The province is giving smokers more help to quit. But the health minister is also talking about higher fees to punish them.

The province is giving smokers more help to quit. But the health minister is also talking about higher fees to punish them.

B.C. eyes higher fees to push smokers to quit

Controversial MSP premium surcharge on table: de Jong

Smokers may be forced to pay higher Medical Services Plan premiums to reflect the heavier burden they put on B.C.’s health care system, Health Minister Mike de Jong says.

He offered no details, calling it a concept under consideration at this point.

“It’s something I’m seriously looking at,” de Jong said in an interview after floating the idea in a panel discussion at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

An MSP surcharge on smokers would be a new stick to persuade smokers to quit, on top of existing taxes on cigarettes and a growing plethora of restrictions on where tobacco addicts can light up.

“I think smokers would be upset to be singled out,” de Jong said. “But we want them to be upset because they are engaged in a behaviour that is costing the rest of society billions of dollars.

“These are controversial steps. If you’re a non-smoker, they’re less controversial.”

A higher MSP premium on smokers could help raise extra money for the embattled health system, de Jong added.

The minister warned the government plans to carve money out of existing health spending to fund new initiatives to prevent chronic illness and reduce long-term costs.

B.C. already spends nearly $100 million a year on health promotion and disease prevention.

Victoria’s latest move is to fully fund nicotine patches and other smoking cessation aids.

Smokers will no longer have the excuse of not being able to afford to pay for help to quit smoking, de Jong said, adding the $15 million required will come from other parts of the health budget.

“We think it’s a good investment,” he said.

Smokers make up just 14 per cent of the B.C. population – the lowest rate in Canada – but de Jong said cutting that to 12 or 10 per cent would still save billions of dollars.

The province intends to go considerably further in promoting prevention and primary care, de Jong said, in areas ranging from weight loss and exercise to salt avoidance and the risks of sugary drinks.

But there’s no new money to pay for such initiatives, he said, so cash must come out of existing health care spending in other areas.

De Jong wouldn’t say what types of programs may be cut to raise more for prevention, but said he expects the choices will be difficult.

“The transition is not going to be easy,” he said.

B.C.’s health budget has climbed from $4.8 billion in 1990, when it made up 32 per cent of all government spending, to $16 billion now or 45 per cent.

“We keep plundering other budgets to feed an insatiable appetite in health care,” de Jong said. “We are going to have to live within our means in health care and actually shift the emphasis.”

@jeffnagel

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

According to Statistics Canada, new housing starts and value of building permits in Greater Victoria rose in January 2021 compared to January 2020. (Black Press Media File)
New housing starts, value of building permits up in Greater Victoria

Cost of new housing also rising in region, now in excess of $1.15 million for a new detached home

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating Mackenzie Courchene, a Langford teenager.
MISSING: Mackenzie Courchene last seen in Langford on March 2

West Shore RCMP is asking for the public’s help in locating the Langford teenager

Rendering of the proposed Esquimalt public safety building. (Courtesy Township of Esquimalt)
Esquimalt blazes new trail toward modern public safety building

Township using alternative approval process for first time to gauge public support for proposal

Landmarks such as Howard the giant gnome at Galey's Farm in Saanich make a stunning backdrop for celebratory dance in the Greater Victoria Festival Society trailer for its coming Dance Victoria campaign. (Screeshot/Greater Victoria Festival Society)
Residents’ videos help campaign Dance Across Victoria

Celebratory dance clips to be compiled into Greater Victoria Festival Society video

Reynolds Secondary School’s spring musical Freaky Friday features Grace Fouracre as teen Ellie Blake (left) who swaps bodies with her overworked mother, Katherine, played by Nadia Lurie. (Photo courtesy Reynolds Secondary School)
Saanich high school goes virtual with Freaky Friday musical

Reynolds Secondary theatre program to livestream performances March 9-12

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

Const. Allan Young. Photo: Abbotsford Police Department
Manslaughter charge laid in Nelson death of Abbotsford police officer

Allan Young died after an incident in downtown Nelson last summer

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

(Black Press Media files)
Medicine gardens help Victoria’s Indigenous kids in care stay culturally connected

Traditional plants brought to the homes of Indigenous kids amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Most Read