Registered Indians and Tobacco Taxation: A Culturally-Appropriate Strategy?

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Taxation of tobacco is a widely-used strategy that prompts smoking cessation among adults and reduces cigarette consumption among continuing smokers. Registered Indian tobacco use prevalence is at least double that of the rest of Canadians and is in part due to the lower cost of tobacco products purchased on reserve by Registered Indians (RIs) as they are tax exempt. Although registered Indian communities have the ability to collect tax on tobacco products and direct the use of these revenues, this strategy is rarely utilized. Tobacco taxation could have substantial health and economic benefits to RI communities, but perhaps is not culturally-appropriate. In order to better support RI communities, governments and other organizations need to examine this policy instrument in the context of RI populations.

MeSH terms: Indigenous population; natives; taxation; nicotine; smoking

RÉSUMÉ

La perception de taxes sur le tabac est une stratégie très répandue qui incite les adultes à renoncer au tabac et qui réduit la consommation de cigarettes chez les personnes qui continuent de fumer. La prévalence du tabagisme chez les Indiens inscrits est au moins le double de celle du reste des Canadiens, ce qui s'explique en partie par le prix plus faible (car exempt de taxe) des produits du tabac achetés dans les réserves par les Indiens inscrits. Les collectivités d'Indiens inscrits peuvent percevoir des taxes sur les produits du tabac et décider de l'utilisation de ces recettes, mais elles utilisent rarement cette stratégie. La taxation des produits du tabac pourrait procurer des avantages sanitaires et économiques considérables aux collectivités d'Indiens inscrits, mais elle n'est peut-être pas adaptée à leur réalité culturelle. Pour mieux appuyer ces collectivités, les gouvernements et autres organismes doivent examiner l'outil d'intervention que représente la taxation des produits du tabac dans le contexte des populations d'Indiens inscrits.

Tobacco use is a substantial public health concern as it is estimated that more than 45,000 people will die this year in Canada due to smoking. Smoking is well established as a major cause of chronic airway disease, lung cancer, ischemic heart disease and stroke.1

Comprehensive public health strategies to prevent and control tobacco use include: mass media, cessation services, community awareness initiatives, smokefree spaces, litigation and taxation of tobacco products.2 Taxation of tobacco is a widely-used strategy that prompts smoking cessation among adults and reduces cigarette consumption among continuing smokers.' However, Registered Indian (RI) communities, for several reasons, do not often utilize taxation. This paper will discuss taxation of tobacco products sold within RI communities.

The name of a Registered Indian, or a First Nation and Inuit person, within the meaning of the Indian Act appears on the Indian Registry as maintained by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs4 and does not include Metis people and nonStatus Aboriginals. Of the approximately 700,000 RIs, it is estimated that 60% live off reserve and are a younger population compared to the Canadian population.4 Traditional tobacco use is different than that of contemporary use, which primarily relates to nicotine dependence. Tobacco was employed by shamans to transport themselves into the realm of the supernatural, and smoke allowed communication with the supernatural, providing a bridge to the Creator. Interestingly, in general tobacco was restricted to certain rituals and individuals out of fear of precipitating an undesirable encounter with tobacco-craving spirits.5 Tobacco use among RI people is a significant problem - rates are more than double that of the general population,6,7 and account for 17-19% of RI adult mortality.8

The most current figure for the average price for a carton of 200 cigarettes within Canada was $71.06, with product cost and taxation estimated to be $23. …