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

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

High-speed Internet has become a necessity during the pandemic as many people work from home. (File photo)
Golden residents encouraged to test Internet speeds

Golden has not been deemed eligible for federal funding

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

The Okanagan Regional Library is holding a pair of online contests for its young readers. (File photo)
Okanagan Regional Library challenges young readers

Pair of contests online aimed at kids aged up to 18

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Heather Barker. (File)
Manslaughter charge laid in Vernon woman’s 2018 death

Shaun Ross Wiebe, 43, faces manslaughter and assault charges related to the death of Heather Barker

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

Kamloops This Week.
48 COVID-19 cases and one death associated with outbreak at Kamloops hospital

One of the 20 patients infected has died, meanwhile 28 staff with COVID-19 are isolating at home

The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon mayor scolded for revealing stance on making church essential

Coun. Scott Anderson calls Cummings’ actions ‘arrogant’

The scene of a serious crash on Highway 33 in Kelowna that killed one and severely injured two others on June 20, 2018. (File)
Driver found guilty of causing death, injury in 2018 Kelowna crash

Travis Ryan Hennessy will face sentencing at a later date

(Michael Rodriguez - Capital News staff)
Downtown stairwell fire suspicious, Kelowna RCMP say

Crews were called to Gotham Nightclub for a report of a stairwell fire

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Head Brewer Kody Rosentreter, owner Wes Greve and taproom manager Lisa Deleo celebrated North Basin Brewing’s grand opening Jan. 22 and 23, 2020. (Contributed)
Osoyoos’ first microbrewery celebrates grand opening

The brewery hopes to show that the Okanagan is more than just wine country

Most Read