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

Ashnola at the Crossing
Keremeos youth addiction treatment centre to close

Ashnola at the Crossing will be closing its doors permanently on March 31.

Mike Barrett plans to start cycling on March 10 to raise funds for the Unicorn Project school in India. He aims to cycle 13,000 kilometres, with the last stretch traveling from Dehli to Bodhgaya. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton retiree to cycle 13,000 km to raise funds for school in India

Mike Barrett hopes to raise at least $5,000 for the school

Hundreds gather in Penticton in June 2020, for the Black Lives Matter protest. (Phil McLachlan, Black Press Media)
Penticton residents fire back at RCMP over right to protests during pandemic

As long as COVID-19 safety measures are maintained, citizens have a right to protest

A group of Penticton residents have planned a protest Friday, March 5, 2020 at Gyro Park to voice their concerns over city council’s refusal to allow a temporary winter shelter to stay open. (Google Maps photo)
Penticton protest to go on despite police warning

Desiree Franz says she’s willing to accept the risk of being fined by RCMP

Penticton Fire Chief Larry Watkinson at the controls of the new Penticton Fire Rescue boat on Skaha Lake Friday afternoon. Firefighter Austin Conquergood is on one of the department's two personal watercraft.
Mark Brett/Western News
Kayaker rescued from Okanagan Lake after falling in and calling 911

The Penticton Fire Department’s Marine Rescue pulled him out suffering from severe cold

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

The Nanaimo bar display at the Nanaimo Museum. (City of Nanaimo Instagram)
City of Nanaimo points to correct recipe after New York Times botches batch of bars

City addresses ‘controversy’ around dessert square’s layers

A man holds a picture of Chantel Moore during a healing gathering at the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on June 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. First Nation demands transparency in probe into second fatal RCMP shooting

‘Police have killed more Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation members than COVID’

An air quality advisory continues in Vernon March 4 due to high levels of dust in the air from winter traction material. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
UPDATE: Dust still hasn’t settled in Vernon, starting to rise in Kelowna

Air quality advisory will last until the next rainfall or until enough street sweeping work is done

Pharmacists will distribute NARCAN nasal sprays at 470 Belleville St. May 1 from 7 a.m. until 6 pm. or until handouts are gone. (Black Press File).
Man brought back to life by North Okanagan RCMP

Victim was not breathing following overdose, until life-saving efforts of police

A B.C. government-run cannabis retail outlet was proposed for a building to be constructed at the Salmon Arm SmartCentres site. (File photo)
Province backs away from plans for Salmon Arm cannabis store

BC Cannabis Store was proposed to be in building to be constructed at shopping centre

Sicamous will have a new locally-owned option for grabbing a bite on the go as the Snacktastic food trailer opened at the start of March. (Kelly Hesleton/Facebook)
Snacktastic offers Sicamous a new dining option

Food trailer owner Dawn Backs grateful for support from family and community

A fire truck and police car park at the entrance to the Foreshore Trail about 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 4 as fire crews respond to a report of a fire farther down the trail and just above the railway tracks, between Lakeshore Road and the tracks. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Salmon Arm Fire Department quickly extinguishes fire above Foreshore Trail

Blaze started when man’s campfire catches fuel containers on fire

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Most Read