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Vapers, smokers take a hit as Newfoundland and Labrador budget focuses on prevention

Health Minister John Haggie says an analysis of the decision is underway, but he feels the ban has been vindicated.
Health Minister John Haggie - File photo

If you took up vaping to avoid the taxes on cigarettes, your luck just ran out.

A 20 per cent tax on vaping products was a key feature of the Newfoundland and Labrador budget Wednesday, which aimed to focus as much as possible on community health and prevention.

Vaping has so far escaped the sin tax net, even though research suggests the practice can present significant health risks, especially for teens and young adults.

The province also added an extra 10 cents in taxes per gram of loose tobacco and five cents per cigarette.

The budget also allocated $1.7 million for school initiatives, awareness campaigns and cessation programs to help reduce tobacco use and vaping.

Characterized as a “pandemic budget” by Finance Minister Siobhan Coady, Wednesday’s document essentially held the line on spending, and that was true for health care as well.

Health Minister Dr. John Haggie told reporters that while some savings were seen in the suspension or reduction of services during the pandemic, they were counterbalanced by a continuation of health-care salaries as doctors and other health-care workers continued to be paid for work in other areas. He estimated the extra cost to the system because of the pandemic was $30 million.

But efficiencies and reallocations did allow for some new initiatives in the coming year.

The province is putting aside $100 million for pandemic-related costs such as testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and even the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, should one materialize.

It’s also kicking in an extra $3.3 million to make the Insulin Pump Program universal.

Fourteen new drugs for conditions such as Parkinson’s, cancer and cystic fibrosis have been added to the Newfoundland and Labrador Prescription Drug Program at a cost of $2.3 million.

And the newly launched virtual care service from nurse practitioners comes with a price tag of $3.3 million.

About $80 million in health care infrastructure projects have been moved from the Health budget to Works and Transportation.

They include:

• $20.4 million towards the construction of the adult mental health and addictions facility in St. John’s.

• $5.6 million towards the construction of the new acute care hospital in Corner Brook.

• $6.1 million to complete construction of the new Green Bay Health Centre in Springdale.

• $4.4 million to complete construction of the 20-bed expansion of the protective care unit at the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Centre in Botwood.

• $6.5 million for the construction of long-term care homes in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, which will be completed next year.

• $4.4 million for the redevelopment of laboratory spaces at the Central Newfoundland Regional Health Centre in Grand Falls-Windsor.

• $3.4 million to start construction of a six-bed mental health unit at the Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

• $3 million to begin renovations of the emergency department at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s.

Haggie said his department is developing a 10-year accord to find health care efficiencies through community based programs, something already being done in mental health services.

“We’ve known for years, decades, that 75 per cent of what makes individuals healthy is actually outside the health care system itself, and that really is the focus of the medium and long-term for us,” he said

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