Though discount cigarettes are becoming a growing option for smokers not willing and able to pay for their old brands, a Nova Scotia doctor says it's not necessarily a problem.
By Emily Kimber
Posted: Nov. 9, 2004
There's a lot of different ways to feed a tobacco addiction these days. You can buy a pack of twenty cigarettes, or twenty-five. You can choose from King-size, light, menthol, un-filtered. You can roll your own, or chew it.
And since tobacco taxes have increased over the past few years, you can pick from a variety of discount brands, made with lower-grade tobacco.
Two weeks ago, the chief executive of Rothmans Inc., one of the Canada's largest tobacco companies, predicted that as taxes on cigarettes increased smokers would turn to discount brands. One physician in Nova Scotia says the trend toward discount cigarettes isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Dr. Gerry Brosky, a family physician and chair of Working Group on Tobacco Issues, a Nova Scotia-based anti-smoking iniative, says taxing cigarettes is an ethical dilemma because many people addicted to tobacco are low-income earners. He says discount cigarettes are a reasonable concession to make when you keep that in mind. Brosky says that taxation will work only if linked with legislation to make smoking "not normal, not acceptable."
Brad Kenny, a Dartmouth native, says he's never had to sacrifice anything else for cigarettes, but admits to being careful with his money so he can still afford to smoke. He smoked Du maurier Light for seven years, and says he switched when his brand started costing over ten bucks a pack. " I switched to Peter Jackson's in June. None of my friends smoke their old brands anymore. We all had to switch."
Kenny says he didn't consider quitting when taxes went up, but he wants to quit now. "The cigarettes I smoke are disgusting. I used to smoke because I loved it," he says. "Now I just smoke because I'm addicted."
Catherine Cole, Public Awareness Coordinator for the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, says not to feel sorry for tobacco companies like Rothman's, who reported lower profits after last spring's tax increase. "The tobacco industry will always make money. They sell discount cigarettes but they'll sell more, because they're cheaper."
The tobacco companies weren't the only one worrying about a dip in income due to high cigarette taxes. Diana Elcheikh owns a corner store in Halifax. She says she's noticed most of her regular customers have switched from premium brands, like Du maurier and Players, to discount cigarettes, such as Number 7, Peter Jackson's, or Canadian Classics.
Elcheikh says she makes less money on the cheaper packs, but it all evens out: "Even though it's nine cents less profit per pack, people buy more of the cheaper cigarettes. So we make more profit, eventually. More is better." She says that cigarettes, along with lotto, are what keep her in business. "Without cigarettes, there'd be no corner stores."
Brosky says that even though it seems the tobacco companies found a loophole in the tax legislation, the problem really lays with where the tax money is going. "Nova Scotia makes around $130 million a year from cigarette tax. They spend about 1 per cent of that on tobacco programming." Brosky says that taxation will work only if linked with legislation to make smoking "not normal, not acceptable."
While discount cigarettes do give smokers another option rather than paying up, but it seems the high taxes are still having the desired effect. Kenny says he wouldn't be quitting if his favorite brand was still affordable.
"Put it this way," he says. "If Du maurier was still eight dollars a pack, I wouldn't be thinking about quitting."