a carton of cigarettes here in months, and now people are buying cartons that never bought them before.”

A smoker at the Labrador Mall who wished to remain anonymous said she regularly crossed the border to buy cartons of cigarettes.

“Of course I did,” she said. “I know it wasn’t helping businesses in the area, but when you’re saving that much money with an hour’s trip it’s easy to justify.”

Her trip to Fermont would end up being for more than just cartons of cigarettes, however.

“We’d end up buying beer while we were there, because that’s so much cheaper too. And if we’re getting beer and cigarettes we may as well have a look at the groceries. And if we’re getting some groceries we may as well eat at the restaurant.”

She said if it weren’t for the difference in price for cigarettes she likely wouldn’t spend as much money across the border.

“I’m perfectly happy not to spend gas if I’d only save a couple bucks on beer. Now most of my money will stay in (Labrador West).”

Not happy

But not everyone is thrilled about the lower prices.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analyst for the Canadian Cancer Society in Ottawa, said it wouldn’t do anything to curb people from smoking.

“Hard tobacco taxes are most effective strategies to reduce smoking, especially amongst kids,” he said. “Kids have lower incomes and are susceptible to price changes.”

Cunningham said the society’s objective is to get higher tobacco taxes as a means to reduce smoking. 

“We need a strategy to ensure tobacco tax goes up fully in Quebec and all of Labrador. It’s been a longstanding issue. At a minimum it’s good most of Newfoundland and Labrador has tobacco rates among the highest in Canada.”

Cunningham said lower tobacco taxes have a harmful impact on the health of Canadians, and it doesn’t help to persuade smokers to quit.

“Smoking causes 30 per cent of cancer deaths, roughly 16 types of cancer. It’s the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Canada. And 37,000 Canadians die each year.”

Cunningham said the tax rebate is a mechanism the provincial government used to get higher tobacco taxes up in most of the province.

“As opposed to having a common lower rate in Newfoundland and Labrador, they had a lower rate in a small part of the province to allow a much higher rate in the rest of the province.”

ty.dunham@tc.tc

 

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